Tackle the Hard ‘Nut’ First!

Accountability Personal leadership Productivity


Key Point: The very first thing you should do each morning is tackle the most difficult issue on your agenda. If there is a” fierce conversation,” you need to have it. If you have bad news, share it. If it is something ugly that you hate to do, and/or like to procrastinate on, learn how to get it off your plate immediately.

Today, a very respected colleague of mine shared a great story with more than a hundred new hires about tackling the hardest “nut” first. After he graduated from university, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He explored apprenticing as an auto-mechanic where a wise journeyman taught him the lesson of unscrewing the most difficult “nut” first. (This was when mechanics were not computer scientists and actually fixed cars). The “nut” that was the hardest to get at, toughest to unscrew, etc. was the place to start. Why? When you got that difficult step of the job over first, the rest of the “nuts” come off easier, and the overall job is much more successful. 

In our organization, one of the biggest behavioral disappointments we have is the failure of team members to get back to customers within 24-hours. Especially when these customers have a pending deadline and/or ask for help. In most cases, the primary excuses regarding team members failing to return that call, is the fact that they “have to have a difficult conversation” to move forward. They may have to reject a loan application, call about an overdraft, confirm a bad credit score, ask for more customer information, etc. Therefore, we provide no call back at worst, or a very late one at best. Of course, our customers subsequently get very upset when we don’t meet our commitments. We fail to tackle the “hard nut” first. The same outcome occurs when leaders fail to have difficult conversations with direct reports. Avoidance leads to festering aggravation, and eventually a much bigger problem.

Personal Leadership Moves:

  1. Learn that simple, yet hard approach of getting the toughest issue off of your lap ASAP. Don’t wait. Make it so. It will likely come back to haunt you if you don’t. This sounds easy, but most of us like to do the easy stuff first and push off the tough stuff. It’s understandable, yet problematic.

Tackling the hard “nut” first in Personal Leadership,


One Millennial View: I think if there was one skill I wish I could improve on overnight, it would be this. It truly is one of those “simple” things that proves easier said than done. More recently than I care to admit, I now start my day by making my bed. This was something I’d typically put off till later, but it is one of those subtle tasks that lets you achieve something bright and early, and come home to something clean. Of course, making a bed isn’t a hard “nut” by any means, but it does get things cracking.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis