Most top performers in business have one thing in common: They accept fewer tasks and then obsess over getting them right.
The common practice we found among the highest-ranked performers in our study wasn’t at all what we expected. It wasn’t a better ability to organize or delegate. Instead, top performers mastered selectivity. Whenever they could, they carefully selected which priorities, tasks, meetings, customers, ideas or steps to undertake and which to let go. They then applied intense, targeted effort on those few priorities in order to excel. We found that just a few key work practices related to such selectivity accounted for two-thirds of the variation in performance among our subjects. Talent, effort and luck undoubtedly mattered as well, but not nearly as much.
The research makes clear that we should change our individual work habits if we wish to perform better, but the implications are much more far-reaching. We also need to change how we manage and reward work, how we measure economic productivity and perhaps most important, how our culture recognizes hard work. We should no longer take it as an automatic compliment to hear that we’re “hard working.” Hard work isn’t always the best work. The key is to work smarter.
(1) This doesn’t mean that companies should adopt fewer goals. Companies may achieve more by having teams or individuals working on different goals. But individuals must focus.
(2) My golden management rule: in every interaction with people in your company, ensure you Focus, Empower, and Inspire. This excerpt provides one of the ways to help people become more focused — help them to accept fewer tasks.
(3) Cf. (i) The best work question to ask yourself every morning, (ii) If you want to get more done, stop doing these things, (iii) Saying “no” to good ideas.