Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Doing the right things right

Recently I came across the wonderful story of Charles Schwab, the former President of U. S. Steel and the founder of Bethlehem Steel. The first time I heard this story was nearly 40 years ago, but I was reminded how simply elegant is its principle.Here is the gist of the story. About 80 years ago, Schwab (no relation to the brokerage guru Charles Schwab) came into contact with Ivy Lee. Lee was a noted consultant who would later co-found one of the country's first public relations firms.Schwab was looking for a way to become more efficient, and Lee had just the thing.Lee supposedly told Schwab about his idea and then ask Schwab to follow it religiously for 30 days. Lee was so confident that his idea would be invaluable that Schwab should withhold payment until after the 30 days; Schwab could then pay him whatever he thought the idea was worth.
Schwab was a diligent man and an overachiever and he followed the idea every day for 30 days. Schwab was more than amazed by his results. So pleased was he, that he handed Lee a check for $25,000. This was a huge payment in those days.What was this big idea?"Every evening before you leave work, write down the six most important activities you have to accomplish the next day in order of their priority and leave the list on your desk. Begin, the next day working on item #1 and work your way sequentially through the list, making sure you do not move on to the next item until the current item is completed"That's it? That's it. This is a deceptively simple concept and yet it's extremely difficult to do. Why?First, at the end of nearly every day we start our frenzied "after work" schedule of home related tasks. Dinner, the kids, errands, traffic etc., all take their toll. Sound familiar?Second, most of us arrive at our workplace and we dig in to tackle the most obvious task only to be interrupted by a crisis. Our phone rings with an important call requiring an immediate response. Then someone drops by to chat and brainstorm their problem and so it goes. The day is done and only part of the work gets done.One expert says that some interesting happens when you use the "six most important things" list. By spending a few minutes each day before you leave the office, your subconscious mind will absorb the list overnight, and you'll start the next day focused and ready the dig into the day's activities. Never underestimate the power of the subconscious.One of my early mentors used to tell me that one hour of careful planning is worth eight hours of work. I know it is true.Prioritizing tasks has been around for decades. That's not the secret to success. Knowing it is one thing, but doing it is the key. Consider "the six most important things" concept for increasing your personal effectiveness.The challenge we all face is developing the habits that are repeated on a daily basis that separate the average from the exceptional. It is not a matter of doing the things right. To quote Peter Drucker, "It is doing the right things right."Notable Quote: "It is those who make the worst use of their time who most complain of its shortness." -- Jean De La Bruyere

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