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Out of time? Here are 4 ways to make progress every day

June 14, 2016 Matt Norquist

If we say something is a priority but don’t do it, it’s not a priority. It’s just a broken promise. I see this all the time. Heck, I do it way more often than I care to admit.

We see it most noticeably on failed New Year’s resolutions—everyone writes about them and makes plans to execute them. In reality, it’s the day-to-day priorities that fall by the wayside that can be the most damaging. These are also the most likely to creep up on us over time and are not inconsequential. In train, don’t try, I discussed the importance of building trust by meeting commitments—both small and large—as a critical pathway to achieving results. But as we all know, even the best laid plans change.

Our research at Linkage, inclusive of data from more than 135,000 leaders worldwide, indicates that highly effective leaders are more adept at overcoming stumbling blocks and achieve more successful outcomes than their peers. Ultimately, we can each create greater impact by building an awareness of four common areas which I often see getting in the way of our ability to drive results:

1. Tick tock, tick tock

Oftentimes, we might feel like we have no time, are too busy, can put something off, or might not get around to it. This one shows up as a challenge again and again. And it might be the most difficult stumbling block to avoid. Sometimes we get caught up in a crisis that needs all of our attention, which is totally understandable. But then after two or three days or weeks, we’ve lost sight of whatever priority we said we’d do, forcing us to start over.

I’ve found that approaching your day with predetermined blocks of time for certain activities can be helpful. Don’t get stuck in the cycle of responding to email, phone calls, and meeting requests in the moment. Some of the principles seen in Tim Ferriss’ work are pretty beneficial here. It’s also a good idea to get in the habit of setting aside time to walk through your schedule for the week ahead to look at all the things you have to do (project work, meetings, deadlines, personal commitments, sleeping, eating, commuting, etc.) and all the things you want to do—and assign them time. Whenever I’ve felt overwhelmed or short on time, this exercise makes me chuckle as I quickly realize how much time I actually have in a given day or week (a lot!). Why doesn’t it ever feel that way?

2. Priority check

In my previous blog on figuring out what you do best, I share how prioritizing tasks that are likely to yield great outcomes and create a positive feedback loop from colleagues can be important to getting work done in a timely and efficient way. Mistakes I see most frequently include: setting goals too high; focusing too much on remedial goals (things we’re trying to stop or weaknesses we are trying to fix); and picking priorities that don’t have high impact.

What’s the fix here? Pick actions that produce the best results for the least amount of time, set interim and process goals, not just long-term BHAGs (which are fine, but can be daunting if not supported by the baby-step goals), and emphasize priorities that you’re likely to enjoy success in.

3. Accountability matters
The most common mistakes I see here are avoiding accountability (you need a few people to help keep you honest and to encourage your pursuits) or having too much accountability (oversharing your grand plans with the masses). The best leaders make public commitments on important priorities, but augment this with even more ambitious commitments that only their inner circle knows about. Those in your inner circle will give you encouragement and that nudge you might need when you’re falling behind on what you said you would do.

For example, one of my commitments that I shared publically at a Town Hall meeting earlier this year is to not multitask. One of the ways that I demonstrate this is to intentionally set my phone aside and not check email during meetings. Privately, I let my accountability partners know that I am also practicing mindfulness meditation 30 minutes a day. I set up my schedule and work station with the goal of achieving total focus and mindfulness on every task. These are two very different levels of commitment, and sharing the second publicly can set you up for undue scrutiny. (Whoops, just shared this one.)

4. Don’t give up
It might sound like an overused cliché, but it’s true. Not giving up is the crux of commitment. It is very easy to stop a plan after you get sidetracked or derailed a few times. I’ll give you a couple of recent examples from my own personal experience: I’m planning to eat healthy during the month before my wedding, but instead I decided to indulge in pizza and french fries last weekend. Or, I recently made a commitment to write one page a day on the book that I’m working on, but have noticed a trend in recent weeks where it’s only happening once a week—so rather than revising my objectives, the book plan is aborted and I’m left with 15 unfinished masterpieces. The trick here is figuring out how to get back on track.

Leaders who really commit, and empower their team to work through these common challenges make progress each and every day. Some days it feels like one step up and two steps back, and other days it feels like you’ve got the wind at your back and can make progress in leaps and bounds. Committed leaders also build confidence in others, even those who think they can’t do it (this is another behavior that our research indicates differentiates effective leaders from others), because they keep their commitments and take the small steps every day toward progress. At the end of the month, quarter, year, or their career, they can reflect on what they have accomplished and how far the small steps have taken them toward their desired goals.

Which stumbling block resonates the most with you and why? Please share your thoughts and reflections below, or with me at

At Linkage, we are committed to helping you and your team generate positive, lasting, and measurable results. Start your journey to success with us today.

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