Brilliant Time Management Practice
Focus or Flounder
by James "Alex" Alexander
Da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Churchill. This very rare club of esteemed folks had the ability to multitask and “multi-produce” at an extraordinary level—doing many (and sometimes quite varied) works simultaneously and doing them all brilliantly.

Alas, most of us aren’t members of this elite club, but because of the “do more with less” movement brought about by downsizing and cost-cutting programs, we find ourselves facing a laundry list of goals, projects, and tasks covering a variety of areas—some we are good at, and some we are not as good at. The predictable outcome is less-than-stellar work and probably some degree of fatigue, flounder, and frustration. (Hey, you don’t even have time to do the things you are good at well!) So you and the organization may be more “efficient,” but you sure aren’t more effective. Here are three tips to minimize the Flounder Factor:
1. The Rule of Three
The vast majority of people (even really smart people) can hold only three goals, or three issues, or three ideas in their mind at one time. That seems to be the maximum. So when you have a rule that holds up, don’t violate it. Limit your organization’s primary goals, critical issues, and top tasks to three—no more. If you can live by this rule, you will see that life becomes much easier. Jerry Brown’s presidential campaign understood this concept when they developed his slogan, “Serve the People, Save the Planet, Explore the Universe.” Agree or not with the man or his politics, but at least you’d remember his focus! The Rule of Three is also a maxim of good communication: Limit your message to three main points and your power of persuasion will go up dramatically.
2. Separate the Vital Few from the Useful Many*
Now you may say, Rule 1 sounds good, but I still have to deal with these 26 KBIs I got from the big boss. We understand that this is reality. However, you do have the power to focus on the few—to concentrate your best efforts on the top three that will have the most impact. Rank your goals and tasks, concentrate on the top three, and determine the absolute minimum effort required to meet the bare minimums of the rest. Delegate as many as you can (in the name of developing your people!), and try just forgetting the least important and see what happens. More often than not, no one cares.
3. Before you Giveth, First Taketh Away
Next, think about your people and your role in helping them be more successful. Before adding one more dipper to their overflowing bucket of work, first think through what can be dumped out to make room. Ask them (no, require them) to rank their tasks in consideration of accomplishing their responsibilities, and eliminate any “nice to do” items. They will respect your wisdom, appreciate your consideration, and contribute more to the things that truly matter.
*This phrase comes from Joseph Juran, one of the giants of the quality movement.
James "Alex" Alexander is founder of Alexander Consulting, a management consultancy that helps product companies build brilliant service businesses. Contact him at 239-671-0740 or
Alexander Consulting
5248 Fairfield Drive
Fort Myers, FL 33919