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Meetings, Priorities, and Not Enough Time in the Day

At SpringHill we’re in what we call the “Spring Snarl”. This snarl typically starts around the first of March and goes through the first week of summer camp. It’s our busiest, craziest, most stressful time of the year. Too many meetings, too much to do and not enough time for it all.
Below is a note I sent to my Leadership Team addressing this moment, and how we can not only survive the Spring Snarl, but grow through it and ultimately slay it. I share it with you, with hopes you may find something useful to help you and your team’s snarls.

I know that there’s been some discussion about the amount of meetings we’re having and that so many meetings can keep us from working on our priorities. A few thoughts:

1. Make sure our meetings are productive – moving us forward on key priorities. That we take good notes, have clear action plans when the meetings finished, make decisions and don’t kick them down the road, and know what needs to be communicated to who as a result of the meeting.

2. Have the right people participate in the meetings. If someone just needs to be “in the know”, send them the notes. Also, be willing to ask, do I need to be in this meeting? What’s the downside if I’m not? Am I invited out of courtesy or because I’m really needed?

3. Error on the side of scheduling a meeting for less time than you would normally schedule it for – 30 minutes instead of an hour. Try to get work done faster. Create a sense of urgency for the meeting. You’ll be surprised how little time you actually need.

4. Be clear on the purpose of the meeting – is it a status meeting like a daily huddle or scrum huddle? Make it 15 minutes. A working meeting? Be clear of the goals for the meeting and then acheive them. A planning meeting? Have a clear process to map out a plan.

5. Finally, read this article, it has some great ideas about how to get work down when you’re in meetings. Very practical and helpful ideas.

https://hbr.org/2019/03/how-to-get-your-to-do-list-done-when-youre-always-in-meetings?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=mtod_activesubs&utm_content=signinnudge&referral=00203&deliveryName=DM32154

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The Leadership Grand Illusion

I’m an optimist by nature. I believe the best in people, see the possibilities in any situation regardless of how bad, and love stretch goals. These tangible expressions of optimism have defined and benefited my leadership.

Yet, there are downsides to such optimism. One in particular which has inflicted my leadership (thus the organizations I’ve led) is the belief that I can effectively manage a large number of priorities at one time. Yes, it’s the overzealous conviction that I am capable of doing many important things, all really well, and all at the same time.

But here is the reality, to do our best work we must be single minded, we need to focus and do just a few important things at one time. All the research that’s been done over the past few years tells us this much. Sure there appears to be some outliers who can manage lots of priorities, but they are a micro minority (the definition of outlier) or, more likely, just good with smoke and mirrors. Which means most of us (do I dare say – all of us) can’t juggle many priorities at one time.

It’s the Leadership Grand Illusion – believing, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that we’re a part of the micro group of outliers that effectively management a high number of priorities at one time.

So, I had to come to grips with this reality and quit buying into the Grand Illusion. I’ve worked to bring discipline to my personal priorities as well as SpringHill’s. It’s been a painful process for an optimist like me, but it’s been necessary (and significantly more effective).

How have I (and we) done this? There are three simple rules that I’ve applied personally as well as organizationally:

    Have no more than Three Priorities (of the day, week, month, year, etc.) at one time
    Then be crystal clear about the Top One of the Three.
    Finally focus, talk, look at, work and Obsess over Three.

It’s that simple.

What’s not simple is the discipline, control of that optimism, and ignoring the Grand Illusion that is required to tackle only three priorities at a time, to pick the first priority of the three, then obsess about those three.

Now the issue, especially if you’re an optimist with a long list of priorities, is how do you identify the Three and the One of the Three?

Again, it’s simple but difficult at the same time – you need to ask and answer the following two questions

  • “If I/we can only work on three priorities, which ones should they be?”
  • “Of these three priorities, if I/we could only accomplish one, which one would we choose?”

So that’s it.

Really simple, incredibly effective – Commit to these three rules, then rigorously debate and honestly answer these two questions, and finally obsess over the answers until they’re completed. When you take these three steps you’re on your way to being a focused (and really effective) leader.

Closing Thoughts on a Great Summer and What’s Next?

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