Time management guru Stephen Covey said to, ‘Begin with the end in mind.” Why? To avoid doing the trivial but pressing things while ignoring the things that matter but serve your ultimate goals.

Filing paperwork. Submitting expense reports. Filling out forms. Signing policies. Taking online compliance training. Scheduling meetings. Rescheduling meetings. Gathering pre-read materials to attend meetings. The list goes on and on and on.

And it’s annoying because as a leader you’ve got better things to do. WAY better things to do. Unfortunately businesses are systems that seem to effortlessly spawn administrivia at an incredibly rapid pace. And there are entire departments devoted to making sure every piece of administrivia is filled out precisely and in its proper place.

I’m here to tell you that while some of it may be essential it sure ain’t important. Not to the big picture. Not to why you get up every day and do your job. Not to why your company hired you in the first place. This I know for sure: you do not get paid by your company to get an A+ in administrivia.

But a lot of business folks forget that. And when they are under pressure, stressed, stretched in multiple directions and just want some R-E-L-I-E-F they tend to drift to the lowest common denominator to make themselves feel like they are making progress in an over-scheduled, constantly-distracted-from-what-really-matters world.

So what really matters?

You know the answer to this. C’mon! It’s the customer, baby! Each of us, no matter where we work or what our function is should wake up every day thinking about how we contribute to delighting and serving our customer. For some that may be easier because you sit in customer/client/consumer facing roles. But for the vast majority in mid-to-large businesses today, you sit in some type of enabling function. And it is VERY easy to forget why the company exists. Its core purpose.

At Beam I was constantly reminding everyone that we made and sold spirits. Period. We weren’t in the business of IT. Or HR. Or finance. Or marketing. Or legal. Or supply chain. Or sales. We were all there to ensure the highest quality liquors were crafted and then delivered ultimately to our end user—the consumer.
And that, my friends, takes everyone’s almost-full-time attention. Harkening back to the wisdom of Stephen Covey is helpful here. He very passionately proclaimed that all of us must remember to distinguish between the important and the urgent.

And there is nothing—no piece of paper, no form, no logistic, no ADMINISTRIVIA—more important than the customer.
I’m not advocating that you go on some crazy, rebellious, I-ain’t-complying-with-the-stated-policies-because-I’m-too-important binge. That will get you frog marched out the door eventually. What I am saying is that each and every day you start with the most important stuff. The stuff that matters most to the customer. And you spend your freshest energy, your best thinking, your clearest mind on that FIRST.

Some experts in the field of neuroscience and human productivity advise that you start each day creating a short “must-do” list, and tackling those items first. In the HBR Guide to Getting the Right Work Done, Peter Bregman recommends scheduling time into your calendar each day to get your must-do tasks completed. If they don’t fit into your calendar right away, reprioritize until they do. Bregman even advises working on these projects before (gasp) checking your email. . That might sound like a radical idea, but try it and see how much more productive you are by 11am. (Pssst… eat some breakfast while you’re at it. Really. It’s scientifically proven to make a huge difference.) So schedule accordingly.

Do the important first. And then the urgent. I promise, the administrivia can wait.