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US president's tips stopped me being a busy fool

US president's tips stopped me being a busy fool

Ever found you’re constantly running but never gaining traction?

Most business owners I speak with tell me if there’s one thing holding their business back, it’s that they’re always responding to the urgent instead of focusing on the truly important.

Too often, we keep ourselves busy as an excuse to avoid the really difficult question: ‘Do I actually need to be doing this?’

And there’s the problem. With all the competing demands on our time, we get so busy getting stuff done, that we rarely stop to ask if what we’re doing should actually be done at all. We succumb to the ‘activity trap’, whereby we busily climb the ladder of activity without realising it is against the wrong wall.

How to be more productive

We all have the same 24 hours in a day. Simply working harder won’t do the trick, and will only result in burnout. Instead, we need a framework for separating the seemingly urgent from the truly important.

Enter Dwight Eisenhower, arguably the most productive president who ever lived. While serving two terms as president of the US, Eisenhower directed the launch of the internet (Darpa), the exploration of space (NASA) and was responsible for bringing about the peaceful use of alternative energy sources (Atomic Energy Act).

What underpinned Eisenhower’s extreme productivity? A simple decision-making tool that you can use right now in your business.

How to use Eisenhower in your business

Separating the important from the urgent is the difference between constantly running and moving forward. One of the questions I commonly get is how can I differentiate between the important and urgent? To which my response is always:

  • Urgent tasks are things that you feel like you need to react to: client emails, phone calls, staff requests.
  • Important tasks are those things that contribute to our long-term goals and objectives.

Let’s take a real-world example:

On arriving to the office, your administrator provides you with a list of clients have called and want to discuss what’s going on to their investment portfolio. 

What’s your response: do you call them straight back, calming their fears and bringing them back in from the ledge or do you finish that business plan you had been meaning to do today?

Gut reaction says you jump on the phone and return those calls straight away. Eisenhower says you schedule a time to do it later or delegate it to someone else who can do it for you.

Who’s right?

Eisenhower. Because tomorrow you’ll receive another ‘urgent’ request for your time, and then the same again, and then the same again. Meanwhile that business plan will remain shelved, waiting for later to come, but later never arrives.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating sloppy service, responding to client enquiries in a timely manner is important. But you don’t have to do it right now, better yet, maybe you don’t have to do it at all (chances are, your associate adviser is just as qualified to make that call).

How to take action

We all know we should be in the top left quadrant, focusing on the truly important and urgent, but in practice we find ourselves in the bottom left – responding to the daily trivia and seemingly urgent.

So how do we shift our focus so that we can become more productive and move our businesses forward?

Every morning, ideally before your get your head down for the day, take five minutes to prioritise your workload for the day by using the Eisenhower box.

You owe it to yourself, your business and your clients. 

Chris Hindle is practice manager and paraplanner at Jones Hill IFA (Wiltshire)

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