I am increasingly convinced that success requires a certain level of selfishness that many managers and executives are simply unwilling to reach. Rather than run the risk of upsetting one of their colleagues, or, even worse, their boss, they toe the line and end up focusing on delivering others’ objectives and priorities, rather than their own.

Being selfish is not necessarily bad. By focusing on what’s important to you, you are more likely to improve your levels of performance and, perhaps counter-intuitively, be in a better position to help others. After all, if you’re tired, frustrated and lack enthusiasm how can you really be of use to someone else?

Here are 9 ways in which you can improve your performance and be of more value to yourself, your organisation and other people by increasing your level of selfishness.

  1. Clarify your top 3 priorities – and prioritise them. How much time do you really spend on your priorities rather than other stuff? How much more benefit could you provide by ruthlessly delivering on the top objectives you have identified?
  2. Block out chunks of time for your priority tasks. Too many executives’ days are split into 5 or 10 minute chunks. The problem with this approach is that you get nothing important done. Progress is made when you devote a reasonable chunk of time to an important issue, say at least 2 hours. How often, for example, do you set aside half a day to single-mindedly focus on moving forward one of your key priorities?
  3. Don’t let people put their monkey on your back. The opposite of focusing on your priorities, is focusing on someone else’s. In an organisational hierarchy this cannot be completely avoided, but I feel confident that you have huge potential to reduce your involvement in issues that others should be sorting out for themselves.
  4. Reduce your level of guilt. Much of people’s unwillingness to adopt a more selfish approach is a lack of self-confidence and feelings of guilt that you’re letting someone down. Get over it; ask yourself where you can best devote your energies today, and focus on that.
  5. Take an 80:20 approach to all your work. Don’t seek perfection, it only frustrates. Brain surgeons may need to give 100%, but for the rest of us, most of the time, other people simply don’t value the perfection we try to deliver.
  6. Stop attending meetings you don’t need to be at. Unnecessary meetings are the biggest energy-suckers around. Do what it takes to avoid them – delegate to someone else, influence the meeting owner to change the format, attend only for the relevant bits, but do something to give you the time back that you deserve.
  7. Ignore low priority tasks. It’s amazing how often, after you return from a vacation, that you can simply delete a whole stream of emails on issues that resolved themselves during your break. Guess what? They can sort themselves out when you’re back at work too; you don’t need to get involved in low priority stuff.
  8. Turn off your phone and your email. We have become slaves to phone ring tones and email alerts, answering them immediately and then getting involved in resolving the issues raised. Why? Virtually all issues can wait an hour or two. I have my phone on silent and review calls every hour or so, and only check my emails two or three times a day. These actions help me focus on what’s important to me, not urgent to someone else.
  9. Use all your talents. We are more satisfied and perform better when all our talents are being used. If you like singing, for example, take time out once a week or so to join a singing group. Yes, you may not be available for others at that time, but your greater personal satisfaction will make you a much better person to be around.

© Stuart Cross 2010. All rights reserved.