“There are simply not enough hours in the day and that’s the end of it” the MD said to me. He meant it.
You could see that he was exhausted, trying to do too much and ending up chasing his own tail. His wife was now pregnant, he had to recruit three new roles and the bank and shareholders were starting to make unreasonable demands.
He continued, “I just have to work evenings and weekends like I always do. That’s the only way. And hopefully something will happen to ease things up before the baby arrives. But I am not sure quite what it will be.”
Jerry was stuck on a treadmill. He couldn’t get off. Couldn’t really see a light at the end of the tunnel.
My simple if glib reply to him was, “Surely, it is all about priorities.”
His response was “But what do you do when all your priorities are equally important?”
I chose not to tell him about the true meaning of the word priority and that by definition you cannot have lots of “the single most important thing”. A priority is a singular word. You have a priority, a number one. Just the one.
I decided to talk about how to fill a large vase with rocks, stones, sand and water. He knew this one.
He went on, “It’s a total mess if you start with the water. And you won’t have a chance of getting the rocks in if you leave them till last. What you do is start with the rocks, the stones, then the sand, then you top it up with the water at the end.”
Clearly, he knew this exercise but not as a metaphor for priorities.
I continued. Your big ‘priorities’, what is most important, are like the rocks. You should deal with them first. Then, you can fit the progressively smaller tasks around them (stones then sand) and you finish infilling (if there is space or time) with the least relevant, the water.
Boom! He got it. Not all projects are equal. Some are more important than others. Some are crucial; some are nice-to-haves. As soon as you create order then everything starts to fall into place.
However, he was still faltering, “There still isn’t enough time to do it all. Not unless we create a 36-hour day or a 9-day week.”
But no sooner had he said this than the penny dropped. The exercise was about choice and about his role in making choices. His inability to say “no” had created this untenable situation where he felt he was letting everyone down. Failing everyone and feeling rotten about it. He had created an impossible schedule and unreasonably high expectations. He was bound to fail.
Staring into the distance you could visibly see him having his own aha-moment.
“I need to choose my top rocks, the must-do projects in my life. Only then can I fit the less important ones around it. And, you know what, it is OK to say no to things, to things that I don’t really want to do or don’t help me to progress. And maybe, if I do fewer projects better, then the overall results will be better. This is about gaining clarity about what matters and taking control.”
In his moments of clarity, he was able to turn his life around (and the business as well). He systematically identified the several big rocks in his life and the secondary stones that would fit around them. By getting the important things done and cutting out the less important he not only became more focused but he was also working on higher impact activities. A sense of direction brought with it a sense of momentum. And, because of significant de-cluttering and a generous use of the word “no” and delegating, he was able to take ownership of his own evenings and weekends. A result.