I just read an HBR Blog post by Peter Bregman that I've had on my imaginary "to-do" list for three days. The title caught my attention: Two Lists you Should Look at Every Morning. Finally, early Saturday evening I "found time" to spend three minutes reading it.
To Bregman's point — he is urging readers to pause, prioritize and focus. OK. Great idea. It still took me three days to find three minutes.
As sensible as his advice about the two lists is, a story he relates about his company's CEO is what I wanted to share. (We've all done this way too often.) Bregman walks into the elevator in his office building, head down, thumbing his iPhone. He pushes his button, the doors open and he ambles out head still down. The man behind him says, "Wrong floor," and Bregman turns around to see it's the company CEO. "Busted," the CEO added.
The CEO told Bregman about a meeting he had just attended. . .
"After the CEO busted me in the elevator, he told me about the meeting he had just come from. It was a gathering of all the finalists, of which he was one, for the title of Entrepreneur of the Year. This was an important meeting for him — as it was for everyone who aspired to the title (the judges were all in attendance) — and before he entered he had made two explicit decisions: 1. To focus on the meeting itself and 2. Not to check his BlackBerry.
"What amazed him was that he was the only one not glued to a mobile device. Were all the other CEOs not interested in the title? Were their businesses so dependent on them that they couldn't be away for one hour? Is either of those a smart thing to communicate to the judges?
There was only one thing that was most important in that hour and there was only one CEO whose behavior reflected that importance, who knew where to focus and what to ignore. Whether or not he eventually wins the title, he's already winning the game."
A few years ago I attended a charity dinner, a guest at a law firm's table. Other guests were legal department representatives from the firm's largest client – a Fortune 50 company. A "connected" senior partner had his BlackBerry on the table and consulted and thumbed at it no less than 45 times. I was so distracted by it, I started counting. He was seated in between two client representatives who were responsible for directing millions of dollars of work annually to outside counsel. Imagine how important and cared-for they felt. I finally got up, walked to his side of the table and whispered in his ear. You know what? He didn't change a thing – he continued being outrageously rude.
Lawyers – and everyone – it's cool you're so connected. But, the greatest gift you can give a client, friend or colleague (not to mention significant other and children) is your undivided attention. Because it's so rare today, you'll rise to the top of the short list.
In case you are interested, here are the two lists Bregman insists that we keep…
"A study of car accidents by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute put cameras in cars to see what happens right before an accident. They found that in 80% of crashes the driver was distracted during the three seconds preceding the incident. In other words, they lost focus — dialed their cell phones, changed the station on the radio, took a bite of a sandwich, maybe checked a text — and didn't notice that something changed in the world around them. Then they crashed.
"The world is changing fast and if we don't stay focused on the road ahead, resisting the distractions that, while tempting, are, well, distracting, then we increase the chances of a crash.
"Now is a good time to pause, prioritize, and focus. Make two lists:
List 1: Your Focus List (the road ahead)
What are you trying to achieve? What makes you happy? What's important to you? Design your time around those things. Because time is your one limited resource and no matter how hard you try you can't work 25/8.
List 2: Your Ignore List (the distractions)
To succeed in using your time wisely, you have to ask the equally important but often avoided complementary questions: what are you willing not to achieve? What doesn't make you happy? What's not important to you? What gets in the way?
"Some people already have the first list. Very few have the second. But given how easily we get distracted and how many distractions we have these days, the second is more important than ever. The leaders who will continue to thrive in the future know the answers to these questions and each time there's a demand on their attention they ask whether it will further their focus or dilute it."