I did pretty well at school but performed abysmally in my History exam (and if I am being honest got the lowest grade possible). I remember getting my results and thinking “I wrote 8 pages; how could I deserve that grade?” But truth be told, I wrote 8 pages of rubbish that had little to do with the question! I made that rookie mistake of reading the question at the start of the exam and then focused the rest of my time writing my answer (on 8 pages!) yet never once rechecking the exam question to be sure I was writing 8 pages that drove towards answering the question. I suspect most kids are coached to not make this mistake (I wish I was) yet we continually make this mistake in business!
So the question you need to ask yourself every day at work: ‘Is what am I (and my team) doing driving towards delivering our vision and strategy?’ (‘the exam question’).
It’s so easy at work to get bogged down in the detail or side tracked on a ‘nice to do’ project, and it’s easy to get too focused on the URGENT (which doesn’t drive you forward and creates stress) rather than the IMPORTANT (which does drive you forward). I have been having this conversation a lot recently in my 1-2-1 coaching sessions so thought it worth writing about.
This is a CONTEXT (the why) / CONTENT (the what) question. Get clear on the context and the content becomes clear or in other words, get clear on your strategy and the tasks you need to focus on to deliver the strategy become very clear, other tasks need to be ditched, delegated or deferred because they are a distraction.
Part of focusing on delivering the strategy is being a good delegator and therefore ensuring everyone is working at the top of their game (since they are delegating down as much as possible). When we delegate effectively we can focus on the strategic aspects of our role. I always ask my clients “Are you working on stuff that only you can do and delegating the other tasks?” Often the answer is no because ‘It’s quicker to do it myself’or ‘they won’t do it as well as me’. This is not useful thinking and will definitely distract you from delivering the bigger picture and answering the exam question!
So ask yourself how often you stop at work and reread the exam question before diving head long into your day’s To-do list? The answer may well be ‘not enough’in which case, avoid getting the lowest grade and reread the question more frequently!
Let’s imagine you have a detailed proposal to get finished and sent by the end of today. You have made your coffee, sat at your desk and are determined to focus on it for the next hour. You get writing and then an email pings in and the pesky dialogue box appears in the bottom right of your screen. You think ‘oh that looks interesting, I’ll just quickly check it” so you click on the dialogue box and then go down a rabbit hole of distraction, reading the email and no doubt responding, because ‘you might as well quickly respond now’. Sound familiar?
With distractions like this, how long do you think it will take you to complete the proposal? Whatever the answer, it’s a lot longer than it would if you had solely focused on writing it, with no distractions! Think about it; every time you are side tracked by checking emails, your head is taken away from the report and then when you try and get back to it, you have think about where you were, reread what you have written so far etc. etc. I think it will take you 1.5 times longer to write it with distractions than it would if you just focused on it.
So, let me give you a simple answer (and you may need therapy to make this work – in which case, get in touch!):
Simple right? I know you are thinking – yes but my client will be angry with me if it takes me 2 hours to respond. Really? Let’s just break that down:
This is a conversation I am having frequently with clients in my 1-2-1 coaching so thought I would share this thinking with you in this blog post.
Do you have any other time saving or focus ideas? I would love to hear from you.
I was fortunate enough to start 2016 on holiday in the sun and it got me thinking about how ‘present’ you are when you are on holiday – enjoying the moment much more than when you are home in your regular life.
I like ‘doing’ holidays and on our 2-week trip I drove nearly 2000 miles and saw leopards, mountains, lakes, the desert, the sea and the city. All amazing and beautiful and enough to keep you in the moment – not thinking about what I did yesterday or will do tomorrow (in fact on this trip I mostly forgot what day it was and didn’t wear a watch).
So why are we much more present on holiday than in our normal life? It’s because we use all our senses on holiday – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. When we engage with more than two senses at a time, we start to be in the moment more. Think about it – your daily commute – head down, get from A to B as quickly and painlessly as possible. We will use sight and sound reluctantly but we never stop to ‘smell the roses’ so consequently sometimes we can’t even recall how we got from A to B!
One of the things I like about an action based holiday (i.e. not spending a week lying on the beach) is that they seem much longer and this is because you are much more present – seeing and experiencing new things every day.
I have 2 dogs and when I walk them I leave my mobile phone at home and try (and usually fail) to stay present with them. The dogs never question nor worry (as far as I know!) how long the walk will be. Instead they are totally in the moment, sniffing the smells or running after other dogs! They can teach us a lot.
The value of being present
This is all very well but what is the advantage of staying present? Well a study from University of Berkeley showed that 47% of people think about something else besides what they are presently doing. The research found that there is a correlation between mind wandering and unhappiness and that “…people are substantially less happy when their minds are wandering than when they’re not, which is unfortunate considering we do it so often.” The author stated that when our minds wander, we typically focus on unpleasant things that negatively affect our well-being. Here is a link to the Ted Talk on staying present. Food for thought.
I am not a big believer in new year’s resolutions – after all it shouldn’t take a new year to start making a change in your life but my trip did make me think I should try and be present more in my life, and this is the one challenge to myself as we start the new year.
If there is one thing every successful business owner does – it is get (and stay) focused. Whether that’s focus on the long-term vision, short-term strategy or single task – focus is what is required to get the task done.
Yet why do so many business owners/leaders get seduced by a new shiny idea – which often leads them to abandon their current strategy, take a U-turn and head in a different direction. I call it the ‘new shiny object’ syndrome, and rather facetiously talk to my clients about it – to highlight the importance of sticking to the track they are already on (unless of course there is a really strong business case for changing direction).
Shiny Object Syndrome is the tendency to get sidetracked or attracted by some new “exciting” and attractive idea. You get distracted from the bigger picture and go off in tangents instead of remaining focused on the goal and tasks that you really need to concentrate on. You might think of a new idea for a product or service or a new market you should target – and this seems exciting and therefore takes all your focus and energy. People who suffer from there find themselves surrounded by many incomplete projects and a frustrated business that isn’t making progress as fast as they would like.
Are you one of these people? Do you have team members that suffer from Shiny Object Syndrome? The first step to recovery is to recognise you are doing it. Then ask yourself:
I always tell my clients that you have 3 or 4 ‘pots’ for your short-term business strategies, and you have to complete one of these before a pot becomes vacant to put a new strategy into it. This way, it keeps the management team focused. It acknowledges the ‘shiny new object’ but it has to be assessed against the other 3 pots – is it more important or should we complete one of the other pots first?