Coaching clients often say, “I feel like I’m just putting out one fire after another and I never have time to step back and think about the big picture.” A Google search for prioritization generates 51 million results so it’s obviously a common struggle.

In the number one most influential business book of the twentieth century, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey described a matrix for sorting urgent and important activities. These quadrants are still relevant today:

Quadrant 1 – Important & Urgent: This is fire-fighting mode – dealing with a crisis, meeting a deadline, handling an irate client. Spending too much time here leaves us feeling stressed and burned out but we can get addicted to a temporary sense of accomplishment when we cross things off our list. Covey refers to this as “urgency addiction.” When we recognize what feeds the addiction, we can make a choice to focus on Quadrant 2 instead.

Quadrant 2 – Important & Non-Urgent: Covey calls this the magic quadrant because spending more time planning, preventing problems and building relationships helps us feel calm and reduces the time we spend in Quadrant 1. One strategy I recommend is asking yourself, “Does it have to be me and does it have to be now?”

Quadrant 3 – Urgent & Not Important: When we allow ourselves to be constantly interrupted by texts, hallway conversations and responding to other people’s priorities, we can feel stuck and frustrated. Saying no can help us minimize the time we spend in this quadrant and give us more time for Quadrant 2.

Quadrant 4 – Not Urgent & Not Important: These are the distractions that provide an escape when our brains are overloaded. It’s OK to take an occasional break to check social media or do a little online shopping as long as we don’t overdo it. Setting a timer is a good solution for this.

Answering Covey’s questions can help you determine whether you’re operating from a paradigm of urgency or importance:

  • What one thing could you do on a regular basis that would have significant positive results in your personal life?
  • What one thing In your professional life would bring similar results?

Most likely your answers will be in Quadrant 2 – Important & Non-Urgent. If you know these things would make a significant difference, how will you start prioritizing them now?

I recently attended an event with a group of women entrepreneurs who are making a profound impact on individuals, teams, and organizations.  As I listened to their stories, I heard these common themes:

  • Tuning into inspiration – being curious and receptive; putting yourself in places and with people who inspire you
  • Setting your intention – being clear about what you want, who and how you want to be
  • Following through to execution – learning from experience and partnering with others to convert ideas into reality

For the women in this group the results included a new book, new clients and service offerings, and more opportunities for collaboration.  What might be possible for you with more inspiration, clear intention and successful execution?

What do Netflix and snails have in common?  Check out this Forbes article and go see this documentary The Biggest Little Farm to find out.  The article highlights a formula for successful innovation:  “Think Big, Start Small and Learn Fast” and the documentary provides a great illustration of that formula. It tells the story of a couple who left their white collar jobs to become biodynamic farmers in California.

Since they had no experience, Molly and John Chester found a wise mentor who encouraged them to think big and plan for the future.  He also taught them to start small by bringing the soil back to life with worms.  As you might imagine, the Chesters and their team had to learn fast, often by making mistakes.  After seven years of hard work, Apricot Lane Farms is now 200 acres of organic and biodynamic certified avocado and lemon orchards, a vegetable garden, more than 75 varieties of stone fruit trees and a lot of very photogenic animals.

As you consider opportunities for innovation in your sphere of influence, how might you apply the success formula of “Think Big, Start Small and Learn Fast?”

I first saw this Lewis Carroll quote in a high school guidance counselor’s office.  The poster featured Alice in Wonderland’s White Rabbit checking his giant pocket watch before running madly toward a mysterious hole in the ground.

As someone who has always been in a hurry to get things done with maximum efficiency, I need to be reminded to slow down.  Even as I write this I’m operating at warp speed to juggle competing priorities and too-short timelines.  And sure enough, a few of my spinning plates have tipped a little too far for comfort.

If your new year is off to a roaring start with too much to do and not enough time to get it all done, let’s take a collective deep breath – using the 4 square technique taught by yoga instructors and Navy SEALs and included in Dare to Lead:

Imagine moving around the 4 corners of a Square

  1. Inhale deeply through your nose, expanding your stomach, for a count of 4
  2. Hold in the breath for a count of 4
  3. Slowly exhale all the air through your mouth, contracting your stomach, for a count of 4
  4. Hold the empty breath for a count of 4
  5. Repeat until you feel calm – in for 4, hold for 4, out for 4, hold for 4

This will help us avoid that mysterious hole in the ground!

Do you ever feel like the puppy in the photo above?  He’s so distracted that he can’t see the squirrel on the other side of the tree.  I felt like that as I drove to the recent International Coach Federation conference in the Texas hill country.  Luckily, one of the first exercises was to set our intention for the weekend.  Since I was bringing a lot of distractions with me I decided on something I could remember:

Positive  —  Open —  Present

At the first check-in most people admitted some challenges with maintaining their intention, even though we had several opportunities to practice techniques for increasing awareness and staying mindful.  Not surprisingly, this was more difficult as the day wore on.  At our final check-in the next morning, I realized that practice had made it a little easier to stay Positive and Open  …which enabled me to stay Present.

I  brought home some visual reminders of the positive things I want to focus on so I wouldn’t go right back to:

Negative  –  Closed —  Distracted

If you’re like a distracted puppy, what will help you stay focused and present?  How will you put that into practice in the next week and beyond?

English author and philosopher Francis Bacon, an advocate of inductive reasoning in science, wrote, “Knowledge is power” in 1597.  This phrase has come up with many of my clients recently in a new form: self-knowledge is power.

One of the first steps in coaching is creating awareness of strengths, motivators and stress behaviors, typically through a personality assessment and confidential feedback from colleagues.  The challenge then becomes what to do with that information.  I often tell my clients, “You don’t have to agree with all of the feedback but you can choose what to do with it.”

Knowing …

  • your strengths gives you the power to resist buying into destructive comments from an undermining co-worker.
  • what motivates you gives you the power to pursue a role that makes you look forward to work every day.
  • what triggers your stress behaviors gives you the power to stay calm and in control when your brain wants you to do the opposite.

What do you need to know in order to be your most powerful self?