Building Your Chinese Stool

November 2nd, 2012 by Kelly Kienzle

Chinese Stool

One of the most oft-cited problems I hear from my clients is how to handle the limitless number of demands put on their time and energy.  We grapple with how to address critical needs while also protecting time to consider long-term vision-setting.  We shift our priorities from building our internal team to keeping our external networks strong and expanding.  We want to deepen our industry knowledge, but also must finish that huge project.

The constant stream of requests and demands can make us feel overwhelmed, under attack, or very, very tired.

So how do we make sense of this chaos?  How do we push aside the clutter to focus on what is most important?

Consider identifying the three areas that are most important in your role.  These areas are like the three legs on a Chinese stool, as one creative client said to me recently.  Perhaps your three legs are: Building External Relationships, Developing My Team, and Winning [X] Contract.  Or perhaps they are: Increasing Fundraising, Refining our Mission Statement, and Finishing [Y] Report.

The key here is to identify the broad areas that are your most important responsibilities.  The examples above reflect external responsibilities, internal team responsibilities, and immediate tasks.  What are the three legs of the Chinese stool in your role?

After you have identified the three most critical legs, the next step is to write down what is the single goal that you want to accomplish in each area, right now.  Now that you only have a few areas to consider, allow yourself some blue-sky thinking: What would you do here if you had no fear?  How does this project relate to the overall vision of the organization?  Which of these tasks would be a stretch opportunity for someone on the team?

When you are done, you will have a specific task for each of the most important domains of your role and an expanded space in which to work on them.  As new demands come in, consider whether they are part of your three critical legs right now.  When the stool is close to completion, decide whether it is time to build a new one with different legs.

And now that the chaos has sufficiently died down, sit quietly on your stool and begin your work.

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