Anne was sitting in the chair across from my desk, having just said something I hadn’t thought about and I didn’t completely understand the long-term impact at that moment. Anne was a highly skilled executive assistant, with many years of experience. She had gifts I didn’t have. I felt blessed when she said, “yes” to my job offer simply because while I was keeping my head above water, I needed help.

She said, Dale, I want to help you be more efficient by teaching you how to use me. Thankfully my response to her was, “sure”, even though I didn’t really understand what it would mean for me. Her four lessons about efficiency have stayed with me my entire career and will help you too.

The first thing she did was organize the mail that came into my office with three colored folders, green, red, and yellow. Each folder had a meaning and contained the first three lessons.

  1. Don’t be a bottleneck – The green folder contained things I needed to sign. Anne challenged me to always look first for the green folder when I came back into the office, if was there to grab it, read it and sign the contents. She reminded me others were waiting for my signature and by signing I kept things moving forward. If I had questions about what I was to sign I should ask her, and she would either have the answer or would get it. If I procrastinated, by not giving the folder attention, or just holding on not wanting to decide, I was impacting the very people on my team who were trying to get the work done I wanted them to do. Hanging on too long makes me the choke point keeping things from getting done.
  2. Make decisions that need to be made – The red folder contained things I needed to give my attention to, because it required a decision by me. Anne made many decisions on my behalf and left those she described with a smile, “were above her pay grade” to me. I had choices:

a) respond with a “yes” or a “no”, or

b) ask for more information to help decide, or

c) delegate it to someone on my team.

Don’t be the leader who holds off making decisions because there are risks. There always are, but that’s why you’re a leader. If there was no risk in decisions, you wouldn’t be needed.

  1. Eliminate junk – The yellow folder contained the other stuff, most of which was informational or junk. Anne reminded me not to spend much time with the yellow folder. She also asked me to show her what I considered “junk” so that she could remove it first and I’d never see it. Too often leaders spend time on the easy things, looking at the junk, instead of focusing on what needs to be accomplished. Don’t waste your time on it, your time is much more valuable.
  2. Let others do what you don’t do best – Her last lesson wasn’t a folder. Anne simply asked me to “let go.” She wanted me to give to her, or others on the team the things they were better at. It wasn’t an insult to me, she reminded me we all have gifts, and the key was to focus on using our gifts, not trying to do it all.

When you are more efficient, your team will be more productive.

 Don’t waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Ephesians 5: 15-16 (MSG)

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