When was the last time you got up from your desk, walked out to do something VERY important, then forgot what it was within 15 feet of your office? I confess, it happens to me more than I’d like to admit.

I know it really was important when I thought of it, yet it seemed to vanish from my conscious mind when I needed to recall it just several moments later. Thankfully, the really important thought comes back to me, yet it is frustrating in the moment.

We live in a world where there are many, many things striving to get our attention. We have technology that can help us store and process information in a very efficient way, yet technology has also allowed unprecedented access to us, unless of course we are the master of it.

As leaders, we have staff vying for our attention for any number of reasons. We have customers and suppliers (all people we really want to speak with and develop strong relationships with) clamoring to get some time on our overloaded calendars.

If you are like many leaders I interact with, you have a to-do list with more items on it you can possible handle.  We regularly confuse the important with the urgent and as a result, we spend a great deal of time reacting to other people’s priorities, emergencies and quite frankly, other people’s irresponsible behavior.  This is no judgment here, just an observation of something that is very real.

The word “reacting” was chosen intentionally. There is a big difference between reacting and responding.

Reacting is what we tend to do without thinking or out of habit. For example, if someone cuts us off in traffic, we will take our foot off the gas and apply the brake without thinking. If someone on your team asks if you “have a minute”, you may automatically respond “Yes” stopping what you were working on to give the person a minute…or ten!

Responding on the other hand, creates an intentional pause before initiating your reply. When we take this pause, we allow ourselves to actually determine how we would like to respond, rather than rely on what we have always done in the past. The act of responding enables you to think into the action before the words.

Responding lets you ask whether a request from someone else will be aligned with yourpriorities or not. If it is not aligned, you can then choose to say “no”, or “not now” and stick to your agenda, not be distracted by the other person’s agenda.

This seemingly minor change can actually have a powerful impact on your productivity and therefore your results.

Being intentional about responding rather than reacting will help you limit your focus, creating a new, healthy habit you will treasure for years to come. Limiting your focus enables you to spend precious time on the top 3-4 priorities which will produce key results.

Remember, all activity produces results, yet not necessary the key results you must achieve to realize high levels of success.

You may be familiar with a story about Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways and several other highly successful organizations.  A company in the US sought to have Branson speak to their several hundred member sales team. Through a mutual acquaintance, Branson was approached with his request.  Actually, Branson never received the request directly; his “people” were in place to receive and evaluate such requests. (Don’t miss the wisdom in that last sentence.)

The request was turned down, even though the proposed fee the company would pay would be $100,000.  A second request was made, this time upping the ante to $250,000.  They received the same response – No.  A third request was made essentially saying name your price.  Again, the answer was no.  When asked why Branson would turn such a request down, the reply indicated giving a speech was not one of his top three priorities nor would it advance any of those top three priorities. Brilliant!

You may not agree with Branson’s politics or other views; nevertheless, it really can’t be argued that he hasn’t achieved remarkable and extraordinary results. The key point here is that he is incredibly focused on fewer things.

The lesson is clear: no matter how lucrative the offer or opportunity, those with incredible discipline and focus accomplish large goals with great impact.  Jim Collins said, “Good is the enemy of great” meaning that we can perform 10 things at a satisfactory or “good” level or we can do 2-3 things at a “great” level.

Successful leaders say ‘no’ far more than they say ‘yes’.  They know every time they say yes to one thing, they are saying no to something else.

So, the next time someone asks you if you have you have a minute, maybe you will be a bit more consciously aware of the impact this request will have on your priorities.

Best regards,