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If Everything’s Important, Nothing’s Important

It is essential to keep your priority items to a minimum. If everything is important, nothing is important and if you have too many top priorities there is a very real danger that none of them will get done.

This is particularly true when it comes to setting annual goals. I suggest to my clients that these should be limited to no more than five, and that three should be tracked every month. We do this through the mechanism of The Alternative Board, but if you don’t belong to a peer board, then you should find a monthly mechanism that forces you to keep focus on your top goals.    

This also links closely to my article Great is the Enemy of Good. A great plan that’s never properly implemented will always be less effective than a more mediocre one that is. Similarly, a plan with too many priorities will always be ineffective. 

When I was running my Computer Service Company, we had a two day planning retreat. (I’m not sure why we call them retreats when the purpose is to advance, but that’s a question for another day). We planned the event carefully and had a professional facilitator run it. The result was a high energy affair, and we all got charged up about what needed to be done. 

In our enthusiasm, we discussed everything, and everything seemed important. When the dust settled, we left with 23 things that needed to be done. Yes, 23. Well, of course when we got back to the office, we all had jobs to do, so the tyranny of the urgent took over once again, the priorities shifted and drifted…….and we accomplished almost nothing. 

What we should have done is limited ourselves to three to five main categories and established very specific goals for each one. We should have broken these goals down into carefully defined actions and time-frames and stayed focused very firmly on getting small things done to make incremental progress. 

We should, but we didn’t. We put so many things on the list because we thought they were all important and failed to accomplish anything very much. Everything was important, so it turned out that nothing was important.