Concentrate on priorities

Washing­ton Irving once said: ‘‘Little minds are subdued by misfortunes; but great minds rise above them.’’

When you hit a crunch point, your ability to focus and concen­trate can make all the difference between success and failure. You cannot do everything, but you can do one or two things—the most important things—and you can stay with them until they are satisfactorily completed. This is essential to getting through the crunch.

Goethe said, ‘‘The things that matter most must never be at the mercy of the things that matter least.’’ Stephen Covey also said, ‘‘The main thing is to make the main thing the main thing.’’

There is a rule that says that every minute spent in planning saves 10 minutes in execution. The time you take at the beginning to think about what you are going to do, before you start, ensures that when you do begin work, you will be focusing on that activity that can have the greatest possible con­sequences for yourself and your business.

Refuse to ‘‘major in minors.’’ Keep asking yourself, ‘‘What is really important here?’’ Your ability to ask and answer this question will keep you on track and often get you out of the crunch.


The philosopher William of Occam developed a concept that has come to be known as Occam’s Razor. This principle says that, in dealing with any problem or complex issue, the simplest and most direct explanation or solution is usually the correct one.

What this means is that you should refuse to allow yourself to become overwhelmed with trivia and detail. Instead, start off by trying the simplest possible solu­tion. For example, the deadline for a major payment is looming and you do not have the money. Often, the simplest and most direct way to solve this financial problem is to go straight to the creditor and ask for additional time. If you are short of cash, sometimes the simplest and most direct way is to go to your biggest customer and ask him to pay you in advance for products or services that he is going to buy in the future.

Sometimes, the simplest solu­tion to a business problem is to fire a person, or step in and take complete charge of the situation yourself. Often it is to decide to walk away from a situation that cannot be saved. Always look for the most direct and simple way to get through the crunch.


In concentrating on priorities during a crunch point, use the triage method. This method was developed by the French army in World War I, when the dressing stations behind the lines were swamped with far too many wounded soldiers for the doctors and nurses to treat. They solved the problem by dividing the wounded into three groups. The first were those who would die, no matter how much treatment they received. They were put aside and made comfortable.

The second group included those who had only light wounds. They would survive whether they got immediate treatment or not. They also were put aside. The third group consisted of those soldiers who would survive ONLY if they were treated immediately. This is where the doctors and nurses focused their attention.

In your business you should apply triage as well. Focus all your attention on those problems that can be solved if you act imme­diately. Refuse to worry about situations that cannot be resolved. Let them go; and do not waste time on situations that will take care of themselves whether you do anything or not. Focus on those problems, decisions, and activities where immediate action is essential to saving the situation.


In normal times, you are over­whelmed with too much to do and too little time. In crunch time, you are often swamped with far more tasks than you can handle. This sit­uation makes it almost impossible for you to develop the coolness, calmness, and self-control that you need to contend with the unex­pected reversal or setback.

You really must sim­plify your life in every way you can, from both a personal and a business standpoint. Simpli­fying things now will help you weather the crunch points to come.

Start off the process by deter­mining your true values. Decide what is really important to you. It has been said that all problems in human life can be resolved with a return to values. What are yours? Where might you be deviating from them? It is easy to get caught up and overwhelmed by the problems facing you. To assert control, you need to stand back and ask yourself, ‘‘What are my core beliefs?’’

Set “peace of mind” as your highest goal. In the long run, nothing is worth destroying your mental and physical health over. Once you have set peace of mind as your highest goal, organise your life around it. Refuse to allow yourself to be put off your game or to become anxious or upset about whatever is going on around you. You will find this to be an extremely valuable trait to have during crunch time.


In reality, Covey believes, there are only four ways to change your life, personally or professionally: (1) You can do MORE of certain things. What are the things that you should do more of to improve your life or your business? (2) You can do LESS of other things. What are the things you should be doing less of if you want to simpli­fy and get control over your life or your business? (3) You can START doing something new. What new things do you need to undertake to solve your problems, overcome your obstacles, and achieve your goals? What steps should you take immediately to begin working on these new tasks and activities? (4) You can STOP doing certain things altogether. There are many things that you are doing today that made a lot of sense when you started them in the past. But today, they are ideal candidates for ‘‘creative abandonment.’’


The fact is that the only way that you can get control of your time and simplify your life is to stop doing certain things. This can be especially critical during a crunch point.

Setting priorities require setting “posteriorities” as well. Posteri­orities are things that you need to stop doing in order to free up time to do more of those things that are most important to you and your future “to do’’ list, you need a ‘‘not to do’’ list as well.

The fact is that you cannot save time. You can only spend time differently. You can only reallocate time away from lower-value activ­ities toward higher-value activities. Instead of trying to do more things, you should do fewer things but things of higher value.

Another way to simplify your life is to reengineer your activities. That means you look for ways to reduce, condense, and consolidate the steps in a particular business process. You delegate everything you can to others who can do them as well as you.

You outsource all business activities that can be done by other companies. You eliminate all low-value, no-value activities that consume time but contribute very little. You look for ways to consol­idate several tasks into one job and then do it all at once.

Finally, remember this: It is when you most feel that you have no time to relax and simplify your life that it is most important that you make the time to do so. You are your most precious asset. Take good care of yourself. In his essay ‘‘The Fox and the Hedgehog,’’ Isaiah Berlin says that the fox is clever because he knows many things, but the hedgehog is smarter because he knows one big thing. The one big thing that you need to know and practice during a crunch point is simplification. The act of simplifying your life will give you the space you need to solve any problem that life can throw at you.


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