Bernie Anderson
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Indicator Lights: The 1-1-5 Planning Method to Get (the Right) Things Done

What is your top priority for this week?

This is a question my day-job boss asks a lot. And it could be the most strategic question I get asked on a regular basis. It synchronizes both the tactical and big-picture aspects of work.

And oddly enough, he's the first supervisor I've ever had to ask the question.

The first time he asked about priorities, I'm sure I was caught off guard. Hadn't thought about it. I've spent most of my professional life instinctively doing the next thing. When "the things" become too much, I become stressed and disheveled. That's how I used to work. But I was good at this process. Like a hunter. Seeking out the tasks to be conquered and killed.

The problem being - I may have been needlessly and ruthlessly slaughtering all the wrong things.

So when my boss asked this question for the first time - I'm quite certain I talked until I made something up (a serious problem for verbal processors). He walked away from the conversation thinking, "he has no idea," I'm quite certain.

And he would have been correct.

When a problem is detected, something needs to change. Sometimes it only takes a subtle change.

Here's what I did.

My Indicator Lights

My dad always called them "dummy lights." You know, the indicator lights on the dashboard of your car. The ones that tell you if a door is ajar, or if you left the lights one, or if you need to take the car to the service station. I've created my own indicator lights for work. "Dummy Lights" for Dummies.

I have an old window mounted above my desk. I use it as a dry erase board (But a sheet of blank paper will do). It's divided into four sections. This is my dashboard. It's where I record the results of the process below.

Getting Started (Check engine)

This is for another post - or another book. But on the far right bottom, I have a list of lead indicators for my work. That is, the things I need to be doing to get the results I want (in the case, peak performance at my job). You can do this for your work (or your company) by reading through The Four Disciplines of Execution. This book helped me understand the crucial value of lead indicators. I have them in front of me at all times. They rarely change and are a constant reminder at the highest level of what I should be doing.

Once fixed, I set aside regular time every month, every week, and every day to think through my top three priorities for each. Think 1 - 1 - 5.

You might find it hard to let go of a lot of good goals until you start serving a greater goal.
— Chris McChesney - Four Disciplines of Execution

Monthly (Check Oil)

1 Hour Per Month to think, pray, and plan my month (Yes, I do pray through how I spend my time. Time is a gift from God and I want to use it well - however imperfectly I may do so). This happens on the 1st or the 31st. Or, as is the case this month - tomorrow on the 28th. At the end of this time I write down my top three priorities for the month - and put them on the dashboard above my desk.

Weekly (Low Fuel)

1 hour per week to think, pray, and plan my week. I like to do this on Sunday afternoon or evening. Sometimes it doesn't happen until Monday morning. Yet, (at least for me) it's a similar process to the monthly planning. It involves a journal, a calendar, and a pen (I like to do this in a analog fashion). During the hour, I write down my top three priorities for the week. (I do this in light of my priorities for the month and my lead indicators. It's all connected).

Daily (Door Ajar)

If I do all the above - it's simple to take 5 minutes every day to list the day's top three priorities. It's more or less my non-negotiable task list. Whatever else happens today, my head will not hit the pillow until this is done. (I actually have four priorities everyday - but my number one priority never changes and I wrote about it here.) Today I have to finish proposal edits, do project planning, and respond to appointment requests. These are my non-negotiables today. Not calling it a day until these three things are finished.

When my boss (or anyone else) asks about my top priority - I look at the dummy lights above my desk and read. It's that simple.

I not only get more done, I get more of the right things done.

Which is less whirlwind, and less stress, for everyone in my life.