We recently assessed around 10 shortlisted candidates for management positions at service stations. As part of their interview they each had to complete an In Basket Assessment to test computer skills, attention to detail, etc.
One section of the assessment dealt with planning and prioritising. Each candidate was given information about a typical day at site. They had to plan and prioritise 15+ actions of which they could choose only 9 to do on that day. They also had limited time in which to complete the assessment which added more pressure. We included some operational, customer and conflict issues. We noted that most of the candidates had a fair ability to plan, but struggled with prioritising when under pressure. Conflict situations were almost always moved to later in the day.
We have done dozens of performance reviews during the last year and one of the major gaps identified in most managers’ performance is the lack of planning and prioritising.
In his book “The Slight Edge”, Jeff Olson simplifies planning as follows:
“… there are four simple and fundamental steps you need … for a goal to come true:
– You must write it down, make it specific and give it a deadline
– You must have a plan to start with
– You must understand and pay the price
– You must look at it every day”
He elaborates further in the book on each step.
– Write it down – this requires you to envision what you want to achieve and to take it from an idea in your head to a statement on paper.
– You have to start with a plan, but the plan you start with will not be the plan that gets you there. Simply because each step gives you more insight and experience. This allows you to fine tune the next step and make changes.
– Understand and pay the price – to get something you must give something. Time, energy, money, giving up a luxury, being tired more often – you need to acknowledge it and agree to “pay” it.
– Look at it every day – reminding yourself constantly will avoid sidetracking into other things.
My dad taught me a very simple way of planning and prioritising which I use to this day. Make a list and divide the items into short term and long term. Short term is for the next 14 days. Long term is for later. Every time you think of something you want to do write it down. Every few days rewrite the list and evaluate each item on the list.
Tim Ferris also writes: “If you can’t define it or act upon it, forget it”. So if you can’t explain it simply or take action, cross it off the list and forget about it.
I must admit that every time I rewrite the list I feel more organised and every time I cross something off the list I feel I have made progress. Try it.
DON’T convince yourself that you have your plans neatly organised in your head and that you will remember it all clearly. Each day we are bombarded with new ideas and differing points of view that can easily take us off course.
DO use whatever you feel comfortable with to plan. Some people use a small note book they keep in their pocket. Others use their phones or a diary. I use an A5 shorthand notebook. Make sure you can keep it with you at all times and make sure you check it every day as often as you can.
DON’T think that you need the “perfect plan” before you start. Just start. The plan will become clearer as you take each step.
On a Monday morning, before you get stuck into doing your job or running your business, sit down in a quiet spot and rewrite your 14-day Action Plan. List what you want to do in the next 2 weeks. Anything that you can’t do, but don’t want to forget, gets written on another page with the other Long Term items.
Once you have your 14-day Action Plan, pick the 2 things that scare you the most and do them first before 11am. Get them out of the way so you can focus on positive things, otherwise you will continue to procrastinate and the stress will affect everything you do. If you need to talk to yourself in the mirror or get a strong cup of coffee to build up courage – do it. Don’t tell yourself “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
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