Help Me with My Priorities: Control the Controllables

In our latest leadership report, we dive deeper into prioritization and managing the “controllables”.

Help Me With My Priorities

With so much uncertainty in the world, it’s not surprising that executive teams are struggling to know where to place the right bets. As a result, leaders in the middle are less clear on where they should be placing their time and energy.

Senior executives may grumble about leaders at levels below not being accountable, but the reality is, many executive teams are announcing big plans without clear strategies to back them up. The result is that leaders in the middle feel like they have less autonomy around decision making and are becoming increasingly frustrated.

This swing back toward a top-down, “because I said so” approach to leadership is driving many to look for more guidance from senior leaders to help them focus on the right priorities. The challenge is that the guidance often doesn’t hit the mark. So, it’s important to think about what you can do and what’s within your control.

Consider this quote from Charles Duhigg’s book: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business

“Most of the choices we make each day may feel like products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the way we organize our thoughts and work routines have enormous impacts on our health, productivity, financial security, and happiness. One paper published by Duke University research in 2006 found that 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.”

If you are feeling overwhelmed with too much on your plate, there are three solid strategies that help you assess all that’s on your plate and wrest back some semblance of control.

Audit Your Workweek

It’s first important to take a true inventory of everything on your plate. This includes meetings, 1:1’s with direct reports, emails, and everything else that makes up your workweek.  It’s important to have a clear view of how you are really spending your time.

At The Roundtable we’ll often have coaching clients complete a simple exercise. They first map out their top priorities are critical for that period and then track their activities over the course of one week (maybe two). They then step back to assess how much time they’re spending on work aligned to priorities and how much is “busy-work”. The results are typically eye-opening.


Many leaders fall into the trap of doing it all and often are loathe to say no to a request, ask to push back on the timing or delegate tasks to others.

As you reflect on how you spend your time consider:

  • Do you have items on the list of to-do’s that are nice to do but not critical to priorities?
  • Have you said “yes” to doing something because it’s easier to do it yourself rather than explaining the steps?
  • Would “no” result in a challenging or uncomfortable conversation?
  • Would it be challenging to push the deliverable to another time?

Often that nice to do work gives you a sense of personal accomplishment (hello inbox zero) but really doesn’t help move key priorities forward. It’s amazing what time can be freed up when you get intentional about where you will or won’t spend your time. Likewise, letting go of the ego and admitting that you said “yes” to too many things at once does not mean you are incapable, it means you are human and in need of support.

If, at the end of this exercise, you realize that you truly have too much on your plate, then it’s time for a different conversation back with that senior leader of yours. Perhaps the structure of your team is not correct or perhaps they have the same problem with saying “no”. Now at least you have concrete observations to back up that conversation rather than a feeling of “I am totally overwhelmed”.

Could your executive team use some support to clarify priorities and shift from blame to accountability? Are you personally overwhelmed and not sure where to start? Reach out and learn about our approach to team and individual coaching. Grounded in positive psychology, neuroscience and driven by data, we can help you get results that last. Call us for a free consultation.

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