As chief of staff to a senior vice president who runs a global team, a core part of my job is keeping projects and the dealmakers who own them on track. To do this, my guiding philosophy is essentialism, the embodiment of “less is more.”
This starts with seeing the full scope of projects and, from there, classifying and paring down the scope to main focal points in order to improve productivity. More than a task management or prioritization tool, an essentialism mindset can help you focus on the most meaningful things in both your work – and your life.
Essentialism: Essentializing for Yourself
Like most folks, I am often asked to complete far more things in one day than is possible. The only way I can navigate these expectations is by practicing essentialism to prioritize my work and personal life.
Essentialism reduces the flurry of incoming messages and meeting requests to only those with the greatest impact to the company. This inevitably means that NOT everything on my “to do” list will be completed.
I’ve learned to accept that it’s OK to say no to some things. Most often, you will find that the things you choose not to focus on will either resolve themselves without your help, or they will go unresolved and have little ramifications.
Similarly, in my personal life, I also spend time assessing whether the things that I’m focusing on are aligned with my priorities and goals. By focusing on things that are important to me, I make sure to incorporate them―or at least the pursuit of them―into my day to day.
Essentialism for the Team
Once I have my own essentials sorted, I broaden my view to take on team needs. I organize these into three buckets.
Understand Priorities: I start by making sure that I always have a good handle on the priorities of my Senior Vice President and our team’s most senior executives. Having this understanding of what matters most to him and the company’s leadership allows me to calibrate projects from across the company.
I need to be able to rank their priorities amongst the entire ecosystem of requests so that I can determine the important priorities for the organization, versus just those of one individual.
Make Lists: I come into the office in the early morning before others arrive so that I can collect my thoughts. I also make a list of the things that I need to accomplish for that day and throughout the week.
I’m a fan of lists because they are a great way to stay on the right track and evaluate progress.
The trick to making the most of your lists is to keep reassessing and aligning them to tackle the most important or time-sensitive items first. Another way to optimize them is to pay attention to those items that NEVER seem to come off of it.
They usually signal one of two things:
- The item doesn’t need to be on the list as it isn’t that important. If that’s the case, be OK with taking it off the list.
- It’s a very critical item that you are delaying for some reason. Identify what the roadblock is. Maybe it’s a very tedious task, really difficult and complex, or requires working with people you’d rather not deal with, etc. Once you uncover the reasons behind the delay, learn how to overcome the problem.
Follow up: I frequently check in with team members to see how projects and tasks are progressing. This helps us all push the most critical projects forward.
In these check-ins, I try to help individuals remove bottlenecks by helping them navigate the corporate structure, or suggest alternative approaches and resources to resolve the issues.