Staying Focused

Winston Churchill said, “However beautiful the strategy you should occasionally look at the results.” He reminds us that no matter what else we do, as leaders, we are ultimately judged on the basis of whether or not we can execute. Casting vision, building teams, challenging the processes—all of these are important—unless we fail to execute! If we fail to execute then nothing else really matters, either.

I have found that following these steps provides a model that is very effective for me. If I find myself floundering, I go back to this model, and it almost always works.

  1. I select one thing to work on at a time.
    I’ve discovered that I really cannot keep 32 ping-pong balls underwater at one time, so my approach is to work on one thing at a time. I may not be able to work on it until it’s completed; but while I’m working on it, that’s all I’m doing.
  1. I set a stopping time.
    Some people lose all track of time and spend way too long on a given project. Others cannot force themselves to focus for any length of time without wanting to check email, social media, the weather in Arizona, and so on. Either way causes a loss of productivity, so I have found it helpful to set the alarm on my phone for 50 minutes later and to stay focused on the project until it fills the air with “Stargaze,” “Ripple,” or “Radiate.” (Where do they get these names?) Sometimes, I do need to continue working on a project after the alarm sounds, but I carefully think through whether I should stay on it or come back to it at another time.
  1. While I’m focused, I ignore everything else.
    Phone calls, emails, instant messages… all of these things are great, but they can also be enemies of execution. To really be productive, I need to let those things wait until after the “focus period” is over. Otherwise, I will spend the entire allotted time just being a puppet to the tyranny of the urgent. If I am working on a 50-minute period, I can answer emails, send messages, and listen to phone messages in less than ten minutes, take a breath, and then…
  1. I reward myself for staying focused on the project.
    I don’t give myself a trophy, but I find some way (even if it’s just grabbing another cup of coffee) to reinforce this reality to myself: good things happen when you focus. After that? I select the next thing and start the process all over.

I’d like to know what you do to stay focused. How do you manage time to execute effectively?

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

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