How effective is your time management, especially when it comes to big, difficult, daunting goals?
Checklist and fresh insights available
One step at a time – we know that’s the way to get something big done. But is that all there is to it?
For something practical, I can do that – and do it well.
On a more nebulous business project, it can be harder.
Like you, I imagine, lately I’ve been working on some different things because my usual routine isn’t possible. And I’ve been getting quite a bit done. The garden is in the best nick it’s been in for 30 years at least. Seriously!
Working on a big outdoor project, I ponder how to bring the substantial mental stamina and patience I routinely and successfully apply to large practical tasks (that would daunt many, quite honestly) to less tangible business ones that are similarly scaled in terms of hours of effort, but I find more difficult to make progress on.
It has frustrated me, actually… How come I can grind out big practical jobs, but climbing the proverbial mountain on a discretionary business task, like creating and marketing a new information product, is a lot harder?
Here’s my take…
With the practical task, there is a vision of the end-result, a rough but not slavish plan, in which we can switch to another aspect when we get bored with the bit we are working on, and – crucially – an ability not to be intimidated by the scale of the undertaking and just do the next piece – or any piece – often thinking “that’s one less thing to do tomorrow” or “that’s one step nearer finished”.
The practical tasks have real and self-evident completion criteria. We know what finished looks like, and so do other people around us. The task – though big – does not go on forever. There is a vision of the end-result.
Here’s my conclusion…
For the discretionary business development task, we absolutely must set a scaled, measurable, finite outcome. The fact that the possibilities are unbounded especially requires setting a specific destination – what some call a “proximate objective”. This is vital. We must choose a definite finish line, particularly because the task doesn’t have one in and of itself.
Another success factor in the practical task is having no doubt about ultimately succeeding, even if there may be challenges. Unlike in a business task, we’re not judged by the inanimate practical substance. The working material doesn’t have an opinion. In business, we’re dealing with people and they, of course, do have opinions, so we need to be resilient in the face of that. They can have their opinion and we can have ours. We must find our strength and belief inside.
So we need to be fearless in the business development task. And do something on it pretty much every day.
How effective is your time management, in general? I’ve put together a 10-point self-assessment checklist you can access here to test yourself. You might be missing one of its key insights that would make achieving big, difficult, daunting goals much easier.
Management involves the skilful exercise of formal authority derived from appointment to a position of power. Leadership, on the other hand, rests on the ability to influence people, often through commitment to a worthy aim.
Managers are appointed, leaders choose themselves, at least at first.
Of course, good leaders are quite likely to be selected for management positions, and managers may well find greater passion for the work and so become more effective leaders. Ability to both manage and lead may well be found in the one person.
If we want to find leaders in our organisation, we need to create the circumstances in which they can emerge—usually through working on change with a group of people.
Several times recently, in being with organisations where future leaders have emerged that no-one expected, I have learned that, whilst we can notice management ability, we just don’t know who the leaders might be. They only appear when they care enough about an issue that’s been placed in front of them—when it touches their heart.
So it may be a good idea to make problems and opportunities visible and not worry over much about having the answers or organising everybody.
To paraphrase Parker J Palmer… the emerging leader (which means the soul), “is like a wild animal, tough, resilient, and yet shy. When we go crashing through the woods shouting for it to come out so we can help it, the soul will stay in hiding. But if we are willing to sit quietly and wait for a while, the soul (the emerging leader) may appear.”
Managers are chosen; leaders emerge. We do well to create the right circumstances.
Up and coming managers and leaders need to see the gaps in their approach. In the old saying, what got them where they are today won’t get them where they need to be tomorrow. In fact, they might even need to unlearn some things that have seemed central to their way of working.
We may well need to help them see where they are falling short; where their current approach isn’t going to be enough. No doubt we can prove to them that they don’t have some of the knowledge or skill they need.
But some care is required…
If we demonstrate a learning need without moving quickly on to show a feasible way forward — the beginnings of a solution — the person is liable to reject the need to learn rather than accept it and act on it.
We all tend to avoid the discomfort of accepting a shortfall if we can’t see how we might be able to close the gap. Our egos won’t let us go there. That’s just part of being human. We need to feel safe.
So, yes, show people what they are missing, but show them how to close the gap too.
Make sure you have a good idea how that might happen before you start — if you want to avoid resistance.
Gaps pull us forward but only if we believe we can cross them. Otherwise we may pretend they aren’t there.
…especially significant ones we care about.
Last year, I allowed too much of my capacity, especially my reading capacity, to be taken up following the news—hoping for some signs of sense prevailing, especially in Britain and America, frankly. Sense in these contexts is a matter of opinion and values, of course.
I know what I think is right. You may well differ.
Anyway, the point is I can’t influence these troubling events, and I’m guessing, neither can you.
So how to detach our attention from them, and focus properly on things where our energies actually can make a difference? How to stay focused on what we want to achieve through our own efforts, as opposed to what we hope may transpire? How to make sure we are fully present for our families, friends, and colleagues? And at the same time stay connected with big events?
Some say it’s good more people are engaged in political issues. Up to a point I agree, but not if it means we neglect what we can actually make a difference to. In the end, our potential to transform our own affairs can most likely overcome the consequences of national upheaval—if we stay focused.
If our country is going to be in a mess, that’s bad enough—and maybe we can learn leadership lessons from politicians’ errors—but best not to compound the problem by undermining our own work. Then we’ll suffer twofold.
As with many things, being aware of the issue is at least half the solution. The rest of the answer may be detaching emotionally from what we can’t do anything about, at least when we should be doing something else.
What’s your key to managing significant distractions?
Best wishes for 2019!
We all like a bit of freedom—the chance to act on our own initiative. Much of the time that’s a good thing.
Recently, however, I’ve been noticing just how much energy can be wasted if everyone is pulling in different directions in an organisation, even if they’re acting with the best of intentions. The result can be a feeling of overload and not having enough resource. In reality, lots of energy is getting wasted in unaligned, incoherent activity, much of which cancels out.
Yes, the organisation may be short of resource—quite likely it is…
Or maybe it has enough resource, if its participants would agree to a little more alignment in what they do—to sacrifice a little autonomy in the interests of a sensible workload.
An important role for leaders then to stimulate a shared sense of purpose that leads to coherent, aligned activity.
Perhaps that means you.