I don't know about you, but I need a break!
Do you ever find yourself so deeply focused on knocking out one task after another that you look up at the end of the day, week, month, quarter or half-year and say "Wow!I feel like we have accomplished a lot. But it has gone by so quickly that I am having a hard time confidently saying that I have optimized both my time and focus. I am not quite sure if I should feel great or if I should adjust course to better optimize my time and focus over the coming days, weeks, months, quarters, and year?"
I recently shared my feelings on this with a friend of mine, MJ, which led to a great conversation and a number of ideas and approaches that I feel will put me in a better position to answer the question above the next time it arises.Ironically, I found that these ideas and approaches stem from the same methods and approaches that as strategists and risk managers, we apply within our respective organizations on a regular basis!
A few years ago, I noticed that some of my best ideas and revelations were coming on my way to and from the bathroom; not while I was sitting in my office, in front of a whiteboard.Around the same time as this realization, I also had just finished my annual executive physical where the nutritionist had suggested that I should consider trying to lay off my eight or nine coffees per day and instead keeping a large water bottle with me and hydrating.
As my water consumption shot up, so did the frequency of my visits to the bathroom...as well as the number of ideas and revelations that I was having each day.So was it the water?The drop-off on caffeine?The aura of the bathroom?I am not 100 percent sure, however my hypothesis is that it was something far simpler:the act of taking a few minutes to walk to and from the bathroom gave me an opportunity to reflect on whatever problem or topic happened to cross my mind.
My friend MJ would call this reflection time, or for those far more skilled and disciplined in this discipline than I, daily reflection. When I hear terms like reflection time and daily reflection the first thought that comes to mind is that it is a great concept but do I have time for it? Apparently more often than I think! According to MJ, it is not necessarily how long you spend reflecting, it is more about the fact that you take time -- as little as three minutes can help -- to do it.
During our conversation, MJ challenged me to go further than just making more trips to and from the bathroom and to try to more formally incorporate reflection time into my life.
To start with, MJ shared a recent exercise he had undertaken to take stock of what he was spending his time and focus on.He created a series of x-y plots, using basic Likert scales to plot each of his activities over the past six months against dimensions like "time spent" vs. "profit / value generated", "time spent" vs. "enjoyment / satisfaction", etc.
As many of us would also find, MJ discovered something that he already knew deep inside. However, he did not have a clean way of diagnosing, calling out and doing something about it; he was spending a lot of time and focus on activities that either did not return a lot of value or didn?t provide him with much satisfaction.
Armed with a much better diagnosis of the problem, MJ was then able to develop a coherent strategy for better optimizing his time going forward.As such, similar to how a corporate strategist might help construct a coherent strategy and plan for solving a diagnosed problem, MJ decided to focus on a few key areas: closing down one portion of his business (the one that he did not enjoy as much anymore) and ramping up another portion of his business (the one that returned the highest profit margin; and as a bonus, the one that he got the most satisfaction out of).
This could not be accomplished overnight, so MJ set multi-year objectives for achieving these things, then developed a year-by-year plan containing a cohesive set of actions he was going to take in order to make each of these changes.
When he told me this, I laughed out loud...this was not some crazy new technique...it is essentially the same process that we use to develop strategies and plans for our businesses!Talk about taking your own medicine!
So back to the initial question that I have been grappling with, "have I optimized both my time and focus so far this year?"My hypothesis says that despite getting a lot accomplished, I probably could have done even better.However, thanks to my conversation with MJ, I now feel armed to attack this question and problem in a more structured way so that by the end of the year I can confidently and more happily answer, "Yes I did!"
August 5, 2011
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