Focus on the right work

Staying Focused on the Big Picture

As managers and leaders, you may have a wide range of responsibilities from giving your team the right guidance and direction to getting down into details to problem-solve. However, the higher you climb up the corporate ladder, the more you need to consistently focus on the big picture in everything you do. This can make a huge difference in whether others perceive you as a leader, and in your ability to get results.

When I work with my clients, one of the first things I ask them to do is identify the three areas where they can make the biggest impact on the business. Then I take it one step further and have them identify what makes each of those three things so important, to the business and to them personally (e.g., to their goals and development as leaders).

This approach is a core part of my Leadership System because it helps people focus on the big picture and recognize the “so what.” In other words, identifying where you need to redirect your focus is an important first step—but understanding the impact of that shift will cement your commitment to doing it and help you articulate it to others.

By asking the two questions above early on, I find that most people quickly zero in on the 20 percent of their activity and effort that matters the most. It gives them a new lens to look at things through. So, they begin to challenge how they spend their time and start to recognize what they should stop doing altogether. This process of rationalizing their time and focus opens up new possibilities, including delegating to and developing others who are eager to show what they can do.

However, to really be viewed as a strong leader by others you have to go beyond redirecting how you spend your time. You also have to help others “see” that you are doing so. In other words, make your big picture more visible to other leaders, your boss, peers, and staff through what you communicate.

Sometimes we can be so clear in our own heads about what we are doing that we can forget that our underlying intent and actions may not be well understood by others. So, look for opportunities, big and small, to communicate your big picture and priorities to others—the “what” and the “why.” And you don’t have to create new forums to do so; you can leverage existing meetings and opportunities. Whatever approach you choose, be sure to tailor it to your audience.

Finally, remember that your communications and actions must be in sync because your actions will speak louder than your words. For example, if people see you consistently focused on the details in meetings and in their interactions with you, it will be much more difficult for them to view you as someone who sees and understands the big picture.

So, I’ll end with a Call to Action. Please take the time to answer the following questions for yourself today:

  • What are the three things you need to focus on in the next six months, to have the biggest impact on the business and on your own development?

  • What makes each of these things so important to you and the business (i.e., what will the impact be)?

  • What one step will you take to communicate your big picture to others

These questions will help you focus on the big picture—on what really drives value and results. So, keep them handy and review them every six months.

You Don't Need a Clone - Just Make the Most of Your Time

Do you ever wish there were more hours in the day or that you could clone yourself to get all your work done? Unfortunately, no matter how you slice it or dice it, there are still just 24 hours in each day. So, the key question is, "How can you make the most of the time you do have?"

Assess

First, evaluate how you are currently spending your time. A simple way to do this is by creating an activity log with four columns: time of day, activity, time spent, and priority. In the last column, rate the priority of each activity as a 1, 2, or 3:

1 - critical (high value, directly related to achieving a critical goal) 2 - moderate (medium value, indirectly related to achieving a critical goal and has urgency) 3 - low (low value, may include urgent and non urgent tasks)

Try to keep this log for a week with as much detail as possible. If that sounds like too much, shoot for at least three days, choosing days that are representative of a typical day for you.

Next, review your log to determine how much time you are spending on critical activities, how fragmented your time is throughout the day, where you are wasting time, and whether you are taking enough breaks to maintain your productivity. Once you have a sense of how you are spending your time, you can more effectively develop strategies to make better use of it.

Prioritize and Protect

Before each day begins (ideally at least one day ahead of time), identify up to three critical tasks that you need to get accomplished that day. Critical tasks are defined as tasks that move you towards achieving critical goals. Really challenge yourself to think about what’s critical versus urgent.

Next, think about whether you will need a dedicated block of time to complete these tasks based on how much creativity, thought and challenge is required. Then block the time on your calendar and protect it! Interruptions can be huge time wasters. A temporary shift in attention from one task to another can increase the amount of time necessary to finish the primary task by as much as 25 percent! So, staying focused on one thing can make a huge difference.

I think it’s safe to assume that you will face unplanned interruptions and distractions throughout the day, but you do have control over how you manage them. So, think about some strategies to deal with the most frequent ones. For example, when I really need to get something done, I close my instant messaging software and email and don’t answer my phone. Although that works well for me, it’s important to determine what strategies will work best for you.

Bundle

Finally, bundle tasks that entail a repetitive process (i.e., ones with the same sequence of steps) such as answering emails, opening mail, or creating invoices. This will allow you to complete them more efficiently as you get into the rhythm of getting them done.

By taking the time to implement these three simple strategies, you will get better results—without cloning yourself or finding a way to make time stand still.