Taking on too much, too many distractions invite mission failure
“Most of what we say and do is not essential. If you can eliminate it, you’ll have more time, and more tranquility. Ask yourself at every moment, ‘Is this necessary?’”
—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Does it seem like we’ve talked about distractions a lot in the past? Maybe it’s just the ones in my head that makes me think so … which of course, is a distraction itself. (In the interest of full disclosure, I did write about distractions last April, “Are Distractions Destroying Your Brain?” I responded to the tempest by offering some ideas about how to defend your castle by building a moat, then some barricades, then some lookout posts). I hope you’ve taken some steps to rein in the beast, but we’ll keep talking about it because a day doesn’t go by when I don’t hear about this plague.
But, let’s say we can be forgiven for the uninvited tsunami of inputs from email, social media and the myriad streams of welcome and uninvited information that storms our brain cells every day. Who could argue that this gasping stream of electronic communication, accompanied by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, aren’t the real forces keeping us from our appointed rounds?
But what about the distractions that arise when we are trying to do too much? How distracting is it for your sales force to be managing 500 SKUs when 100 of them equal 90 percent of your sales? Have you clearly articulated your strategy, or do you have key people running around doing different things because that’s what they think the strategy is? Do you have a clear set of initiatives or are people setting their own agenda to get done what they think is the most important?
My guess is that you’re trying to do too much, and that coupled with all the distractions, you have no chance to successfully complete the things you decide are the most important.
How can we fix that?
– Get Real. This part may the hardest, but it follows Steve Job’s axiom that I’ve often referenced: Get rid of the crappy stuff. As you consider what you can realistically achieve, and what is truly outside those boundaries, make sure you have aligned your appetite with your hunger. Resist taking in more than you can do, and make sure you do all that you’ve taken in.
– Priorities. Before you can truly focus on the right initiatives, you have to set priorities. Establishing a strategy, for example, is not much more than prioritizing all the opportunities in front of you to select those that will give you a sustainable competitive advantage.
I have a recent, and relatively large client, whose latest strategy document contains more than 1,000 goals and objectives scattered across the organization. You don’t need to do much analysis to conclude that there is no chance that they will remotely complete even a small minority of them in this lifetime.
Said another way, you have to pick your battles. You can’t take every hill, and some will have to be ignored. So, quit spending your time thinking about the hills you aren’t going to take and focus on ascending 100% of the hills you’re actually climbing.
– Focus. Imagine that you have just pulled the ripcord at 10,000 feet and drifted straight down into the drop zone. I’ll bet that nothing interfered with your headspace during that compressed time frame … because you were intensely focused on doing all the right things so that you would end up on the right side of the grass. You weren’t thinking about all the projects you haven’t finished … you weren’t looking at email notifications or reminders.
Turn everything else off … and intensely focus on what’s in front of you.
– Execute. At this point, you’ve stopped thinking and started doing. You’ve been real about what you can accomplish, set your priorities and started to focus on what’s in front of you. Now you need to continue to execute without revisiting the options or reconsidering the choices you have already made.
This is our greatest failing because we easily get sidetracked, not only by the distractions I’ve already enumerated, but by the shortcomings of our plans, the fissures in our confidence or the negative thinking that pervades our subconscious … usually embodied by a small character perched on our shoulder, reminding us of “how difficult is the path” … “you’ll never get it done” … all of that negative resistance that stalls us at every turn.
Follow this simple regimen, much the same as the axiom you find on your shampoo bottle every morning. That usually says something like … Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
Here’s our mantra. Get Real. Prioritize. Focus. Execute.
See how simple that is?
Lary Kirchenbauer, president of Exkalibur Advisors, is an experienced executive coach, educator, author and public speaker. He works closely with senior executives and their middle market businesses at the intersection of leadership, finance and business strategy. “Like” Building a Business on Facebook and benefit from his exclusive newsletter, or visit the Exkalibur website at www.Exkalibur.com, where you will also find a library of valuable resources.
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