London Life Coach Hans Schumann believes that less is more when it comes to productivity. Here he explains the power of focusing on just three priorities at any given time.
I was recently hired by the partners in a GP surgery to help them tackle a range of issues in their practice. Each area required attention and they were struggling to know where to start. Like most doctors, they were highly trained in medical skills but less experienced when it came to running a business. Their days were spent firefighting. Patient care was their main priority, leaving little time for staff training, marketing, financial control and future planning. Like many business owners, they spent too much time working in their business rather than on it.
One of the partners was sceptical about hiring a coach:
“We know exactly what we need to do, we just need to do it. So why hire a coach?”
Does this sound familiar? I find that many of my clients know exactly what they need to do, yet they don’t do it. I do this sometimes too! If “knowing” alone was sufficient, we would all be so much more successful. Just think about weight loss: We all know exactly how to lose weight, but yet so many people struggle to stick to a diet that will support their weight goals.
In the same way that a personal fitness trainer will help you achieve your fitness goals faster, a coach will assist you with your life, career and business goals by helping you develop better strategies, create momentum and remove barriers – and by holding you accountable.
Here is how I helped my GP clients with just a few very basic coaching interventions:
Step 1: The Brain Dump
In our first session, I facilitated a basic brain dump. There were many projects, activities and concerns clouding the minds of the GPs and this prevented them from stepping into action. I sensed that they needed to offload their thoughts first.
I asked them to call out everything that was on their to-do list. I wrote down their answers on yellow sticky notes and put them on a table in front of them. The table top filled up quickly, but I kept asking “What else?” until they had exhausted their ideas. This process took about 90 minutes. At the end of it, we looked at about 50 sticky notes with projects and actions. I sensed a feeling of satisfaction in the room that the information was all out there now in a tangible format.
Step 2: Grouping
I asked the GPs to move the sticky notes around to group them into themes of actions that were related. They ended up with eight groups which we labelled as follows: patients, staff, marketing, finance, IT, admin, building work and COVID 19.
The grouping introduced order to their brain dump. There were still a lot of sticky notes on the table, though, showing more actions they could possible tackle right now; but it least it was easy to see what needed to be done in each area of their business.
Step 3: Prioritising
I asked the GPs to pick the top three items that would have the biggest impact on their business. It only took them two minutes to select them. They knew exactly what was most important and chose the following items unanimously:
- Hiring maternity cover for one partner
- Relaunching their website
- Staffing home visits to patients
Step 4: Focused Action
I then proposed to focus exclusively on their chosen top three actions for the next 30 days and forget all the other items on the table. It’s not rocket science: Knowing how to prioritise and maintaining focus on just a few of the most essential tasks at any given time is a basic but powerful productivity tool.
After just one month, the GPs informed me that they had completed all three of their top priorities. This was big for them. These were items that they had been procrastinating over for months under the excuse that they did not have time to action them. Their decision to focus on just three actions for a month helped them complete the most important items on their list, in areas which they all had agreed would have the biggest impact on their business.
Step 5: Repeat
So what about all the other sticky notes that showed further important actions? I suggested that they continue working down their project list following the same approach: Pick the next three most important items on the list and focus on them over the coming month. By applying the same laser focus they would be able to work through the entire list much quicker than they ever thought they could.
Doing less can lead to more productivity
My recommendation is to never focus on more than three projects at any one time, whether it’s in your career, your business or your personal life.
If we look at a huge pile of tasks, it can become overwhelming and disheartening. When will I ever find enough time to do all of them? By chunking down our to-do list into small, manageable tasks, we ensure that we make steady progress in small steps. We put only as much on our plate as we can tackle at the time and enjoy the sense of achievement when we have completed the tasks.
I follow the same strategy in my own business. As a small business owner, there is an endless list of projects I could do, and it’s all on me. To avoid overwhelm and increase productivity, I have two large whiteboards on the wall in my study. On one of them I jot down ideas of actions for my business. I know that I can’t implement them all at the same time, but I don’t want to lose those ideas. On the other whiteboard I capture my focus for the week. It shows never more than three items, often just one, for example: create a new e-book, create a new sales funnel, complete an online training course. This does not mean that I don’t do anything else during that week, but I will prioritise my chosen focus. Often I start my day with those priorities so that I tackle first what’s most important.
Fancy trying this approach? What are your top three priorities for the next 30 days? Choose activities that will have the biggest impact on your career, business or life.