One Thing At A Time

In Leadership by Stephen Zakur0 Comments

Effective executives concentrate on a few major areas
where superior performance will produce outstanding results.

– Peter Drucker, Effective Executive

northWhile Drucker was on a grander, perhaps more strategic thought, the guidance to focus one’s efforts seems even more appropriate when applied tactically in today’s world of continuous partial attention (aka: multi-tasking).

Like you, my calendar is full of meetings. On the worst days I can have fifteen to twenty 30-minute calls though that is becoming more the exception than the rule (recall that the fire is out). Forget for a moment that I actually have to juggle fifteen different topics during the span of a few hours. What’s most challenging is the near constant interruptions that come via instant messaging, texting, and emails during that time.

One could argue that I should be more disciplined and ignore those interruptions but many of them deal with urgent operational matters or are part of the meta conversation that seems to happen during many meetings. I need to deal with these distractions though that sounds an awful lot like an excuse. Regardless, this lack of focus is usually an inhibitor to getting work done.

I’ve been meaning to get some feedback to one of my managers who is leading an effort to refresh our management system. I’ve been promising him the feedback for so long I’m sure it’s beginning to sound like a sad, running joke. Long story short, it’s the sort of task that requires some disciplined thinking and I just haven’t taken the time to do so.

Last Friday I finally bit the bullet and scheduled some time to think about this project, to sketch out some thoughts, and develop a point of view. The work isn’t finished but I’ve been rolling it around the back of my mind for the past few days and I’m probably thirty minutes away from being ready for a discussion. I have a meeting on Monday where we’ll get to end of job.

The insight that one should take time to focus on important stuff seems like a privileged glimpse at the obvious yet I find myself having to relearn this point from time-to-time as urgent ankle-biting problems fill my day.

But I’m in good company. Thirty years ago Drucker first admonished executives seeking greater effectiveness to find focus and his leadership wisdom has largely stood the test of time. Perhaps I can relearn this lesson once again in a time which urgent unimportant matters continually bombard me.

From time-to-time it’s worth reflecting on where one is allocating attention and whether there’s good alignment with the things that will truly drive value in the long run. It’s something I suspect we all do too little of but that’s the struggle: putting first things, first.


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