Focus on the important stuff!

The most important words a mentor ever said to me were, “Don’t confuse activity with accomplishment.” He repeated this phrase so frequently that it’s now burned into my brain. It makes so much sense.

He pointed out examples of unnecessary memos, wasted meetings and lost time on irrelevant topics. After a while, I began to plan my days and weeks with more laser focus and allocate my time for greater accomplishment. Once disciplined to make the best use of my time I could see myself actually getting more of the important stuff done. What an epiphany.

Here are some ways to start filtering out activities for accomplishment.

Understanding the measure of you.
How does your direct report measure your performance? Knowing or revisiting the answer to this question will create immediate focus. Study your role carefully and ask yourself what accomplishment really looks like. Each morning, ask yourself: Am I focused on the issues that my boss sees as most significant? Am I planning my time for maximum results? Time is a limited resource and leaders need to plan it in a way that facilitates the best possible outcomes.

Managing time with a team.
Leaders spend a big portion of time with their team, so make that time really count toward an end goal. Before your day gets underway or maybe the night before, plan out those interpersonal chunks of time and make notes about what you want to accomplish. When you are with your team, keep the conversation focused on topics that really count. A little social conversation is OK, but know when to cut it off. Keep the group’s attention on the goals and measurements that will yield real success.

Focusing a business road trip.
During a business trip to visit a retail store, I have observed supervisors who start a visit with a handshake, walk around the store, make a few comments and leave within 20 minutes. That’s a perfect example of activity that yields little or no accomplishment. Spending a few hours in the store speaking with employees and customers, asking pinpointed questions and listening carefully is a much better path to learning. Only by uncovering the real issues and identifying new solutions to problems can your time result in any measurable success.

Dealing with email overload.
Most of us feel constant pressure to read, digest and respond to emails. We can’t stop this ubiquitous modern means of communication, so we need to learn how to minimize its distraction. First, use your digital tools. Hit the “unsubscribe” bottom at the bottom of any email distribution that’s not essential. It’s easy, and you can always re-subscribe. Also use “block sender” for those annoying repetitive emails. Try it for a week and you’ll be surprised by how many fewer emails you receive. Second, discipline yourself to skim the first few lines of an email and quickly decide whether to delete or keep reading. Then flag priority emails so you’ll remember to respond when you have time. Finally, if you are fortunate enough to have an assistant you can delegate email screening. Whether it’s you or someone else, take charge of this function. Drive your digital communication; don’t get yanked around by it.

Eliminating social media distractions.
Unless your job role specifically deals with the monitoring or posting of your company’s media messages, turn off or silence any social media notifications on your computer and phone. Allowing personal social media to dictate even parts of your workday, let alone your emotions, is a useless distraction. Stay focused on the real accomplishments you need to be successful. Keep social media off your agenda.

Cultivating work-life balance.
Accomplishment is often amplified when you schedule restorative time for physical and mental health. By reducing useless activities during your workday you should have more leeway to prioritize time for relationships and wellness. Schedule a weekly “date night” with your spouse. Build an achievable weekly exercise agenda. Plan quality time with your kids — experiences that uphold your values and make everyone feel accomplished. A solid work-life balance will create security and support for a successful business career.

It takes a lot of strength to stay focused on the most important issues without getting sidetracked by lesser activities. But it’s worth the effort, and one day it will become routine. Fixating on a foundation for real accomplishment will take you down a lifelong path of success.

published Nashville Business Journal

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  1. So true, so true.
    As part of the planning process, I suggest “end of the day review.” Then what has been accomplished is celebrated; what has not is prioritized for tomorrow and meshed with the next day’s existing commitments. This should be brief, relieving stress for the remainder of the day/night, encouraging rest and refreshment.
    The new day will come; will you be in a ready frame of mind?

  2. Joe, Congratulations!This is so pertinent and important. It seems many areas of endeavor are full of folks that mistake being busy for actually accomplishing something.I have literally attended meetings where the main topic turned out to be when to have the next meeting. One of the wonderful things about being a surgeon was there was never time during surgery for meaningless or pointless discussions. With your permission I would like to share this article with our ECE Scholarship recipients. Regards, Mike Spalding

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