Keep Your Eyes on the Prize [Two-Minute Mentor #9]

Focus on What You Want to Achieve Many of humankind’s greatest feats are accomplished by people who have a singular desire that becomes the foundational element for everything they do.

The 13th-century Turkish poet-philosopher Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, undoubtedly the most celebrated mystical poet in the Islamic world, purportedly advocated being absorbed in the task: “There is one thing that we all must do. If we do everything else but that one thing, we will be lost. And if we do nothing else but that one thing, we will have lived a glorious life.”

Don’t Have Too Many Irons in the Fire

  • Ask yourself this question: “What is my one thing—the singular objective that could make the most positive impact and meaningful shift—either on the present moment, or on my life as a whole?”
  • Just as the comical and wise Jiminy Cricket accompanies Pinocchio on his adventures serving as his official conscience, have a persistent voice persistently prompting you, “Are you doing your thing?”

Focus on What You Want to Achieve

The ability to prioritize, focus, and achieve is one of the most useful skills you can master. Learn to focus fully on the task at hand, and shut out everything else. As I mentioned in my world’s shortest course in time management, focus on things that you must do and avoid everything else.

It is truly amazing how much possibility, joy, and fulfillment you can add to your life when you shift your mindset to realizing and focusing on your one thing—in whatever timeframe you’re taking into consideration.

Keep your eyes on the prize.

Identify Your #1 Priority and Finish It First

Identify Your #1 Priority and Finish It First

“He who every morning plans the transactions of the day and follows out that plan carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life. The orderly arrangement of his time is a like a ray of life which darts itself through all his occupations. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incident, chaos will soon reign.”
Victor Hugo

“A Guaranteed Formula for Success”

Ivy Lee's A popular legend recalls a time management trick that efficiency expert Ivy Lee showed to Charles Michael Schwab (1862—1939,) the American steel magnate and President of Bethlehem Steel, then the second largest steel manufacturer in the United States.

Lee famously advised Charles Schwab and his managers to list and rank their top priorities every day, and work on tasks in the order of their importance as time allows, not proceeding until a task was completed. After implementing the suggestion, Charles Schwab famously said that Lee’s method for managing priorities had been the most profitable advice he had ever received and paid him $25,000.

When Charles Schwab was president of Bethlehem Steel, he confronted Ivy Lee, a management consultant, with an unusual challenge. “Show me a way to get more things done,” he demanded. “If it works, I will pay you anything within reason.”

Lee handed Schwab a piece of paper. “Write down the things you have to do tomorrow.”

When Schwab had completed the list, Lee said, “Now number these items in the order of their real importance.”

Schwab did, and Lee said, “The first thing tomorrow morning, start working on number one and stay with it until it’s completed. Then take number two, and don’t go any further until it’s finished or until you’ve done as much with it as you can. Then proceed to number three and so on. If you can’t complete everything on schedule, don’t worry. At least you will have taken care of the most important things before getting distracted by items of less importance.

“The secret is to do this daily. Evaluate the relative importance of the things you have to get done, establish priorities, record your plan of action, and stick to it. Do this every working day. After you have convinced yourself that this system has value, have your people try it. Test it as long as you like, and then send me a check for whatever you think the idea is worth.”

Mary Kay Ash Helped Her Beauty Consultants Juggle Spouse, Children, and Career

'You Can Have It All' by Mary Kay Ash (ISBN 0761501622) Mary Kay Ash, American beauty products entrepreneur and founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, had a variation to this technique. In You Can Have It All, she writes:

Each night, I put together my list for the following day. If I don’t get something on my list accomplished, it goes on the next day’s list. I put the hardest or most unappealing task at the top of the list. This way, I tackle the most difficult item first, and once it’s out of the way, I feel my day is off to a good start.

Mary Kay Ash taught her cosmetics sales consultants this technique of prioritizing their work and thus avoid being stretched too thin. Most of Mary Kay’s cosmetics sales consultants were women filling multiple roles as mother, wife, and businesswoman.

We try very hard to get our consultants to organize themselves. The best way I have found is a little pad of paper we issue called “The Six Most Important Things.” I teach consultants to write down the six most important things they have to do the next day every night before they go to bed. I suggest that people organize things by priority. First, put the thing they most don’t want to do at the top. Then write down the six most important things—not sixteen, because this is frustrating, but six.

Idea for Impact: Squeeze the Most out of Your Day

The best way to start your day is by accomplishing something instead of fiddling around with email or contemplating the day’s priorities. So, every evening, before you leave the office, write down the most important tasks you’ve got to get done the next day. Leave it on your desk along with any support material you need to work on it. This will help you get rolling first thing in the morning.

