Are you boiling the ocean?

When I first started leading teams, I would ask them to work on dozens of different priorities at the same time… And guess what: they didn’t know which priority was really a priority!  This is because we weren’t focused on the critical few… Instead, we were trying to “boil the ocean.” Eventually I learned that “if everything’s important… then nothing is important.”

The problems with trying to boil the ocean are endless, but to name a few: 1) It is impossible… and therefore leads to a sense of futility & frustration… 2) You will sub-optimize execution due to insufficient resources being applied to each activity… 3) You & your team will continually be distracted and interrupt-driven.

On the other hand, if you can successfully apply “critical few thinking” you & your team will optimize the allocation of resources to the most important ‘stuff’… and therefore you will dramatically increase your odds of successful execution.  As you start to put wins on the board, you will increase your team’s confidence and your own confidence as a leader.

…So What Should You Do?
Identify the critical few for your area… If you’re not sure, ask the people closest to the work.  They know & will be glad to tell you.  Next, you should explicitly de-focus on the trivial many.  Please apply wisely! I am not suggesting complete abandonment, but perhaps a downshift of resources is appropriate.  Or maybe there are some projects that can be deferred?   Stop trying to boil the ocean.

Also: if you feel like you never have enough time in your personal life, you might be boiling the ocean.  Is there anything you can de-focus to make room for your “personal critical few…?”  As above, be thoughtful, don’t make rash decisions… but this stuff is important to figure out so you can have a successful personal life too.

Good luck from a former ocean-boiler!


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