“For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” Matthew 16:26
Whether you read the Bible or not, this verse is powerful and has great personal implication. In our Strategy of More world it has become nearly impossible to, as Stephen Covey puts it “put first things first.”
In our era of multiple priorities and plethora of yes’s, many have lost sight of what matters most.
In Essentialism, Greg McKeown tells of an Australian nurse named Bronnie Ware, who cared for people in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their most discussed regrets and at the top of the list “I wish I’d had the courage to live a true life to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
In thinking about end-of-life conversations, I’m positive no one will regret not spending more time in meetings. Few will regret saying no to a project or a promotion in exchange for margin to coach their kids or pursue their passions. I believe the regrets we have stem from when we should have said “no” but instead said “why not.”
In Essentialism, McKeown talks about discerning the trivial many from the vital few. He does so by distinguishing between the highest point of frustration and the highest point of contribution.
Highest point of frustration:
Trying to please everybody by saying yes to everything now does exactly the opposite. This is born of a desire to do good and to contribute. However it spreads your effort so thin that very little impact can be made on anything. I like to think of each day containing 100 energy credits. I get to choose where I invest these credits. When I pour a few credits into many tasks, my return on investment is small. When I focus my credits into a few things that really matter, into a few things that make a difference, and into efforts that create progress and move things forward – this yields a great ROI.
Highest point of contribution:
“People are effective because they say ‘no,’ because they say ‘this isn’t for me.’” Peter Drucker
A heightened focus on the right things at the right time for the right reason creates progress and momentum. I’ll admit, very few of us can adhere to this all of the time. Don’t let the forces against you keep you from trying. Remember, you get 100 energy credits every day. Even if many of them are spent for you by other people, you have choice and control over most of them. Spend them wisely.
I once heard a great teaching from Bobb Biehl, an executive mentor and author, say “If you ask no questions, you will get no answers. Ask simple questions and you will get simple answers. Ask powerful questions and you will get powerful answers.”
Author and speaker John Maxwell says in his book Good Leaders ask Great Questions that questions:
- Unlock doors that otherwise remain closed
- Are the most effective ways of connecting with people
- Create humility
- Help us engage in conversation
- Allow us to build better ideas
- Give us different perspective
- Challenge mindsets and get us out of ruts
I agree, questions are important. I want to pose 4 powerful questions that you can ask to help prioritize your life, your schedule and your highest point of contribution.
QUESTION 1: What is the wise choice – long term?
You may not be able to make the best long-term choice, but if you know what the answer is, it allows you to make a conscious choice for or against it. When we focus solely on today and neglect tomorrow, problems get repeated, frustrations rise. and we rarely reach maximum value from our efforts. When you ask what the wise choice is, you are taking into account many factors beyond just your own perspective.
QUESTION 2: What would happen if I didn’t do this (or stopped doing this)?
In Greg McKeown’s analogy of cleaning out your closet, he says that instead of asking “How much do I love this item?” to instead ask “How much would I be willing to pay for this item today?” Similarly this question forces you to ask what the consequences are if you stopped doing something. Would it have grave consequences? Would it impact you, your team, and your organization? How much? Much of what we are currently doing are not things we would consciously seek to add to our plate if given the choice. If this is the case for you, you must ask yourself – should I still be doing this?
QUESTION 3: Who else could do this, 80% as well as me?
I suggest making a list of all of the things you are doing today that someone else could do at least 80% as well as you. I realize you may not have anyone to hand these tasks off to. This list is powerful because it gives you a look at the amount of things you are doing that are not unique to you and that may not be of your highest point of contribution. When possible, eliminate things from this list by delegating or killing them all together. By the way, you might find that there are things on this list that others can do 150% as well as you!
QUESTION 4: What 1 thing, if I did and did well would have the most impact on all of my areas of responsibility?
Is there 1 thing that covers a multitude of others? Is there a high-payoff and high-value activity that if you did, would make many other challenges go away? Go back to the energy credit discussion. If you only could apply 5 (of your 100) energy credits each day this week, what activity would you apply them to make the most gain?
This list of questions isn’t complete. Respond with the questions you have used to help prioritize your life.