Last year I posted a Leadership Frame on the usefulness of daily rituals (based in large measure on a post by Tony Schwartz). As most leaders will be starting to think about their personal and professional priorities for the coming year and how they are going to get everything done (rather than get caught up in the spiral of putting out fires or yet again mostly tackling “urgent” items each day) I thought it would be a good time to expand on this post!

Beyond rituals - good PE (personal effectiveness) requires some planning and discipline but is well worth thinking about and implementing. As a leader, if you don't, it can be the single biggest thing that holds you back and creates unnecessary stress

In the rituals post I suggested at the end of each day making a note of the most important (not urgent) thing you will tackle first thing next day (do this and you will be amazed what you have achieved by the end of a week). It also makes you feel good which builds confidence and a sense of well-being.

I would also like to share things I learned from an ARK (Managing Partner) Report “Making every 6 minutes count” by Catrin Mills. While Mills talks mainly of time management I suggest we think more in terms of personal effectiveness (PE).

In the Mills report she outlines a number of useful tips and approaches (for instance, dealing with procrastination, delegation, prioritisation and so on); the three I have found work very well are:

  • clear the cluttered desk: first deal with this issue – this is paramount if you want to improve your personal effectiveness. For this purpose she recommends clearing your working space of all papers other than those on which you are working. I suggest create a nearby open space for the temporary storage and stacking of papers or files you may be working on that day. Be disciplined about only keeping on your work-space the item you are actually working on.
  • prioritize using ABCDE: when prioritizing the most important things to tackle adopt the ABCDE principle (attributed to Brian Tracy) – go through your general to–do list and categorize the items as follows:
    • A: Absolutely must get done today without fail – most important (these go on to the Do Today list and become part of the daily ritual)
    • B: Best if done today, but not as important as A
    • C: Could do it today, but it can be put off till tomorrow
    • D: Delegate – this can be done by someone else – doesn’t need me; and
    • E: Eliminate – this really doesn’t need doing – get rid of it.
  • do today list: this is a simple refinement of your normal to-do list and the ritual concept and would include those items that you prioritise as As. If you don’t do this you find your normal to-do lists can get too long and contains too many items. You are left with a feeling of “I am never going to get this lot done”. It can be discouraging.

The best application I have found to facilitate all this is the under-rated Microsoft OneNote. (bundled with the student version of Office otherwise can be bought stand-alone). The reason I like it is that you can grab/select each To Do line or a line and its sub items and drag it up or down thereby automatically ranking it in order of priority – numbering changes automatically too –  unfortunately as far as I can work out the iPhone and iPad versions of OneNote do not allow this dragging/ranking facility.  (update: I have since realized that PowerPoint allows this too, but of course without all the folder/sub-folder storage facilities of OneNote)

A quick reality check – these tips and lists and so on are all well and good and always seem to ‘make sense’ when you read them but the reality is it does require:

  • personal discipline on your part and preparedness to allocate a bit of time to it (we are talking minutes)
  • some planning ability and the development of a few basic skills around things like delegation and prioritization
  • an ability to deal with procrastination and not be lazy!

So, in summary, to improve personal effectiveness from 2012 I recommend:

  • daily rituals – one of the most important is to each day tackle one or two of the most important things first
  • clear your desk – keep only what you are working on
  • create a Do Today list – outside normal to-do list and update daily noting what has been achieved
  • prioritize using the ABCDE classification (only the As get on to Do Today list)
  • use MS One Note (or equivalent) to help you quickly rank/prioritize, file, store and access your to-do lists. (via MS Live ID it can be synchronized to your iPhone or iPad and other supported devices)

Wishing you all a successful 2012!