If you are leading a team of people or an important piece of work, then a critical ingredient to your level of success will correlate directly to the amount of time you have been able to think about the work. The amount of time you have to think about the work will directly correlate to the proactive actions you choose to take to protect that time. Success, as it is often thought, is not found in what you accomplish. The root of success is found in the time you have taken to prepare and evaluate what you are trying to accomplish.
So, you might ask, if this is so critical then why don’t people do it? A variety of reasons from poor time management to procrastination might be the culprit. Like many other ingredients toward success, this is a skill most must learn and develop. Many of us would rather be connected to the dopamine high that comes with accomplishing tasks than the more mundane aspect of thinking about tasks. Frankly, some may even feel guilty in stopping with the “doing” to engage in needed reflection. Understanding the need for as well as proactively taking the time to focus is a key differentiator between those who simply tick off items on the task list versus those who improve the work. Here are some common reasons why it might be easy to think you do not have time to dedicate toward intentional focus:
I don’t have time to prepare. This, in my experience, is the most common reason. Many go through each day a servant to the urgent. Time is not going to magically appear in your schedule. Work will inevitably fill the hours. At some point, a conscientious effort must be made to hold some time for high-focus work. Proactively managing your calendar is one of the most effective ways. Working ahead on your calendar and blocking off times for priority focus work is the first step. Not allowing other things to creep in and take the time is the next step. Note it can be hard for the first few weeks or months to protect and hold the time. Stay the course and keep on booking times on the calendar and it will eventually settle into a dependable rhythm.
I am always interrupted. This is another common excuse. It is easy to try to shift the blame to others for this but in the end, we are responsible for setting ourselves up for success. One of the easiest and most effective ways to stop interruptions is simply putting up some type of signage asking not to be disturbed. Another method can be changing location. A quieter spot in the building or even working off-campus can be a big asset to some fresh thinking. Also, do not forget to turn off the inbox and chat features that can draw you into distractions.
My best work comes under pressure. This is the great lie many tell themselves. Sometimes life is going to call for us to deliver under pressure and it is true we may have a couple of moments of glory with a big last-minute deliverable. The truth, however, is there simply is no way anyone can consistently do his or her best work over a period of time within the context of urgency. This disposition will always keep one in a reactive disposition instead of a proactive one. Being reactive usually best addresses short-term fixes for challenges; it rarely solves problems or improves the overall work.
It is not easy to set yourself up for success by blocking off some focus time. It is an ongoing practice of discipline. Being able to effectively practice it, however, will better ensure you have the time to think through your work and its challenges. This investment of time will grow your influence with your leaders and your team if you will truly seek to leverage it to focus on the important work, not simply accomplish it, but improve it.