Written by: David Dye
“Mark, What’s your M.I.T.?”
Mark pushed back from his desk. “That’s a great question. I’ve so much flying at me…” He sighed. “I don’t have a clue.”
Mark’s calendar might look familiar: wall-to-wall meetings, often with two or three appointments competing for the same window of time.
Management means an unending stream of information, problems to solve, decisions to make, fires to put out, constant interruptions from email, texts, phone calls, messaging apps, and that’s not to mention the projects you want to work on to build a better future.
It can seem like you’ll never get ahead.
The first step to address this overwhelm is to accept the reality that you cannot do everything. I often refer to this as “Infinite need, finite me.” You can’t succeed by doing everything – only by doing what matters most.
Once you’ve made peace with the reality of infinite need, finite me, it’s time to get crystal clear about your M.I.T. or Most Important Thing. In your work, what are the one to three most important strategic objectives you and your team can achieve?
Your ability to Mind the M.I.T. is critical to your success, but what if you don’t know what’s most important?
It’s not always as straightforward as we might hope. In fact, we’ve seen many frontline leaders and middle-level managers in organizations we work with struggle to identify their M.I.T.s.
Five Ways Leaders Can Focus When Everything Is Important
Here are five ways to figure out what’s most important and where you and your team can have the most impact:
1. Ask Your Boss.
When you feel swamped with competing priorities and initiatives, start by asking your supervisor: “What is the most important thing my team can accomplish this year?”
We’ve often sat with befuddled leaders and invited their manager to the conversation. We’ll ask the manager to identify the MITs and they rattle off the top one, two, or three priorities for the next year. They may not have communicated them well, but they knew what they were.
2. Think Two-Levels Above.
If your boss isn’t clear about the MITs, trying thinking up a level. What keeps your boss’s boss awake at night? What are the goals they’ve got to achieve? How does what your team does contribute to these outcomes? You might even try initiating a skip-level meeting in order to align your team with strategic goals. If your boss is amenable, invite them to join you.
3. Ask What Matters Most to Your Customers.
If you can’t get clarity from your managers, the next place to look is at the value you add for your customers. Whether you provide a product or service and whether you do that for external or internal customers, they don’t care about your scorecard. What do they care about? What are the one or two things your customers most need from you? Focus on doing that exceptionally well.
4. Ask What Matters Most to You and Your Team.
If you’re still struggling for clarity, imagine a day six months or a year into the future where you and your team are congratulating one another for having done your very best. What did you achieve? What made you most proud? How do you know you did your very best?
5. Look for the Leverage.
Often, there is one action you can take or one result you can produce that will have a profound effect on everything else. What is that one point of leverage that, if you did it successfully, would change the game for you, your team, and your organization?
When everything’s important, you blunt your impact. When you take time to figure out your one, two, or three strategic M.I.T.s, then relentlessly focus on them every day you’ll energize your team and results can soar.
Today, Mark has his three M.I.T.s written on a whiteboard in his office. He reviews them every day and discusses them with everyone he talks to. The team focuses on the specific behaviors that will help them achieve their M.I.T.s.
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