By John Worne 

COOs and Specialist-Generalists usually collect big issues; and to get things done have to give willingly of their time. Broad accountabilities usually mean lots of meeting – and then there’s the inbox.

But sometimes lots of activity can be saved by getting to the heart of the matter – with the people at the heart of an issue, 

For many years I’ve had a ‘Diary and Set up the day’ slot covering 8.30am to 9.30am. This is to try to avoid early meetings and get ahead of the day. The truth is for over a decade this time has mostly been spent on email.

Not any more. 

I now have ‘Diary, Biggest Problem/Most Difficult Thing’ and this REALLY works. I picked up this top management tip up from Chris Croft – and there are many more here

If you take a moment to reflect first thing, there’s usually something big going on that you’re not addressing, are avoiding or are worrying about. 

When things are going badly it’s obvious; when things are going well, sometimes it takes a minute to put your finger on it. But there’s always something there.

Two golden principles for Specialist-Generalists are if you fix things upstream you save a mountain of work downstream; and if you actively work with people there’s a better chance they will work with and not against you. 

Given you work across disciplines you can never fix big problems using the resources under your direct control. You have to engage, encourage, support and help others towards a common picture; and shared or at least mutually supportive goals. 

So that first ‘Biggest Problem/Most Difficult Thing’ of the day is almost always a phone call, a message or catching someone before their day has started: to snuff out a problem, extinguish a misunderstandings, share some context, explain what’s going on, maintain the trust, ask for and offer help and align forward thinking and action.

Sometimes it’s the same people often it’s not; and usually I only get the chance to do it properly once a week… But it’s increasingly the single most valuable thing I do – both for me and my organisation.

Regularly stepping out from the torrent of email and getting closer to people ‘upstream’ is the best start to Specialist-Generalist’s day.

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