Prioritise and Execute

I’ve been reading “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin recently. It was recommended on the Tim Ferriss podcast of which I am known to listen to so I thought I’d grab it. I read most of these books on Apple iBooks and you can get it from there, but if you want to buy a copy here it is: The phrase in the title of this post really caught me today and I’ve been thinking about it since.

If you’re anything like me, there is a million different tasks, projects and priorities hitting you at any given moment. Finding a path through this plethora of demands can be difficult and trying to work out where the best bang for buck work is can be even harder. So with all that in mind, I found Extreme Ownership’s discussion of it to be quite timely. Willink and Babin use battlefield stories to illustrate their points and I have found it to be quite effective in bringing out the details of what they’re trying to get at. An underlying theme that seems to come up a lot is understanding the situation and using that as leverage to predict what courses of action are most rewarding either through maximised end results or minimisation of risks. I have, therefore, looked across the list of things on my to do list and started to prioritise based on maximum reward, necessity and what will cause most harm if left unattended. While these were my parameters, they might not be yours and they weren’t the authors. Working through my priorities then caused me to look at our intranet site more closely and actually fix a database issue that has been quietly getting worse and worse. I prioritised it and then executed on the fix after putting it off for some time. Now the backups work properly and the whole site is running 10% (or greater) more efficiently and I’ve avoided potential catastrophe!

I really like the militarised approach the writers of this book have. It feels empowering to be executing on tasks that need to be done, rather than just working through them. I’m always surprised by how language can affect mood in such subtle ways. The more definitive the language, the more focused I seem to be on the task. Rather than just writing this post, I’m executing an OKR key result of writing 1000 blog posts. Yeah! That’s the stuff right there. Better than just getting another post out the door or feeling obliged that I have to do it…

While this isn’t a book review per se, I can recommend this book to others. There are many gems in its pages, driven by hard practical activity with lives on the line. The concepts espoused have been put through fire and come out with solid results. “Prioritise and Execute” is the one that definitely grabbed me today, particularly with so much happening this time of year. For the writers it was life or death, fortunately for me it’s just a matter of keeping the engine room running happily here. It’s well written, has a great lay out that brings concepts through clearly in different situations and is an engaging read.

Prioritise and Execute is not that easy of course. To prioritise a task means to understand it, the implications of getting it done versus putting it off, and for me, how it affects other activities in the systems thinking sphere of action. That is to say that most of the tasks I work through are interlinked in one way or another – not necessarily in a linear fashion, but there is a certain amount of stuff that has to be done in order. The option branches are then the focus for the priority setting exercise. OKRs help keep the whole thing on track (in a very high level way) but generally it’s the demands of the business week in, week out that really set the scene. Willink and Babin certainly take a general amount of care in setting their priorities and it’s an important lesson in conjunction with prioritisation generally. Getting all gung-ho can be as negative as procrastination I tend to think and the writers reflect that as they discuss these concepts. That’s probably enough for the moment, I have another priority to execute so I’ll leave it there. Grab the book – it’s worth a read. (Full disclosure: I am not affiliated with, nor do I gain anything from this recommendation. It’s a good book!)


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