Many of you will understand this… We walk into work in the morning (even if it’s just a few short steps from our kitchen to our office), and we have some idea of how our day is going to unfold. Spending some time with our calendar, we see a few meetings and calls on our list. We’re going to focus on a handful of projects for the day – work to be done for our customers in the business. Most important, we’ve got some time blocked off to work ON our business. There’s marketing to tend to, new products and services to be developed, time spent envisioning what the future looks like, and one hundred other things we need to be working on to strengthen our business or organization.
At 8:00 A.M., as we launch into our day, there’s room for all of this to get done. By 9:00 A.M. (if not 8:05), that dream begins to shatter. The reality of the day sets in, and we shift from doing business to putting out fires. Instead of concentrating on the most important tasks for the day, our attention shifts to the urgent. We find ourselves playing a day-long game of Whack-a-Mole.
The reality is this… no day ever goes entirely as planned. For many of us, there is a constant tug-of-war at play for our attention. Being able to shift gears and change direction is an essential skill we all need to possess. We call it being agile. At the same time, here’s the challenge we all face. When the fires start, what’s the first thing to drop off of our list? The most important things – like working ON our business.
The important vs. the urgent… There is a constant battle raging in every business and organization’s background, trying to do both and hold it all together. It’s something we have wrestled with since day one. To be clear, it’s something we still wrestle with, but we have come up with some strategies that have helped us keep our focus clear and our energy in the right areas. Here are three things we’ve done to stay dialed in on what’s most important:
- Define what the most important things are. First things first. If you haven’t clearly defined WHAT the most important actions you can take today to strengthen your business or organization, how can you possibly get those things done? It’s like leaving on a road trip but not knowing your destination. We need to understand as teams and leaders what destination we’re heading toward and then take actions together that will help us get there.
- Protect the space you have set aside for the most important things. Too many times, when things get crazy, the first thing to drop from our calendars is the time we had set aside to work ON our business. “I guess we’ll have to get to that later…” And then, “later” drags out one week, then another. We must treat ourselves like our own best clients – that we see that time we’ve set aside to work on our organization like it was time set aside to serve them. We would never ditch out on a meeting or call with our best client, so why do we ditch out on ourselves?
- Measure your progress on the most important things. Regular check-ins and measurements are vital in driving progress. We do what we see, and regularly measuring our progress allows us to see if our work is really focused on what we say is most important – or is firefighting pulling us off track? The only way to know this is to invest the time in regular check-ins that we back up by something concrete. Backing up our “Yes, I did something this week” with some numbers and data is essential to ensuring the most important things are getting the attention they deserve. If they’re not, measuring will tell you quickly.
Let’s be frank and get real for a second. There is no fool-proof way to prevent having to become a firefighter from time to time. Staying focused on the most important things can be challenging, and some days, it feels impossible. That said, if we DON’T do the things above, we can almost guarantee that what’s most important will always be last on the list.
Look at the three tips above, and spend some time implementing them so that you’re protecting your most important, highest leverage actions. Being intentional is key in this, so make sure you’re spending time to keep the important things important…
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