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The Sticky Note System for Avoiding Fire Fighting

Do you sometimes feel like your whole day is spent putting out fires?  You’re not alone.

For many people, work is non-stop urgent.  One of my favorite bosses once said, “One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is not allowing themselves enough time for strategic thinking.”

It’s easy to become a person who reacts, but true leaders shape their environment.  Whether you’re a solopreneur, a mid-level leader or running a major organization, your ability to think beyond the urgent and focus on the important will determine your success.

Here’s a system one of our clients uses to keep himself focused on his most important work.  Every Monday, he writes on a sticky note, three things he wants to accomplish that week.

Obviously, he is going to do more than those three things.  The sticky note items are three important things that could easily get lost in the shuffle without intention.  He hones the process further with three categories: Strategy, Front line, and Self.  He chooses one thing from each category each week.

You can whiteboard, mind map and have a twenty-seven point strategic plan, but posting three action items on a sticky note right on your computer increases the likelihood you’ll actually get it done.

We use the same technique with our team.  The three item sticky note helps us decide where to spend time and when to delegate.  Here’s a breakdown of why these three categories matter, and how to keep them from getting lost in shuffle:

1. Strategic priorities – Long-term goals that advance your organization. 

What can you do this week, to move the needle on those goals?  Think about your role and how you can have the biggest impact on your company’s long-term goals.
It may be something big, like recalibrating your customer service department.  Or it might be something smaller, like up-skilling someone on your team with a coaching session.

2. Front line priorities – Connecting you and your team with customers.

No matter how large or small your organization you have customers or constituents.  It’s surprising how many leaders go weeks without ever seeing a single customer, the very people who make the business possible.  No matter what your role, connecting with customers strengthens your perspective.
If you can’t get in the field, attend an industry webinar, talk to someone in sales or customer service about their biggest successes or challenges, or read customer reviews. The more you understand your customers the more focused your work will be.

3. Self – Your own personal development   

Leading a team is more about others than it is you. You also need to be your best self to make the team work.  If you’re exhausted, frantic, or angry, or if you’re a poor communicator, your team suffers, weather it’s your work team or your family team.

The best leaders prioritize self-care and self-development. Do one thing each week to advance your own leadership.  Have a conversation with a mentor, do a LinkedIn learning course, watch a TED talk, or take time to read during lunch. These seemingly small things add up to a more focused you and a more strategic leader.

Focusing on strategic, frontline and self, and choosing one thing from each category will ensure you’re focusing on the important, rather than just the urgent.

Start right now. You’ll be amazed at what you accomplish.