Enough already – I’ve been doing way too much, with way too little impact. Something has got to give. I started thinking about this over my recent summer vacation. I diligently read a book about personal productivity, started a new task list, and cleared out my email (In Box Zero, here I come). But after a week or so, I realized the problem wasn’t my organizational skills. The problem was my priorities. I have shiny object syndrome, or what my friends call “academic ADD”. I just can’t help but say yes to every request that crosses my desk.
Last week I had a long conversation with a dear friend who was visiting from Australia. We started to talk about how we create meaning in our lives, and how legacy does matter. I mentioned that I have given up doing a lot of smaller things, that have cleared my time to focus on the big stuff. My friend looked at me, and said, “You’ve stopped Majoring in Minor Things”. Although she couldn’t remember the source of that quote, with the help of Google, I learned that it can be attributed to self-help expert Jim Rohn (or Billy Cox, or Anthony Robbins… it is the internet after all).
So I’ve given up guest lectures, extra workshops, public talks, career counseling, free consulting for nonprofits, memberships to clubs I rarely attend, and any number of other activities. This has allowed me to focus my efforts on fewer projects, hopefully to have greater impact. I still find it difficult to say no to the flood of requests in my email inbox, but having a clear set of priorities makes it easier to give a straightforward no to many people.
I’ve created a list of priority areas – it’s too long, but it’s a start:
- Family & Friends
- Nonprofits (management & leadership of the nonprofit organizations)
- Women’s Entrepreneurship (how do I foster entrepreneurship in women? create a community fostering women’s entrepreneurial success?)
- Leadership (how do I foster female leaders? engage others in that same task? help young men and women attain their leadership goals?)
- Teaching ( how do I get better at teaching? How do I help others get better at teaching? How to create a community of teachers).
Here are my three rules for determining priorities:
- Does the activity fit in one of my five priority areas? If not, the answer is “no”
- Is the activity one that is loved AND valued by those assessing my performance? If not both loved and valued, the answer is “no”
- Am I majoring in something minor? Will this activity have a significant impact on a reasonable number of people? If not, the answer is “no”
Maybe I have too many priority areas, maybe they are too vaguely defined. We’ll see. For now, I’m happy that I have a process that will encourage me to say no more often. How do you set priorities? Do you too have shiny object syndrome? I’d love to hear how you are managing the challenge of too much.