Photo Courtesy of  Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Here’s a quiz:

It’s Monday morning and your current to do list is two columns long. Do you…

…knock off the 5 things you know you can get done before your conference call in an hour (What my colleague Christine calls low hanging fruit) or

…create a plan to address the big challenge you’ve been putting off because it seems so daunting?

Of course, the answer isn’t clear cut.

It depends on things like urgency, energy, what you have the resources to do and probably a whole host of other factors.

But Christine’s piece reminded me of the concept of


What is leverage?  My favorite definition is “the increase in force gained by using a lever.”

In everyday language, leverage means figuring out what action you can take that will have the biggest impact relative to your effort. Unfortunately, when we live in “to do land” it’s easy to see our lives as consisting of a series of disconnected tasks rather than as a unified whole. This makes it hard to find leverage. As Christine points out, “low hanging fruit can be a distractor.”

One of my clients found himself living in “to do land.” He was working long hours, never felt like he’d accomplished anything at the end of the day. Worse, he was chronically late for meetings, forgetting important details and not making good decisions.  He was the epitome of distracted.

Taking a cue from the neuroscience concept of chunking*, he started the practice of identifying one priority a day for each of the major projects he was working on. He wrote them (usually around 4 per day) on a piece of paper and left it on his desk to see the next morning before launching into his day. He referred to it during transition times in the day to see what to focus on next. Over time, he reported a real increase in his confidence that the important work was getting done and things were not falling through the cracks. He also found he was delegating more and had a greater peace of mind.

I’m not advocating that you adopt his system. It worked for him, at least for awhile. But whatever system you put in place, try to pay attention to the idea of leverage.

Ask yourself: What one thing can I work on today that will have the biggest impact on what’s most important? And how can I make sure I stay focused on that and avoid getting distracted?

*For a good explanation of chunking, see David Rock, Your Brain at Work, pp 28-31