Churchill’s life provides so many stories and examples of grand leadership (See: 7 Leadership Lessons from Winston Churchill), that it’s easy to overlook some of the simple yet powerful productivity practices he utilized to successfully administer the War effort for Britain during World War II.
One of my favorites is what he called: “Action This Day.”
Upon becoming Prime Minster in 1941, the situation in England was desperate and Churchill recognized the need for extreme urgency. The responsibility for building up England’s war-fighting capability, and deploying it effectively, fell squarely on Churchill’s shoulders.
Churchill realized the need for decisive action from his staff. He quickly became frustrated with the pace of decision making, so he instituted a simple yet powerful tool to create urgency and a bias to action.
When he wrote a dispatch or order that demanded immediate attention, he affixed a red label stating: “Action This Day.”
The red label served to prioritize and focus energy on the most important activities.
At one point during the war, a group of under-resourced code-breakers (including Alan Turing) were working furiously at Bletchley Park and they asked Churchill for help. He wrote back to the code-breaker’s superiors: “Action this day! Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this has been done.”
I’ve taken Churchill’s idea and applied it to my daily routine. I create an “Action This Day” list by physically writing down, pen on paper, the one or two big items I will accomplish each day.
It’s easy to get distracted by email, social media, texts, Slack and other disruptions that prevent us from the deep focused work that really adds value to our business and to our lives.
Writing this newsletter is a great example. If I can spend my time reacting to email and the requests of others, and thereby avoid writing, I can fool myself into thinking that I’m being productive. But at the end of the day, if I haven’t completed the deep focused work, I’m left feeling hollow and empty. I was busy, but I wasn’t productive.
The “Action This Day” label is just one of many stories from Churchill’s life that can serve as a lesson to help us get a little better every day.
For more stories about Churchill and his incredible life story, I invite you to listen to my interview of Andrew Roberts, the author of a NY Times best-selling biography of Winston Churchill: Walking with Destiny.
- Benjamin Franklin: 10 Lessons on Wisdom
- Viktor Frankl: 5 Lessons from Man’s Search for Meaning
- Ulysses S. Grant: 12 Leadership Lessons
- Lewis & Clark: 5 Leadership Lessons
- Google: 8 Most Important Qualities of Leadership
- Phil Knight: 7 Leadership Lessons from Nike
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