How are you spending your time and energy? The more senior you become in your career, the more important it is to be clear on the answer.

That’s because not only are you an increasingly valuable asset to the organization, your time is finite and you can’t make more of it.

The way you choose to spend your time and energy sends a message to others about who you are.  It’s part of your reputation.

For example, early in my career I was obsessive about getting every detail right, and people would say, “Oh that’s May, the perfectionist.”  Later on, when I finally learned to lift my head up and look at the big picture, it was thankfully, “Yes, May is strategic.”

Where you choose to deploy your talents drives the impact you can have in the world.  Back in my perfectionist phase, I spent all my time on my little job and had a very small circle of influence and impact.

Maybe that’s why I now want to serve a million people!

So what’s worth spending your time on and what isn’t?

Here’s one way to think about it.

Blue chips and white chips

A friend of mine who is a former executive at BP (British Petroleum) introduced me to the concept of “blue chips and white chips”, as in poker chips, which is his shorthand way of setting priorities.  In this case, let’s say the blue chips are worth 10 and the white chips are worth 1.

When tasks or issues come up, you make a conscious decision on which category they fall into.

Do, Defer, Delegate, Drop

Thinking about tasks first and where you want to spend your time and energy, the blue chips are where you want to focus, and the white chips are ideal areas to delegate.

What’s a white chip for you could be a blue chip for people junior to you, and a great chance for them to gain experience under your guidance.

This is a lot like the urgent vs important matrix for deciding where to spend your time, energy and focus.

Urgent vs important matrix

You want to DO the things in the top right box, the urgent and important.

DECIDE WHEN to do the ones in the top left.

DELEGATE the ones in the bottom right, urgent but not important for YOU to do.

And DROP the ones in the bottom left that are neither important nor urgent.

Urgent vs important matrix - blue and white chips

Things in the top row – the important – are the Blue Chips, and the ones in the bottom row are the White Chips.

Where to spend your personal capital

This also applies to where you choose to spend your personal capital.

Let’s say we’re talking about issues rather than tasks. Then the blue chips are the issues worth fighting for (or against) and spending personal capital to win the argument.  The white chips, on the other hand, are the ones where you can be flexible and don’t need to fight to the death.

We all know people who have to win every argument – that’s an example of someone who treats all chips as blue chips. Not a great reputation to have, is it?

To take it a step further, the white chip arguments may not be worth winning even though you can win them.  For example, making sure my boss knows he was grammatically incorrect when he is full flow, making a point in a meeting.  There’s no positive outcome from winning that one!

So, go out there and be known for being a leader who’s focused on “Blue Chips”!

And please share you thoughts on how best to spend your valuable time, energy and personal capital in the comments section below…