Dr. Daniel Levitin, writing in his book The Organized Mind, discusses the behaviors of what he call HSPs, or Highly Successful People. One characteristic these individuals share is their practice of implementing systems that save time and improve their personal performance. Top salespeople, for instance, learn that if they can respond effectively to the ten most common customer objections, their sales will skyrocket. Why? Because those top ten objections encompass 90% of all possible objections. In fact, why would they waste time and energy on the other 10%?
Top executives develop highly refined systems for delegation, working though projects and even daily tasks. (This is reputedly why Steve Jobs wore jeans and a black turtleneck everyday. He didn’t have to think about what to wear.) We are all creatures of habit. Highly successful people just leverage this characteristic to save time and accomplish more.
The same can be said about the common decisions in most jobs, including yours. Sure there are minor variables with each decision. There might be a different co-worker involved each time. You might be dealing with a different vendor. The timing might need to be adjusted. But there is already a mental framework in place, if you think about it.
Try this exercise. Over the next week, create a list of the ten most common decisions you make regularly. (Ten is not a firm number. You might come up with fifteen or struggle to find eight.) Once you’ve done so, outline the basic steps and elements involved with each one. Then look for ways to standardize repetitive tasks, create forms, or systemize a process. Take a couple of colleagues to coffee and ask them to critique the way you make the decision. You might even find you can eliminate a step or two because you’re doing it the way it has always been done.
Identifying and refining these frameworks will also allow you to delegate some of these decisions to others. The only challenge in doing this? Letting go. If you’ve developed and honed a decision making system over time, chances are you’re proud of it and might be reluctant to let anyone fiddle with it. But consider the time you waste protecting a task or decision that could be accomplished by others. Who knows? They might even improve it and make you look better.
Be careful not to dismiss this exercise because you think your job is too complicated, erratic or fast-paced. There is always room for systems that will improve performance. If you don’t believe me, study the people who are doing the same thing you do, only better.