As a Growth Catalyst, I usually try to impart some wisdom on a common business issue every week. As I was reflecting on what issue to tackle it occurred to me that picking one is the problem. Most of us feel overwhelmed everyday—there is so much to do and simply not enough time or money to do it. Now I could give you all kinds of strategic tools on how to prioritize—and I have over the years. But I am betting that neither one of us has really climbed out from under the burden of unreasonable to-do lists. So seriously, how do we handle this?

There is no one golden rule but here is what I do. And it works—most days. It doesn’t make the list go away but it does help me think about how to attack it. It is pretty simple really. I have three guidelines:

  1. Start with what matters. I try to find the thing on my list that will make the most difference in the shortest amount of time. And since we all intermix our personal and professional time now, some days what I pick is personal. Showing up for the kids soccer game makes the list over sitting in a boring meeting that is talking about the same thing we discussed last week. Finding some personal renewal time can also be a high priority. Don’t just work on something because it is on your desk. Do what matters.
  2. Choose what can’t be delegated.  I consider what are the things only I can do. So much of what is on the list is actually easily delegated—if we will just let go.  There are a few things I am the only one who can make happen—like having a clear vision for the future, leading the culture, being the voice of the business internally and externally. I have been letting go more lately (necessity being the mother of invention). What happens when I do that is I have more time for #1 above. Letting go of the stuff I believe I can do well but others can do too is hard. In a discussion last week with the 10x CEO Growth Council that I work with, we talked about how difficult it can be to trust that the next level of leaders can do the job because they don’t have our experience. But how do they get it? By taking responsibility, making decisions, and yes, occasionally by failing.
  3. Don’t rush it—do it right. Don’t try to knock something off the list by just getting it done. You will sub-optimize the results and undermine #1 above. I think one of the reasons so many leaders have a whac-a-mole game on their hands is that they try to do so many things quickly that they create upstream or downstream problems—they don’t step back and consider the holistic impact. Doing it right is easier than faster than doing it again.

What are your guidelines for prioritizing? Please share with the rest of us! Thanks!