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How to ensure you spend your time on the most consequential decisions.

Photo by Manasvita S on Unsplash

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and former CEO, says he is paid to make a small number of high-quality decisions and that he is happy if he makes "three good decisions a day."

Bezos is one of the most successful business people ever, so what can we learn from his decision-making approach?

It is common in today's busy workplaces to be inundated with decisions. The everyday distractions of busy work and busyness are getting in our way because many modern organisations prioritise doing visible things over doing deep work. The need to be present, attend meetings, and contribute to communication threads - this behaviour is visible and can be measured - can easily be confused with being effective.

This is a common challenge that I often work with my clients on. These are successful people, either on the way to the C-suite or a member of that top team. Yet many need help to overcome the natural inclination to get deadline-driven tasks squared away and off their to-do lists.

We work together using diagnostic tools, evidence-based research, and frameworks to generate and capture insights, such as:

🎯 The lead domino

🌴 The root problem

⌛ When to wait and when to act

I want to delve into one area, in particular, to ensure you use your time wisely and focus your attention and energy on the most consequential decisions and tasks. Many successful people face a paradox: our most meaningful tasks and decisions are less likely to have deadlines than tasks that are relatively unimportant. If you're like most people, the true priorities slip to the back of your mind while you work on the visible shallow work.

This is why empowering your teams and delegating effectively is so crucial. But first.

Urgent and Important

I want to dust off the trusty 2x2 matrix.

Most people will be familiar with and potentially use the Urgent and Important matrix to help them overcome the ingrained habit of focusing on unimportant tasks. This helps free up enough time to do what's essential for success.

The famous 2x2 matrix: Urgent and Important
Urgent and Important 2x2 Decision Matrix

This simple framework is remarkably helpful at categorising tasks and decisions, especially when worked through with a coach that holds you accountable and challenges you to cut through the noise. Leading towards identifying the things you could do (and that you aren't doing now) that would make a tremendous positive difference in your life if you did regularly.

Yet rarely will this 2x2 matrix help to achieve enduring change without tackling how someone becomes better at empowering their team. Transferring responsibility to other skilled and trained people enables you to give your energies to other high-leverage activities. Delegation means growth, both for individuals and teams and organisations. Not delegating enough or not delegating effectively is an obstacle that regularly prevents people from reaching their potential.

How to delegate and why people often don't

Many people refuse to delegate to other people because they feel it takes too much time and effort and they could do the job better themselves. But effectively delegating to others is perhaps the single most powerful high-leverage activity there is.

Why don't people delegate?

  • They can do it better themselves.

  • They can do it faster themselves.

  • The other people are too busy already.

At the risk of repeating myself, transferring responsibility to other skilled and trained people enables you to give your energies to other high-leverage activities. Delegation means growth, both for individuals and for teams and organisations.

Reframe the problem: delegation is a powerful learning experience that you are taking away from people in your team by not doing more of it. How would you feel if that was being done to you? Giving new tasks and stretch assignments to team members is how they learn and how they grow. It is critical to communicate openly and honestly with your subordinates, empower them, and think about potential, not past performance.

Open and honest communication with team members to assess their strengths and capacity for new projects and supporting them is essential to avoid "gofer delegation", which isn't delegation at all. Instead, the boss barks orders, "do this, do that, do it this way. To be an effective delegator, the focus is on the outcome and results. It leaves the choice of how with the person you delegate to. This form of delegation is consistent with the coaching style of leadership, where learning and longer-term development are important:

  • Desired results: ensure a mutual understanding of what needs to be accomplished.

  • Guidelines: identify parameters within which they should operate.

  • Resources: identify and free up resources (including yourself) for the person to utilise.

  • Accountability: be clear on the success criteria.

Consequential and Irreversible

Let's delve into this decision making and delegating rabbit hole even further. This second 2x2 matrix complements and adds to the more typical one. Consequential and irreversible decisions are what some people call "Lead dominoes." And being able to identify them is a crucial decision-making skill. The lead dominos are the decisions and tasks that will eliminate the most problems and save you time in the future. This is where you should be spending your scarce time and attention. That is why this second 2x2 matrix is so valuable.

2x2 matrix : Irreversible and Inconsequential
Irreversible and Consequential 2x2 Decision matrix

Write down all the decisions and tasks on your mind or in your calendar, and take up your scarce time, attention, and energy.

What type of decision is each one?

You know what I will say before I say it - anything that is inconsequential or reversible (and yes, I know this is subjective, that is why only you can delineate) you should delegate. Still not sure? Go back to the heading "How to delegate and why people don't" and reread.

If you spend most of your time on reversible or inconsequential decisions and tasks, then take this as a wake-up call.

"Not all decisions are equal."

- Shane Parrish (Farnam Street)

Coaching can help you.

An independent, strategic coach - someone who is outside your line management will be able to:

  • Be that independent and confidential sounding board that you need.

  • Tell you things that others cannot say, and hold you accountable.

  • Provide an outside perspective to help you see yourself as others see you.

  • Help you identify and develop new habits and skills to be more effective.

It can be impossible to get this support from those around you. Yet, this helping hand may be essential for your enduring success. Coaching will assist you on the path to cultivating these decision-making skills and making them a core part of your working life.

Often busy people struggle to make sustainable change. This isn't because of a lack of intent or the will to make things happen. We often have to change ourselves to implement changes in how we work successfully, so ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What actions might I be taking that prevent me from doing deep work and achieving this goal?

  2. What potentially competing commitments do I have that hamper my efforts to change how I work?

  3. What limiting assumptions do I have that are getting in the way and preventing me from making this sustainable change?

Should you need help answering these questions, please get in touch to explore how coaching might help.

Imagine what you could accomplish if you weren't focused on all those reversible and inconsequential tasks and decisions.

"Change before you have to."

- Jack Welch


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