Organization and Volume of Activity

As I’ve shared before, a useful way to generate leverage is to invest energy in activities that produce disproportionate return on investment. A reliable way to do that is to find causes and effects with exponential relationships.

One such cause and effect relationship is the effect of your level of organization when you are dealing with a high volume of activity and potential priorities.


The overhead of staying very organized isn’t worth it if you don’t have much to do. But, as your “to prioritize” queue gets longer, the overhead of organization pays itself forward many times over.

The lesson: Invest in developing a system for organization that works for us. The more we have on your plate, the more we’re going to be grateful for it.

PS: For those wanting to understand this further, the Operations theory behind this is fascinating. Waiting time in a queue = mean service time x utilization x variability. So, as your resource utilization/available time decreases, any variability in activity results in big delays in your ability to get to items later in the queue. When you are organized, however, you are able to get more done in less time => your utilization decreases => the queue wait time decreases exponentially.

Backing your car into your driveway

When you back your car into the driveway at the end of the day, you make a small investment to make tomorrow better. By sacrificing the ability to ease in to your driveway this evening, you allow your future self tomorrow to just drive out and keep that morning momentum.

One such investment we can make at work today is to make sure we finish Friday by putting down our top 3 priorities for the next week. As a bonus, we can also look  ahead at our calendar next week and block out time to work on the top priority items.

It is a small investment today that will enable us to hit the ground running on Monday morning.

Our future selves will thank us for it.

People leverage and System leverage

Leverage means using something to maximum advantage outside of the financial world. It is often used to describe human capital. For example, new hires in a company ideally provide leverage to their managers. And, supporting functions provide leverage to their sales teams.

I find two kinds of leverage in organizations – people leverage and system leverage. The underlying concept is similar. Leverage provides for a stronger support system for execution. However, while people leverage focuses on people to provide the support system, system leverage relies on processes and systems.

Imagine you are the one woman customer service center specialist. Your company is growing quickly and you decide to hire someone. The guy you just hired provides you immediate leverage. He takes all the basic stuff off your plate and allows you to focus on more strategic stuff. Soon, you could expand this to a team of three. This is a classic example of people leverage.

However, let’s assume your first hire does a little more than you asked him to do and creates a really good FAQ resource for your customers. All of a sudden, you may not need to hire three people. That resource has helped provide system leverage. It allows you to operate at a higher level without adding people to the organization to solve the problem.

There are a couple of important takeaways once we understand this difference. First, most organizations intuitively understand people leverage. However, there aren’t enough that get system leverage. The best organizations and teams have fantastic processes and systems that enable their people to perform at a high level. This is often what makes large corporations tick. There are many large corporations whose human capital potential are definitely not being utilized. However, thanks to the strength of their systems, they still deliver impressive results. Of course, the truly great corporations have both.

Second, when you and I are hired to a new job, we provide automatic human leverage. We might even provide our manager the leverage created by two hires if we were very good. However, there is no better multiplier than when we build systems. Looking for inefficiencies in how we operate and solving them by putting systems, tools and processes in place is among the highest impact things we will do.

IQ versus DOT

Growing up, we’re often told implicitly that raw intelligence/IQ or intelligence quotient is a big deal. There are, however, two things we aren’t told.

First, after a point, IQ actually doesn’t matter all that much. Some of the greatest scientists of all times didn’t possess high IQs.

Second, in a battle between raw intelligence and a combination of discipline, organization and thoughtfulness (let’s call them DOT), DOT nearly always wins. And, this is in every measure – from building a successful career to, perhaps the most important, having a good life.

And, the best part? IQ is something we are born with. Discipline, organization and thoughtfulness, on the other hand, are traits we build – much like building our biceps.

And, as far as muscles go, they don’t get more powerful than those.

Organization and creativity

I’ve regularly conversed with people who’ve somehow been led to believe that organization stifles creativity. They feel that being planned and organized means you never get to enjoy the moment.

The opposite is true.

When you are planned and organized, you can actually take time off on a whim and let welcome interruptions get in the way because you know you have the situation under control. So, interruptions don’t stress you out because you have time to make it up. And, welcome interruptions (e.g. a close friend drops in to talk to you about something important) actually remain welcome.

That’s not to say you’ll avoid stress. I’d even argue a little bit of stress and pain is good. But, organization helps you avoid panic – the biggest enemy of productivity – and actually manages to free your mind.

And, it should come as no surprise that it takes a free mind to make interesting associations, i.e., to be creative.

The double whammy principle

Let’s imagine 2 situations –
– You have an important interview tomorrow and are trying to get through as much of the preparation as possible
– You are going through an incredibly busy time and there just doesn’t seem to be enough time in the day to do the things you want to do

In both situations, you could justify an impulse to stop doing one or more of the following “basic” things – sleeping, eating healthy, or taking time to stay organized.

This is where the double whammy principle comes in – The return-on-investment of the “basic” things in our life goes up exponentially in times when doing them feels against the flow. Essentially, not doing them will feel like a double whammy.

So, even if you did pull that all-nighter for your interview and went a bit more prepared, your lack of sleep will ensure you don’t perform to the best of your ability. And, if you did compromise on taking the time to organize yourself before or during a crazy day, there is a very high probability you will lose a lot more time due to the disorganization and lack of planning.

So, what does that mean for you? Very simply, avoid the double whammy. The busier you feel, the more important it is to carve out time for the basic things in your life. In tough times, the time taken to sleep, eat healthy, to reflect and to stay organized will pay themselves forward many times over.

The first step to surgical precision

The first step to surgical precision is a plan. The plan might change depending on what the surgeon sees when he operates. But, he’s going to have a defined plan nevertheless.

It is like a general going to war. As they say, no battle plans survive first contact with the enemy. That doesn’t mean great generals didn’t make them. They just adapted their plans depending on the situation.

I just read a nice quote that said –

‘Nobody ever wrote down a plan to be fat, lazy, broke, or stupid. Those things are what happen when you don’t have a plan. ‘| Larry Winger

Having a plan doesn’t guarantee that it’ll all work out. But, not having one really messes your chances.

So, improve your chances. Start with a plan. When things change, adapt your plan. Get everything that is in your control sorted – that’s how we get to surgical precision. So, take a few seconds today and.. plan. There is power in just being intentional.

(And, yes, “plan” was intentionally repeated. :-))