Pick 3: How Effective Leaders Stay Sane

Most people know the power of 3, but how often do you apply it to your life?

A few years ago I was having lunch with a colleague of mine at a local cafe. I knew I would get an earful when I asked — “How is the new position going?” What came next was 60 minutes of venting. There was so much that she needed to address within her new department that she couldn’t focus. She was overwhelmed and unsure of how she would be able to get everything done. When we got up to leave, I gave her two words to live by: Pick 3

For years I have gotten the same question from people that I have worked with.

“You are responsible for so much here, plus two kids at home. How do you balance everything?”

The answer is simple — You don’t. Pick the 3 most important things and focus on those.

Everyone talks about prioritization, but few are really disciplined enough to stay focused.

By picking 3 things, you are not only stating what you will focus on now, but you are also stating what you will not focus on.

This is an important step — you must communicate openly what you are trying to accomplish and what you will be intentionally ignoring in the process. While you may think you are letting people down, you won’t be. Most people will be inspired by the discipline and clarity involved.

This doesn’t mean that other initiatives sit idle. Chances are you have people on the team responsible for those areas of the business. This can be a great opportunity for them to practice strategy and goal setting on their own. In my colleague’s case, it was about leaving one team on autopilot while she worked with the product team to improve data access. By being open about areas that she would not be juggling, she was able to take a breath, not work into the wee hours of the evening and spend time with her #1 priority — her family.

This may sound simple, but it can be very hard to do in practice.

Try it on — Get out a piece of paper and pick the three most important things that need your attention. Only 3. Recognize, accept and communicate all of the other items that will not get done.

Productivity is a state of mind. Pick 3 every day. Your sanity (and your family) will thank you for it.

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Michelle Denogean is the former CMO at Edmunds.com. She is a senior marketing executive, thought leader & practitioner in the world of business strategy, growth marketing, brand communications and digital disruption. This post is part of her leadership {playbook} — intended to advise, inspire and mentor leaders at all levels.

Follow Michelle on Twitter: @DenogeanNow