The only thing that matters: The Relevant Results

New York City Taxicab

Consider the following parable.

In New York City, a taxi driver and a priest die on the same day and knock on Heaven’s door.

At the pearly gates, St. Peter receives them and shows the taxi driver and priest around. The taxi driver’s eternal home is a lavish new castle equipped with butlers and fancy stuff. The priest’s new home is a meager hut of a dwelling with neither electricity nor water.

The priest complains to St. Peter: “It’s I, not him, who dedicated my life to faith. I sacrificed much in life, worked hard, and delivered thousands of sermons to the faithful in New York. All I get is a mere hut when this taxi driver gets a castle?” St. Peter responds: “Yes, but when you did your work—when you preached—people slept. When the taxi driver worked—when he drove people around New York, people prayed hard.”

Idea for Impact: Your strategies, vision and mission statements, business plans, purposes, determination, ambitions, intents, ideas, resolutions, goals, hard work, sleepless nights—none of these matter if you don’t deliver the results that are relevant to your boss, your customers, and your stakeholders.

Overwhelmed with Things To Do? Accelerate, Maintain, or Terminate.

Overwhelmed with Things To Do

If you are overwhelmed by extensive demands on your time or by the number of projects that seem permanently stuck on your to-do list, here’s a technique to organize your projects more effectively.

Make a table with three columns: “Accelerate Mode,” “Maintain Mode,” and “Terminate Mode” and classify your projects.

  • “Accelerate mode” projects have the potential for significant benefits and therefore will need additional investment in time, effort, and resources.
  • Projects that you can sustain at the present pace and projects where additional investments may not necessarily translate to larger payoffs go in the “maintain mode.”
  • Choose the “terminate mode” whenever in doubt, especially for projects that have been lingering in the “someday I will get to” and “maybe” categories. Also, terminate those projects that are on your list because you feel that you should do but need not.

One of the key characteristics of successful people is to recognize and invest their resources in projects that really matter and to do everything else adequately enough.

Don’t Let Perfect be the Enemy of Done

Don't let 'Perfect' be the enemy of 'Done'

Google’s Marissa Mayer on Perfection

In an interview with the Fast Company magazine, Marissa Mayer, Vice President of search products and user experience at Google, compares two product launch strategies:

Some [programmers] like to code for months or even years, and hope they will have built the perfect product. That’s castle building. Companies work this way, too. Apple is great at it. If you get it right and you’ve built just the perfect thing, you get this worldwide ‘Wow!’ The problem is, if you get it wrong, you get a thud, a thud in which you’ve spent, like, five years and 100 people on something the market doesn’t want.

Marissa Mayer, Google's Vice President for search products and user experience Others prefer to have something working at the end of the day, something to refine and improve the next day. That’s what we do: our ‘launch early and often’ strategy. The hardest part about indoctrinating people into our culture is when engineers show me a prototype and I’m like, “Great, let’s go!” They’ll say, “Oh, no, it’s not ready.” … They want to castle-build and do all these other features and make it all perfect. I tell them … to launch it early on Google Labs and then iterate, learning what the market wants–and make it great. The beauty of experimenting in this way is that you never get too far from what the market wants.

By releasing new products and features before they are completely refined, as ‘beta’ releases, Google and other technology companies can gain significant advantages over the competition. The products can be marketed earlier and initial users can identify problems with unfinished products and suggest new product features. A case in point: Google’s popular ‘Gmail’ or ‘Google Mail’ application has remained ‘beta’ since April 2004.

The approach of releasing ‘half-baked’ products is limited to certain industries and products. And, for sure, these ‘beta’-products are expected to include all the critical functional features expected of the product. Airlines will not fly a new aircraft that has not yet passed comprehensive tests and regulatory certification.

‘Perfect’ Is Often THE Enemy of ‘Done’

When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target.
George Fisher

Fighting perfection to get things done On our personal and professional initiatives, we tend to wait for the perfect time, the perfect team, or the perfect conditions. The end-result is that we never get started on the initiative. If we do start and then aspire for a perfect design, we may never get done.

Some of us, yours truly included, are chronic perfectionists. We tend to be excessively self-critical and demanding of ourselves. Our struggle for perfection habitually turns into an endless quest for making ‘better’ a ‘little better.’ Any state of perfection ceases to exist when we question the perfection–when we ask how perfect the perfection is.

Make ‘Perfect Enough’ the New Perfect

We need to accept the prospect of compromises to our goals and aspirations. We need to acknowledge that our expectations are often excessive and uncalled for. When we develop a ‘good enough’ or ‘perfect enough’ mindset, we realize that imperfection is, after all, a negotiable outcome. There will always be a chance to improve.

Credits: Marissa Mayer’s photo courtesy of Google