Focus on a small number of high-impact activities

"We must learn to distinguish between what is 'merely important' and what is 'wildly important.'" —Stephen Covey (Photo: Dennis Sparks)

“[S]etting a limited number of priorities, and sticking to them, is one of the most difficult challenges facing managers today.” —Ron Ashkenas

Some things that leaders do are far more influential than others in achieving the organization’s mission and goals. That’s the basis of “the 80/20 principle” which stipulates that 20 percent of our activities produce 80 percent of the results. Classroom visits and frequent conversations about teaching and learning are two “20 percent” examples often mentioned by school leaders as having a disproportionately positive impact. Conversely, some experts say that up to 50 percent of leaders’ time is spend on low-impact activities. Email and meetings whose primary purpose is information dissemination are commonly cited examples in this category.

While the percentages may vary, the “big idea” is that some leadership activities produce more “bang for the buck” than others. Effective leaders identify and increase the amount of time they spend on high-impact activities. That requires that they do all that is in their power—which is often more than they may initially recognize—to proactively eliminate or at least minimize time spent engaging in low-impact activities.

To that end, Tachi Yamada, M.D., president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program, asks himself, “If there are 10 tasks in an overall project, what is the most critical task among those 10? What is the one thing that everything else hinges on? And what I’ll do is I’ll spend a lot of time understanding that one thing. Then, when the problem occurs, it usually occurs there, and I can be on top of what the problem is.”

Take a moment now to . . .

• identify one or two high-impact activities and schedule them on your calendar.

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