No doubt in the upcoming new year many of us will be making resolutions and setting ambitious new goals. As for me, no matter what goals I set, I'll be thinking about how I can maximize my impact on the path to achieving them.
This is a question I've thought about often. My own approach to effectiveness is still a work in progress, but through trial and (lots of) error, I've settled on a list of 5 principles that help me deliver the most impact on whatever it is I'm working on.
1. Create and optimize systems vs. doing one-off-things.
Nearly everything can be built into a system or process to make your life easier. If you find you're doing something more than once or twice, find a way to automate it. This isn't just about the future time saved by investing effort up front. There is an emotional opportunity cost for every little thing you have to store in your head and remember to do each day. Building systems to handle most of these details frees you up mentally to think bigger picture and helps you focus on only the most important things.
2. Over-allocate time into planning.
I can't emphasize enough the importance of structuring your day, week, or quarter. I've written before about how I spend time each Sunday planning out my week. It forces me to think critically if I'm doing the right things, helps me make decisions more easily, and simplifies my schedule. Those who deliver the biggest impact take ownership of their schedule and activities while making sure they are aligned with the company's objectives.
3. Leverage other people or assets.
Using contractors who are experts in something you are not gives you immediate leverage. Even if you are a renaissance person and can do just about anything, that doesn't mean you should. The various contractor networks make it incredibly easy to find quality people who can scale you with very little hand-holding.
Same goes for online tools and other assets like open-source libraries. Don't waste time reinventing things that are at your fingertips and perfectly suitable to support the job you need to do. At Virta I encourage my team to look at pre-existing tools before we spin up engineering or other resources. In a world where iteration and fast learning is critical, these assets become an important part of your ecosystem.
4. Focus all energies on the one critical path item.
Look at your goals and objectives (you did set them, right?) and compress your energy into the most important item on the critical path. Too many times I have seen people dedicate effort on things that are important but should be done later, or, in the worst cases, just don't matter at all. During your planning process, ask yourself what tasks must be completed first to achieve your goals, and design your day, week or quarter around these tasks.
5. Never, ever become a bottleneck.
People tend to think that our own voice is critical for every decision. In reality, most of us overestimate the importance of our opinion in the decision-making process.
Indecision or forcing others to wait obviously slows progress, but it can also harm morale and delay what you might learn from iteration. Furthermore, team members who don't fully own a decision will eventually shed their sense of ownership in their role.
It takes mental energy (and a suppressed ego) to give your team full autonomy on certain decisions, but like many things, once you achieve this state, you'll never look back.
I'll be honest, it's not easy to follow each and every one of these principles. I said earlier that even after many years, I'm still optimizing my own framework. If you've got something better, I'd love to hear from you. Good luck!