MITs: How Great Leaders Take Charge of Their To-Do Lists
08 / 06 / 19

MITs: How Great Leaders Take Charge of Their To-Do Lists

“The main thing is that greatness is doable. Greatness is many, many individual feats, and each of them is doable.”― Angela Duckworth, “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance

This quote by Angella Duckworth brings home an important point. When you and your team follow through on the highest-impact activities this week, next week, and beyond, you're generating momentum, with each "individual feat" building upon the next, to achieve massive breakthrough performance for your company.

But the reality is that many of us get overwhelmed by busyness. We’re engaged in a ton of activity but with little impact on helping the company achieve its vision.

We’ve taken our eyes off the proverbial ball of what we should be working on. And, over time, we discover that our to-do lists are controlling us, instead of the other way around, leaving us with too little margin to reflect: “Hey, should this item even be on my list in the first place?”

To achieve the Courageous Vision we discussed in Breakthrough Workshop #1, you and your team must take charge of your to-do lists. This way, you're focusing on the tasks that create the string of "individual feats" that ultimately lead to greatness for the company.

So, how can you stay focused on the highest priority activities that will make the most significant impact on your company's financial performance?

This is where you apply the goal-setting framework from Breakthrough Workshop #3: Most Important Tasks (MITs), which we’ll unpack for you in this article.

RECAP: The “Collaboration Effect on Profits” Series

If you missed any of the previous articles in this series, here are the links and key takeaways to give you the context you need to get you up to speed. If you’ve already read these articles, feel free to jump right to the next section.

Intro to the Collaboration Effect on Profits

Article: The Collaboration Effect on Profits: How Great Culture Drives Business Results
Key Takeaway: When you create an environment where leadership and rank-and-file employees alike are all working together in their optimal roles toward the same vision, that culture becomes a force multiplier to achieve breakthrough profits.

Breakthrough Workshop #1: What’s the Why?

Article: How Bold Companies Turn Their Courageous Vision into Breakthrough Performance
Key Takeaway: Simon Sinek put it best when he said, "Vision is a destination—a fixed point to which we focus all effort. Strategy is a route—an adaptable path to get us where we want to go." Make sure that your Courageous Vision is a destination that you and your team are willing to work towards together. And then use the "Big 4" strategic business questions to help chart your course.

Breakthrough Workshop #2: Role Optimization

Article: Role Optimization: How Great Leaders Put Together a Winning Lineup
Key Takeaway: When you and your team have a clear understanding of your company’s Why, How and What, the next step: Evaluate everyone's roles and giftedness—to get everyone into their optimal position, all rowing in the same direction.

(To receive these articles directly in your inbox, click here.)

Today, we're going to talk about how to take charge of the to-do list. This way, each day, you and your team can stay focused on doing work that matters most to the company's success.

Workshop #3: Most Important Tasks (MITs)

Virtue: Empathy
Objective: Identify the most important tasks for each optimal role

Okay. You’ve set a Courageous Vision for the company. Then, with Workshop #2, you worked on getting the right people in their optimal roles. Now, how do you coordinate everyone's efforts, so they're all moving in the same direction?

That’s where MITs—most important tasks—come into play on both an individual and team basis.

Paring Down Your To-Do List

The idea here is to identify your two to three most important tasks that must be done each week—the tasks that will make the greatest impact on your company's success.

In other words, if you got nothing else done this week, at least you completed these tasks. And if the tasks are not completed, the vision cannot be achieved.

That’s because your MITs serve as a compass to ensure your work is moving you in the right direction—and guide you on which action items to delegate or cut altogether.

After all, you may think, “But I’ve got 10 things I should do today.” But, more than likely, you're going to be better off if you cut that list in half or even further—"Let's just get these three things right. These are the most important three based on my MITs.”

What do MITs look like?

Take, for example, a chief operating officer for one of our clients. He had several division vice presidents reporting to him. But when they needed his input or feedback, he found himself "too busy" to respond within a reasonable timeframe.

So, he crafted an MIT along these lines: “Assess every deliverable or request that my VPs need from me and respond by the end of the day each Friday.”

If you’re a project manager at a construction company, one of your MITs might be: "Review all invoices 100-percent accurately by seven days before the invoice due date."

Or, if you’re a sales rep, an MIT might be: "Make 20 'touches' with new prospects by the end of the day Thursday of each week."

