“I just can’t seem to stay focused on Strategic Work,” a client of mine told me recently.
“I know I should be working ON my business and not just IN it, but every time I try, something comes up that seems urgent and requires my immediate attention.”
“Remind me again why you need to work ON your business,” I prompted.
“Well, because it will help me achieve my goals and turn my business into something that works for me, instead of me breaking my back working for it, right?”
“Yes, that is right!” I said. I could feel his anxiety starting to ease and I knew I could help him eliminate these distractions and focus on his work as a leader.
“And tell me again,” I asked, “what is the difference between strategic work and tactical work?”
“Tactical work is the more hands on, doing it, doing it, doing it work that is done by the Technician in me. Strategic work is, well, strategic. It’s working ON my business!” he exclaimed.
“Exactly.” I said. “Strategic work is any work involving planning, establishing and managing results. And it happens at every level of the company.”
The strategic work of the Entrepreneur involves envisioning the future and communicating that vision in an inspiring way.
The strategic work of the Manager involves determining what work needs to be done to achieve that vision, deciding who should be doing it and holding people accountable to get it done.
The strategic work of the Technician is to be constantly attentive to how established systems could be made more efficient.
Neither the strategic work of the Entrepreneur nor the Manager is given enough time and attention in most businesses. But unless this work is done somehow, the business is doomed to stagnate or fail.
A bad cycle
“But that’s just it, Jamison” he said, “I can’t seem to manage myself, let alone be a good manager for my employees.
For example, an employee will burst into my office with something they need, even after I’ve told them that I am not to be disturbed. Or sometimes I just can’t help myself from checking my email every time a new message appears, and I end up getting distracted and pulled right back into the fire.”
“The good news is that you are committed to the idea.” I said.
“It is important for you to consider that taking the time to work ON your business actually involves working on yourself as well. This is about really understanding how your business is a reflection of you and how you can make it reflect the very best of you.
What if all of these issues are not really preventing you from doing strategic work at all, but are actually showing up as a result of you not having done strategic work in the first place?”
I gave him a moment for those thoughts to settle in, and I could tell he was absorbed in the questions.
He didn’t try to provide any answers, and that is how I knew he was beginning to shift in the right direction.
A new direction
“Isn’t being in business about being able to make dreams come true – about you becoming the kind of leader who can make dreams come true?”
“Yes” he said, “I see that and I even believe that I am capable of that. But what can I do to actually be that leader more often?”
“If you think about it,” I said, “there are two kinds of distractions that might prevent you from being more strategic:
- Internal distractions that stem from your own lack of perspective, discipline, and self-organization.
- External distractions that stem from a lack of understanding, structure, and organization in the business.
You seem to be suffering from both. Let me offer four systems that I’d like you to consider.”
A distraction-free zone
- Schedule time on your calendar for strategic work (try for an uninterrupted hour every day) and consider a location that will allow you maximum focus. Some clients remove themselves to the library or a coffee house. Some use their cars. The more you can make yourself physically unavailable to outside distractions, the better your chance of success.
- Whether you’re on or off-site, communicate your ‘do not disturb’ policy. The cost of a ‘one minute’ interruption is another ten minutes of refocusing time that you have lost forever. One client’s guideline to staff is: “Unless it is something that you’d call me after hours on my cell about, it can wait.”
- Discipline yourself not to answer phone calls, emails, or otherwise distract yourself from the strategic work you must engage in. Can you have incoming calls transferred during this period? Some clients select a temporary auto-response on their emails, advising writers that they are temporarily unavailable, but will review and reply after a certain time.
- Consider placing an inbox outside of your office where employees can drop off important information for you without disturbing or disrupting you while you are engaged in strategic work.
Warning: These strategies will only be effective if your employees and customers see you holding up your end of the deal; you must respond to those diverted messages and emails in a timely manner. People must see that you are collecting what they leave in that inbox and responding appropriately. If you don’t, they won’t trust or respect those controls.
If you’re unaccustomed to allowing yourself a routine for strategic thinking, it might be uncomfortable for you at first.
In the beginning, just give yourself permission to experience this regularly scheduled enforced break from your routine. You may squirm, feel anxious, and even a little guilty. That will subside in time and you’ll begin to associate this time with the opportunity to capture your clearest thoughts about your vision for your business and your life.