“The secret to getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.” – Mark Twain
There are plenty of things on a leader’s plate on a daily basis. We’re constantly bombarded with new ideas, new challenges, new technology – nothing seems static. All that change and all that new stuff seems to mean that our to-do list just gets longer and longer, and it doesn’t seem like we ever really get it done.
That, I think, is the core question facing leaders today. Are we actually getting meaningful, impactful things done? We’re certainly busy. When I ask people how things are going in their business, the most common response I hear is, “It’s great, we’re really busy,” as if being busy is in itself some kind of accomplishment. What if you’re busy doing meaningless things?
Part of the reason we spend so much time on lesser tasks is that many of them are simple or routine. It’s stuff we know how to do, we can get it done in a few hours or less, we can cross it off our to-do lists and feel good about getting something done. The problem, of course, is that the meaningful, usually more challenging and time-consuming stuff gets pushed back until “later”, which never seems to come.
There are a million ideas out there for getting things done and being strategic, and lots of them are really good. I think most of the time that keeping it simple is the most likely path to success. If you’re faced with something that feels overwhelming, break it into pieces. What’s one, not-completely-overwhelming piece of the whole that you could get done right now? When that piece is done, then move on to the next.
The point, in the end, is to do things that matter. You’re not a success just because you’re busy. At some point you have to provide actual value. Are you doing that right now? Are you doing things that have an impact? Or are you just running in circles, doing the same kinds of trivial things over and over and over again? Give yourself and honest answer, and then get to work.