One of the inevitabilities of doing your own thing (may that be as an entrepreneur or inside of an organization) is the constant challenge of having too many things on your to-do list and way to little time to get them all done. It surely is a continual struggle for me…
Over the years I have learned to follow two pieces of advice to remedy this situation: One is from an article I read more than a decade ago about a very successful academic who managed his hectic schedule of teaching, researching, publishing and running his own consulting business by ruthlessly focussing only on the things which move the needle for one of those four core areas of his life. Everything else he dropped (and was okay with doing so – which is an art in and of itself).
The other insight I got from Obi Felten, Google/Alphabet X’s “Head of getting moonshots ready for contact with the real world” (yes, that is her real title!): Always tackle the hardest thing which will decide if your project lives or dies first.
We have a natural tendency to do the things which we know how to do – say I work on a new presentation; I can spend my time picking the right presentation template, chose the fonts and colors I want to use, look for images – but none of that matters if the content just doesn’t flow and even more importantly doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. So I start with working on the hardest bit first – does the idea hold up? I stress-test the idea by running it past a group of people I know will be critical of the concept. If it musters this test, I go on and do the next hardest thing – turn it into a narrative. Then I put the flow down and only when all this is working and stress tested, I will work on the slides itself.
I found that between these two pieces of advice – (1) relentlessly focus on only the things which matter and move the needle and (2) in those areas always start with the hardest thing which your success hinges on, I stay (relatively) sane.
How about you? What works for you?