What would be different in our lives, relationships, performances and contributions if we focused on the wildly important? You know the people and goals that we plan to focus on when our feet hit the floor in the morning—maybe after the first cup of coffee.
I knew this was the right question after hearing my friend describe his past week as, “Crazy, busy, overwhelming and out of control.” Ever feel this way—maybe all the time?
Someone told me recently overwhelming and out of control was their new “normal”—piling on to their to-do list more assignments and projects than time and resources available to complete them.
Busy is like a drug and in light of our digital world and affinity for our work/careers we are addicted to it. We brag about being busy! Harvard University studies confirm that we like to brag about being busy—it is a sign of success and achievement. It’s a habit and by bragging about being busy we reinforce the need to be busy and even push it on the people around us to keep up.
Greg McKeown, in Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, calls it the undisciplined pursuit of more. McKeown describes how this pursuit evolves through four phases.
The Four Phases of “The Undisciplined Pursuit of More”
- One: Clarity of purpose enables us to focus on what we identify as important—it enables our success.
- Two: Now viewed as success we are presented with options and opportunities reflective of our success and expertise.
- Three: New options and opportunities place more demand on our time and energy (busy) and our attention and focus gets diffused.
- Four: Distraction from our highest and most important roles and goals. Success does not guarantee sustained impact but rather is now blinding us to the clarity that led to our success in the first place.
The undisciplined pursuit of more fuels busyness and begins blinding us to the people and relationships we know are important.
Five Tips for Focusing on the Wildly Important.
Identify and confirm the top five roles you play. Don’t go big—go narrow.
- Clarifying and prioritizing your impact roles is hard. It requires thoughtful contemplation. Start by identifying all of the people, pursuits and activity that consumes your time. Imagine placing them all in a rowboat. Now you face a tough decision—your fully-loaded boat is quickly sinking. The only way to stay afloat is to throw stuff overboard. Tough decisions are never easy. The stuff in the boat represents who and what you are today. In order to create the impact you envision, you’ll need to throw stuff overboard that you may find hard to discard. Make no mistake…leaving behind what is comfortable and familiar is tough
- Do not accept new commitments or accept new assignments that do not align with your highest priority roles.
- Ask yourself, “If I focus on these five roles over the next year, does it provide me the greatest opportunity to maximize my personal impact?”
Build 60 to 90 minute time blocks in your calendar to focus on your most important relationships, projects and assignments.
Engage a coach to help you.
- Coaches take you places you cannot go on your own. Geoff Colvin in his book Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else cites research by Dr. Benjamin Bloom that concludes greatness is uncovered and developed through the cultivation of relationships with coaches. Performance thrives with encouragement when the source of the encouragement is someone who is loved and trusted.
- Encouragement fosters enthusiasm and commitment but, on its own, did not lead to excellence. People who engaged a coach to guide their learning and improvement raised their performance.
- The presence and oversight of coach to provide timely feedback and instruction were essential to producing performance excellence.
Limit the number of goals you are working on—avoid “Goals Gone Wild”.
- Long lists of goals lead to busy and ineffective. It doesn’t mean a goal is not important to you—it just means it is not important at the moment.
Conduct a quarterly review. Don’t allow the routine of busy creep back in and shift your sight away from the wildly important.
- Schedule a 90 minute block of time on your calendar in advance—put in an alert a week in advance to remind you it is coming.
- Keep is simple. Look at your top five roles. Now answer this question—what is the one thing I can do or accomplish that will make the most important contribution in each of these roles.
What would the next 90 days look like if you pushed aside the non-essential? Think about the impact you would have by focusing your efforts and energy on what is wildly important? The relentless pursuit of what you deem to be wildly important will generate lasting and meaningful impact.