Successful leaders typically have a common problem--their calendars overflow with stuff to do. It's critical that you don't let yourself get buried in it all. But before you hit delete on your entire agenda, picture this.

You drop your dinner on the floor. The phone rings. Now your kid comes in with a nasty gash from a fall. And you really, really have to go to the bathroom.

Which comes first?

Now, most people I know would prioritize the kid, because nothing else is a safety issue. They'd make this decision quickly, reacting both on emotion and rapid-fire rationalizations that happen almost on a subconscious level. And the thing about the scenario is, you probably wouldn't second guess yourself. You'd just choose and go, for better or worse, accepting in that moment that you're able to handle whatever consequences come from the decision.

Hopefully, you don't have anybody coming into your office hurt. But the underlying concept holds: The more that's on your plate, the more you learn to prioritize without doubting yourself, because there simply isn't as much time to ruminate about the thousands of consequences that might never come to fruition in the first place.

This isn't to say you should load yourself up and never take a break to the point of burnout. (Please don't.) And some situations really do deserve extra time for rigorous study and consideration. Rather, it's to point out that, just like a little stress is healthy for you, the occasional really full day teaches you not to overcomplicate what's in front of you. It teaches your brain to focus on the most critical components that form a big picture. And when you can do that, it's much easier to see what deserves your energy and what doesn't.

If you're not used to doing this, an easy way to practice without risking anything in your business is simply to make a massive to-do list for yourself at home. Then, when you get a free day, tackle the list. Your objectives are to

  • Eliminate as many tasks as you can, BUT ALSO
  • Make the biggest influence you can.

Give yourself just five minutes to figure out which jobs you'll do and in what order. You'll force yourself to think quickly about how to group tasks, the resources you have, the time each job will take and so on. Some things won't get finished, and that's OK. The important thing is just that you trust yourself and run with your initial decision. If you get to the end of the day and have a regret, just mentally note it and analyze a little about why you'd choose differently if you had the chance again. You'll learn about what you believe and value most, and over time, the number of end-of-day regrets will get fewer and fewer. Once you're comfortable doing this with your personal responsibilities, you can approach your business agenda in the same way and comfortably explain your conclusions to those on your team.