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6 strategies to help your team focus and prioritize

<p style="font-size: 14px;"><strong><em>Jim Sullivan is a keynote speaker at foodservice leadership conferences worldwide. His newest book Fundamentals is available at Amazon or <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. Check out his <a href="" target="_blank">leadership video series at</a>. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation&rsquo;s Restaurant News.</em></strong></p>

Jim Sullivan“Lost: Yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, two golden hours, each set with 60 diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever.” —Horace Mann

Time. It flies, is spent, goes by, is money, waits for no one, is on my side, takes its toll, changes everything, is fleeting, has come today, is right, you can’t turn back the hands of it, and you can fool all of the people during some of it. You can kill it but you can’t keep it. 

Time is many things to many people, but the one thing it isn’t is real: It’s a concept invented by humankind to facilitate commerce and make sense of sunrise and sunset. So any attempt to manage something that doesn’t really exist is as worthless as a tip jar at the DMV. 


Still, we measure our days, our labor, our lives, in minutes, hours, days, weeks and years, so time is woven into the very framework of our existence. And in this harder-smarter-faster-more world we live and work in, it seems we’re constantly forced to do more with much less. And yet everyone gets 1,440 minutes a day, no more, no less. 

So why do some restaurant managers seem to get more accomplished than others, given the same finite hours in a day? Why do some teams outperform others doing the exact same work? What are the most successful foodservice brands doing differently relative to setting stretch goals, targets and objectives?
What they don’t do is manage time. Instead, they focus and prioritize. 

Our company,, helps restaurant chains re-design their Manager Learning & Development programs. One of the very first things we audit with new customers is the number of documented tasks their managers are expected to oversee per their daily shift checklist. 

It’s downright sobering: Based on our internal research with the companies we work with, a typical GM in a full-service restaurant has an average of 52 tasks to supervise per shift. An assistant manager on that same shift has an additional 37 duties, a shift leader 22 more, and the cumulative hourly employee duty list averages 118 further tasks. Add them up and that GM has 229 tasks to oversee per shift. And that doesn’t include the unexpected fires thrown their way during a busy shift. 

So how do you possibly manage your time effectively enough to execute all those responsibilities? The short answer is that you can’t. Here’s the thing: We don’t need more time. We need to prioritize. Here are six strategies to frame your focus:

1. Strategic clarity. Job No. 1 is to determine what to pay attention to and what to ignore. That ensures that the stuff you spend your time on has the biggest impact. Focus on the things you can control, not the things you can’t. Break down your Key Performance Indicator (KPI) targets like food safety, training, hiring, service, sales, speed, accuracy, cleanliness, and so on into smaller shift goals, so that every day you’re both focused on and working toward attaining big picture goals through incremental advancement. Search Google for methods like V2MOM (vision, values, methods, obstacles and measures) and OKRs (objectives and key results) to help you define a set of targeted goals and then align your team’s daily efforts to achieve those core objectives.

2. Productive teams. Three focused actions build the strongest teams: 1) Make hiring and retention primary priorities; 2) Make learning and development a daily ritual for everyone; and 3) Recognize that training’s priority should be absorbing culture, not memorizing procedures. What adjustments do you need to make to your team’s learning and coaching process? 

See more strategies

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3. Pros don’t wing it. One the most effective ways to prioritize and focus is to target objectives (see “Strategic clarity” above), follow a plan and use a checklist. No matter how many hours a pilot has logged in their career, I want them to use a flight plan and a checklist before they fly me anywhere. Would you trust a pilot, a doctor or a financial advisor who says, “Plans are overrated. Let’s improvise instead.” But this is exactly what most restaurant managers do every single shift by neglecting to set shift goals and direct their teams to achieve them. Lackluster discipline in shift goal-setting produces a routinely lackluster P&L.

4. Eat a roadblock for breakfast. Every evening I make a list of the three most important things I have to accomplish the next day. And first thing in the morning, I focus on the one must-do task that gets me started in accomplishing those three things. This jumpstarts momentum and focuses me on getting even the biggest projects started. Doing a little every day is better than doing nothing, and accomplishing three things well daily has a greater impact than attempting 12 things that never get completed. Heck, what if you could improve just one thing per week in your restaurant? A year from today you’d be 52 improvements ahead. 

5. Apply discipline to direction. We recently polled 303 hourly foodservice employees on goal-setting. When we asked them what the targeted focus areas of their jobs were, 61 percent said they didn’t know, 22 percent say they “kind of” knew but weren’t held accountable for them, and 72 percent say they never received any daily direction on how to achieve those goals. In other words, they didn’t know the goals or how to achieve them, weren’t committed to them, and weren’t held accountable for them. Yikes. Does this describe your team?

6. Scoreboards matter. Do your GMs set clear, attainable goals for their teams? Does everyone understand their role in attaining these goals and know what they need to do to attain them? Here are seven questions to help define focus: Do my people know what to do? Do they know how to do it? Do they want to do it? Do they know the best ways to get it done? Do they know the measurements? Do they have a scoreboard? Do they work together and hold each other accountable for what they do, or don’t do?

You can’t spend the same minute twice, so make each one count at work by asking yourself: “Given all that I have to accomplish today, is this the absolute best use of my time right now?”  

If you’d like to go on a deeper dive on the topic of priorities, productivity and performance, two of my favorite books are Getting Things Done by David Allen and The Four Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney and Sean Covey. 

Jim Sullivan is a keynote speaker at leadership conferences worldwide and the author of two books that have sold over 400,000 copies, including Multiunit Leadership and Fundamentals. Get his apps, podcasts, training catalog and more at, and follow him on LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter @Sullivision.

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