How often have you heard yourself say, “I’ve got so many balls in the air I don’t know how I can possibly keep track of them all?!”
We may be managing to keep the balls in motion, but how good is our juggling performance really? Are our movements controlled and rhythmic? Or are we merely gritting our teeth and hoping to catch the next ball before it falls on the ground?
Recently I was speaking with a colleague (we’ll call him Craig) who is a highly achievement-oriented and well-regarded senior manager. He was overwhelmed by how much was on his plate. In addition to handling his high-pressure career, he had begun pursuing a post-graduate degree while he was already enrolled in another certificate program. Furthermore, several projects at home also competed for his attention. In the midst of all this, Craig said that he was hoping to be able to continue to stick it out with the post-graduate degree, even though the workload was much more than he’d anticipated. To do anything other than persevere would be so out of character, that it was inconceivable to him. In Craig’s words, “it would mean giving up”.
As we talked, I asked Craig whether there might be a more positive way of viewing the choices facing him. Rather than seeing the decision NOT to do something as GIVING UP, how could the decision be re-framed as CHOOSING TO FULFILL other important goals? Such a decision might mean choosing successful completion of a few key goals, rather than struggling to keep all the balls in motion.
In Craig’s situation, family commitments were at the top of his priority list. Instead of “giving up”, postponing the post-graduate degree meant that he could choose to successfully meet his family priorities, while completing his certificate program and performing effectively at work.
In trying to do it all right now, we can run the risk of not meeting our most critical goals and being out of synch with our core values.
As with many challenges in the business world, useful analogies can be drawn from nature. For example, a slowly meandering brook that enters a more narrow passage, will eventually transform into a surging current. By narrowing the path, the energy of the water is channelled and results in greater momentum and power. Focus can provide the same effect for us in our work and our everyday lives.
Coach’s Question #1:
How are you diluting your focus and compromising your impact?
Somehow it can be easier for us to recognize this challenge at the organization level. When organizations stray too far from their core competencies, all too often they flounder and fail.
At the personal level this dynamic seems more difficult to acknowledge. There is something in our business culture than has difficulty with “less is more”. There seems to be an unwritten competition for the longest job description and most extensive “to do” list. We need to take a hard look at how this serves our effectiveness.
In my Coaching practice, I’ve noticed that the importance of focus is particularly critical when someone first moves into a new job or joins a new organization. It is tempting to want to immediately meet the needs of all stakeholders and attend to as much of the long list of demands as possible. Yet, it has been observed that failure to generate a small list of early successes is a leading contributor to derailment of executives soon after they join a new organization. In fact, some enlightened companies dedicate resources to ensuring that new leaders determine these priorities quickly, establishing their list of 3 key wins as a formal action plan during an Onboarding Coaching process.
So how do you narrow down what you are going to address? Clearly determining the needs of your organization, your manager, and your team, is a critical step. Equally, if not more important, is doing an honest self-assessment of where it makes most sense for you, given your individual strengths, to spend your time.
Coach’s Question #2:
How could your strengths guide your decisions as to where to focus?
Like many entrepreneurs, in running my own business I am constantly facing this Focus challenge. Being one’s own Finance, IT, Purchasing and Sales departments, as well as administrative assistant, can greatly dilute one’s efforts. Aligning myself with a team of individuals whom I can rely on for specific support is critical to ensuring I can keep my eye on my core business and allows me to leverage my true strengths. It is very alluring to fall back on the old adage, “if I do it myself, I know it will get done”, but this, of course, can be a very limiting belief to growing your business.
Coach’s Question #3:
What one thing could you stop doing today, and in doing so, enhance your impact?
I’m interested in hearing about your reactions and learning pertaining to Focus. What have you recently stopped doing at work, and how has this impacted how you are seen by others? Send me an email with your feedback or questions to .
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