Developing Your MITs

Notice in the MIT examples above that they each follow the “SMART Goal” format.

They’re...

  • Specific: Does the MIT represent a clearly defined deliverable?
  • Measurable: Is it something we can measure so we can track progress?
  • Attainable: Is it realistic?
  • Relevant: Does it align with the company’s broader strategy?
  • Time-Bound: What is the target time frame or deadline for the completion of the MIT?

So, go back to the COO example: “Assess every deliverable or request that my VPs need from me and respond by the end of the day each Friday.”

Now, let’s evaluate this MIT using the SMART model:

  • Specific? Yes. “Assess every deliverable my VPs need from me.”
  • Measurable? Yes. “Respond to every request 100-percent accurately.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that he completes the deliverable, but it does mean that he responds to each request.
  • Attainable? Yes. This MIT is realistic and doable.
  • Relevant? Yes. This is absolutely important to the job and success of the company—to support the VPs who are leading teams on the ground. Moreover, the COO needs to know the pulse of what’s going on with the divisions to be able to articulate that “pulse” to the CEO.
  • Time-Bound? Yes. The deadline is “by the end of the day each Friday.”

In this example, there may be occasions when the situation requires more thought, and you won't be able to develop a full response by the Friday deadline. And that's okay, as long you communicate that to your VP. You might say something along these lines: "I want to keep you in the loop. This is on my list, but I can't get to it by 3:00 pm today. I should be able to get back to you on this by Monday."

Aligning Individual with Team MITs

Once you’ve chosen your individual MITs, it’s time to take the MIT development process to the next step: The group feedback session.

This is where each person shares their individual MITs with the others on the team to get their input and feedback. After all, it is one thing to set your own priorities. But as you share your MITs and listen to the others in the group share theirs, you begin to look beyond your own role to understand the big picture. You can now see how interdependent each person's roles and responsibilities are to the success of the whole organization.

Following Through on MITs

But developing MITs cannot be a “set-it-and-forget-it” exercise. It requires consistent (weekly) check-ins to ensure everyone—including the CEO—is following through on their commitments. Otherwise, no one will take their MITs seriously.

As the author and former Navy SEAL, Jocko Willink, writes in his bestselling book, "Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win,” “You don’t get what you preach, you get what you tolerate.”

At Legacy Advisory Partners, we help each other stay on track with a weekly meeting to talk about the status of our MITs for that week.

We go around the table. If you fulfilled all your MITs, you give a thumbs up. And if you didn’t get to all your tasks, you give a thumbs down.

The purpose of this meeting is to create an environment where you take ownership of your performance. After all, you don’t want to arrive at the meeting having to give a thumbs down if you can do anything about it. And excuses will only compound the problem. So the weekly meeting reminds you to stay focused on getting your MITs done during the week.

But if you're encountering bottlenecks impeding your progress, these weekly meetings can also help you—and the entire team—get back on track.

The idea here is that things happen in the marketplace that may require “in-game” adjustments. And that’s the value of regular checkups. They allow for feedback and discussion to change course, as necessary.

"What do you see out there? What are some of the challenges holding you back?" 

Put processes in place that help you and your team to clearly understand each person's goals, roles, and responsibilities with key performance metrics to track progress. This way, you can dramatically improve the likelihood that your company will live up to its potential.

The Bottom Line

Hall of Fame football coach Tom Landry put it like this: “Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan.”

In other words, although defining your MITs is critical to success, you can’t stop there. You need to create a plan to help you execute on those MITs and stay on track. Otherwise, you’ll spend your days in “firefighter” mode, staying really busy but not getting much done.

But when you consistently “plan your work and work your plan,” you will string together, what Duckworth calls, “individual feats” that put your company on the path to greatness.

That’s because you're no longer overwhelmed by too many low-priority tasks vying for your attention. You’re freed up to demonstrate great levels of empathy to build strong connections with team members and customers who are vital to your company’s success.

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About the Author:  J. David Harper, Jr. serves as CEO and principal of Legacy Advisory Partners, an Atlanta, Georgia-based firm that provides total retirement plan advisory services that give clients a greater competitive advantage to attract and retain top talent. David is also the author of the book “The Great 8: A New Paradigm for Leadership” that teaches business leaders how they can tap into eight timeless “virtues” to expand their influence and achieve sustainable success for their organizations.