Our lives have become a vast sea of “busyness.” There is a never ending list of requirements crushing us, brought to the fore through technology enabled pathways and 24/7 lifestyles. Nowhere is this more evident than in business.
It used to be that work was fairly well defined, marked by routines and the occasional requests from the boss. You might get interrupted by a telephone call now and again. If you happened to be away from your desk when the call arrived, you would be greeted by the ubiquitous pink telephone message entitled “while you were away” transcribed by your secretary. All things considered, it was predictable…and often boring.
Then came global competition, enabled by a potent cocktail of technology and a flat world. Things started moving faster and more efficiently. Productivity and process improvement moved us into a new age where we all had to become multitaskers, capable of handling simultaneous inputs from our direct boss, dotted line boss, reports, e-mail, text messages and all other forms of putting stuff in front of our faces.
Most secretaries went the way of the dinosaurs, made extinct by enabling technology. We all had to brush up on our typing and PowerPoint skills. I never realized how prescient those nerds were who took typing class in high school until I became responsible for all of my correspondence. Fumbling my way around a keyboard and making my hotel reservations did not feel like a productive leap forward, but that may just be me.
So if you are lucky enough to have a role in business, especially a leadership role, you are most assuredly suffering from this affliction of busyness. I call it “organizational ADHD.” It is at epidemic proportion and is taking a toll on many a career. But there is hope.
With so many items competing for your attention you need to choose where and how to focus your energy. You can try to respond to everything in a sort of FIFO (first in first out) approach. This might work for a while, until the last thing in is ten times more important that what you have chosen to work on. Or you might want your boss to help you sort through your priorities on an ongoing basis, thinking that this is a safe play. Except that your boss is probably more swamped and busy than you are. You may be lucky to have one conversation only to have the priorities dramatically change before your next discussion. Not good, not safe.
The key lies in making sound choices about how you leverage yourself. This begins with an understanding of the objectives or your job and department, especially as relates to the operating plan for the business. Focus on identifying those actions that have the greatest impact on achieving the objectives. Businesses exist for a reason. For-profit businesses exist to earn operating income. Make it a point to know which of the competing priorities that you face every day has the greatest impact on driving profitability (or the inputs to profitability). In other words, know how your business makes money and connect your actions to helping it do so.
If you need help to discern these actions, then bring your list to your boss have a discussion. If you agree, then adopt them as your objectives. But be prepared to shift them as the year unfolds and conditions change. Once you have identified the list, then take a hard look at how you are spending your time to ensure that you are focused on achieving what matters most. This is the subject of my next post.
Now focus and have at it.