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Unearthing a better way to prioritize your time, energy

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One of the key disciplines in strategic planning is establishing priorities. And one of the most challenging aspects of establishing priorities is the ability to focus first on the most important things.

In growth companies, the avenues for growth and opportunity seem limitless. Many companies try to chase them all, often falling prey to the ancient proverb, “He who chases two hares, leaves one and loses the other.”

The late Stephen Covey was a master at creating metaphors for leadership concepts. One of his best, about priorities, included an empty jar, pebbles and rocks.

In his workshops, he would set up a table, upon which there were an empty clear jar, another clear jar three-quarters full of pebbles and 12 rocks that represented our most important activities such as “time to sharpen my saw,” “time for relationships and family,” “urgent issue with your best customer” and “second-quarter planning.”

An attendee was then asked to fit the rocks into the jar with the pebbles, without going over the top.

As the attendee works to squeeze in the rocks, Covey would quip, “She is moving the pebbles around under the assumption that will create more room.”

At one point he asks, “Have you ever been too busy driving to stop and get gas?”

The pebbles, of course, are the little things that fill our lives, and the rocks are the most important things that should be getting done.

The problem is we put the pebbles in our “jar” first, absorbing our time and energy, and never giving ourselves the opportunity to get to the rocks.

Covey then tells the attendee that she can work out of a different paradigm to fit all the big rocks.

The attendee, recognizing she will never get all the rocks in the jar with the pebbles, asks Covey if she can first put the rocks in the empty jar, then fill in with the pebbles. She does so, and all of the rocks fit, along with all of the pebbles.

The lesson is to focus first on the rocks, the most important things in life, and then the little stuff. First things first.

Strategic planning isn't an end in itself. It is a tool and framework that, when done well, gives companies a process to focus on priorities, the most important priorities – the rocks – that will produce the best results.

You cannot do everything. You do not have the time, money or people.

And if you try, you will choke.

Prioritizing is a skill in which the best companies excel.

Business strategist Tom Garrity, managing partner of Compass Point Consulting LLC in Bethlehem, is presenting a “Scaling Up Business Growth Workshop” April 12 at Concannon Miller, 1525 Valley Center Parkway, Suite 300, in Hanover Township, Northampton County. Doors open at 8:30 a.m. for the all-day event, which features Rockefeller Habits 2.0. For information, contact Garrity at 610-533-4652 or tgarrity@compasspt.com.

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