How to focus on the ‘right’ (strategic/longer term) things
**First published January 2013 – bringing to the fore again given what’s been going on for some coachees**
Last year I invited you to reflect on your personal strengths, areas for development and something you struggle with that I could potentially address in my monthly Flourishing Female newsletters. ‘Time management’ was the single biggest theme for development and that’s where I’m starting this month. Specifically, how to prioritise the strategic stuff. Put another way, how to get better at ignoring the easy wins at work and home that provide a instant glow of gratification but don’t move life on in any meaningful way.
As a lover of detail, order and seeing results I feel I can speak with authority on prioritising inbox clearance, invoicing and other quick wins instead of ploughing head first into a big, strategic deliverable at work. It’s something that intensified after becoming a parent when I found myself only have snatched time to accomplish things. However, I have been steadily reforming over the last few years and can offer something by way of tips to put your focus where it needs to be.
Identify the reward
The reason we prioritise the things we do, is in part due to the reward we experience when we do them. What is it you get from doing the small tings, the easy things, the things you can do standing on your head? AKA, the ‘fluff.’ At the very least I’d guess it’s satisfaction without too much effort. And that anticipation of satisfaction drives us to keep doing them. Now think about the rewards you’d get by doing the bigger, more strategic things. They’re good aren’t they? But they’re going to take longer to achieve and there’s less guarantee you’ll secure them, as chances are they involve other people or other variables outside your control. The challenge then becomes to find a way to get some of the rewards associated with the ‘fluff’ when you tackle the bigger things.
Break the big things down
A quick practical tip is to start by breaking down the whole of the big thing (securing promotion, planning a relocation, setting up a new venture for instance) into smaller chunks and write those chunks down. Commit ALL of the small chunks – as you believe them to be at this moment of time – to paper, not just the first few steps for your to-do list this week.
Have strategy/vision time in your diary
Diarise some time each week or month to let your mind wander broad and big. This is the mental equivalent of stepping away from your desk and gazing into the distance to let your eye muscles relax a few times each day. It’s good for us and prevents injury. Putting one foot in front of the other in the fresh air is a good way to take this strategy time – a big vista and a sunny day also help if you can swing it. Additionally, DO start the day by going head first into a ‘big ticket’ task and save the ‘quick wins’ for times when you’re flagging (before lunch/end of day).
Notice what you’re doing
Try swpping ‘to-do’ listing for ‘have-done’ listing for a week to see where your time and energy goes. (Record what you’ve done across various domains once you’ve done it rather than planning what you intend to do). Review it at the end of the day/week – is life filled with ‘quick wins’ or can you see some of the ‘bigger stuff’ being acted upon? You may find you’re being overly hard on yourself and that you are progressing long-term aims.
Make the way ahead clear and compelling
Another reason we might find ourselves shying away from strategic activities and drawn to quick wins, is a lack of clarity about the end we’re trying to reach or how to get there. Imagine you want to grow your business but you don’t know by how much or what type of work/customers you want your growth to be fuelled by. It becomes harder to engage in strategic activities as by their very nature, they’re directed by a bigger vision than a day-to-day to-do list. Get clear on what it is you DO want and why. You’re then more likely to be fired up to engage in the strategic activities that give you a great shot at getting there.
If you’ve found this post useful, these might be too:
- Women and the vision thing
- Boundaries are better than ‘balance’
- Are you a role model?
- January revolutions v gradual change
Career development coaching for you
If working out what the strategic differentiators are for you at work and/or at home (the things that if you were to start doing consistently well would make a noticeable difference to you securing your next promotion for instance or a more harmonious relationship with your partner) is on your mind, do drop me a line. Equally if you know what they are and you’re finding it a challenge to actually do them, coaching time could be focused on identifying personalized solutions. I’m here when you’re ready and do forward this mailing onto friends and colleagues who’ve expressed similar frustrations.