Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French philosopher, mathematician, scientist, inventor, and theologian once opined; “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
This is a powerful statement coming from a man who lived in the 1600’s! This was before any sort of modern technology that we take for granted today. Now we are at a time where it is becoming more and more difficult to disconnect from the constant barrage of emails, text messages, Facebook messages, LinkedIn updates, Instagram feeds, cell phone calls, etc., etc.! Our world is accelerating forward at a pace like never before.
As business leaders in today’s world, it is critical for us to lead by example. This means establishing boundaries so that we can be as productive as possible. When we lead by example, the people around us will take notice and begin to structure their work practices in a similar productive fashion.
What Do Productivity Boundaries Look Like?
Most people in today’s business world would agree that Ram Charan is an icon. He has written a number of best-selling business books, runs a consulting company out of Dallas, and has consulted with many of the largest companies globally.
So, when Charan describes tools that he uses to get organizational alignment, we should all take note and see if these tools can benefit us and our businesses.
In his book, The Attacker’s Advantage, he describes a tool that he uses to get business leaders to align around and focus on the most important strategic activities for their organizations.
I think we can all relate to the scenario where we assume our organizations have alignment around the same core objectives only to find out that people are focusing on very different and sometimes conflicting priorities.
I have seen this misalignment over the years both in organizations and within project teams. In fact, I remember a few painful project incidents where engineering disciplines had differing priorities that caused some significant project delays and cost overruns. These were totally avoidable if we were following Charan’s advice.
And, this is where the “Top 3 Priorities” tool comes in.
What Are Your Top 3 Priorities
Recently, I was a guest on “Ideas and Stuff”, a Calgary based podcast (episode 50). One of the questions they provided in advance for me to think about and prepare for was; “If you could go back to the day you started your business/career, what would you tell yourself?”
As it turns out, we had a great conversation during the podcast and never quite got to this question! However, the question did really get me thinking.
If I could back up my career, what do I wish I knew that would make a big difference?
As many of you know, I am an electrical engineer by education and practiced in this field for quite a few years.
As engineers, we are forced to focus on numbers, formulas, Lagrangian multipliers, and other theorems that would give most people nightmares! However, as the Dilbert stereotype so aptly illustrates, we are generally not taught the basic things about effective communication, teamwork, or leadership!
So, what would I tell myself if I could go back to the day I started my career?
How many times have you been distracted from your work on important activities and tasks by random ideas and thoughts?
These can be super-valuable ideas that you don’t want to lose but you also don’t want to be distracted from the task at hand! Robert Rodriguez (in Tribe of Mentors) calls these disruptive, yet potentially valuable ideas, Random Thought Missiles!
A Random Thought Missile can complete vaporize your focus on important tasks at hand. It can be disheartening when you block time in your calendar, shut off your phone, block out all electronic distractions, only to be interrupted and taken off track by these random thoughts.
Even as I sit down to write this post, my “deep work” thought process is constantly under attack by ideas for future posts, potential customer contacts, project delivery enhancements, and 100 other ideas. I cannot possibly investigate all these things and write the blog post at the same time!
So, what is the solution? How can you productively intercept and capture a Random Thought Missile without vaporizing your “deep work” focus and without losing the value that the random thought may contain?
Most of us are totally unaware of how much our lack of focus impacts our lives and our businesses yet the impact is huge!
Among many things, lack of focus:
- Damages relationships
- Results in missing sales opportunities
- Increases our cost of doing business
- Derails us from our vision
- Impacts our ability to achieve goals
- Results in increased work hours and workload
Essentially, lack of focus is, at best, a drag on our business and, at worst, will bring our business to its knees!
I think all of us can recall a time in our lives and/or businesses when our lack of focus cost us something. If not, maybe some of these examples will jog your memories!