Think about this for a second. In a given year, you have 1800 hours to allocate, at work. 1800 hours? Do the math. A “traditional” work week is 40 hours, with 1 hour of lunch each day, which means 35 hours a week. A traditional vacation time, is 2 weeks, which means, you’re working 50 weeks a year. 50 weeks a year X 35 hours is 1750 hours, rounded up, is 1800 hours.
Now, yes, I realize, the typical person doesn’t work 1800 hours. Many of us work north of 2000 hours. But, for all intents and purposes for this blog post, let’s call it 1800 hours. Each one of those hours is precious. An hour chasing down a really “cool” idea, while invigorating and exciting, might be time poorly spent, if it takes you away from your core focus.
This is something that sales staff members on LinkedIn, who spam your inbox, don’t comprehend. If I have an extra hour (which never happens) and my choices are to listen to a random cold call pitch or spend an hour reviewing progress against goals, meeting with my team, etc. – I can tell you the cold call pitch, won’t be at the top of the list.
Additionally, it’s why, over the years, I’ve pared back the number of conferences I attend. There’s no shortage of great conferences to attend, but with each one you eat into those 1800 hours. That 3 hour flight is expensive; maybe not in actually dollars, but in time. The 3 days at the conference, while beneficial, needs to be weighed against, what else you could be doing.
Focusing is hard, because it requires you to say no to the wrong thing, so that you can say yes to the right thing. And often times, saying no, can make you come across as difficult or not a team player. Saying no, also means, you may not pursue something that excites you. It requires discipline.
5 years ago, my point of view, on focus, would have been much different. As it would have been, 10 years ago. A decade back, all I wanted to work on was the interesting, sexy, cool and of course, potentially award winning, projects. I raised my hand for every would be, could be, might be, fun project.
Today, that’s just not possible. There are so many cool, fun and interesting initiatives, that I’d love to participate in. Even if only to listen to how my team is going to tackle the challenge. But, realistically, it’s just not possible. To get something, you often have to give up something. To stay focused on the objectives I have, unfortunately, I miss out on many things that stoke the flames of my interest. That, however, is a conscious choice.
I certainly don’t have it all figured out, but there are 3 things I do to keep me focused:
- Have a clear understanding of my objectives and how they ladder back to the division and company objectives. But, equally important, is understanding how you’ll translate them into something meaningful, tangible and measurable for your team members. Every week I chart the progress towards those objectives and every month I manage up by asking if they’re still relevant and if there are any new objectives, that we haven’t accounted for. You can’t set and forget your objectives. They aren’t written once at the beginning to the year and then evaluated at the end.
- I create filters to manage requests. I’m sure your inbox is filled with meeting invites, “quick questions”, so-called “emergencies” and 1-off projects. If you say yes to all of them, you’re doomed. But, you can’t say no to them all, either. When I get a request, I ask myself 2 basic questions: 1, will this help drive my core objectives? 2, will this make the organization better. Ideally, the answer to both, is yes. If, however, you have something that, isn’t part of your core objectives, but could improve the organization, that’s a conversation worth having.
- I find an hour every day to do two things. I make sure to “walk the floor” and check-in with my team and my colleagues. Sometimes just stopping by, opens up a dialogue, where I can be helpful. Walking the floor, also gets me out of my office, provides a well needed break in the day and provides accessibility to my team. Additionally, I make time to work on pet projects. This could be something I’m pursuing on my own, or something I’m helping someone else with. Either way, I make sure to plan for these types of initiatives in my 1800 hours.
That’s it. Simple as they seem, it’s incredible challenging to stay to the plan. There’s always something vying for your attention. But, remember, you can’t get something, without giving up something. It’s all about choices. No one is busy, they simply have a priority that’s more important than your priority.