"There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all." -- Peter Drucker
The beginning of a new year marks a time when people reflect on changes they want or need to make.
Recently, I met with several senior executives at a major corporation when they were pondering making significant company changes. The discussion turned to how to help employees prioritize their work. Acknowledging that their employees had limited time in a workday, the executives debated how to help them focus on what was needed to accomplish company goals.
This issue of prioritizing work inevitably comes up in other organizations. Performance evaluation is another occasion when employees focus on how they contribute to the organization's goals. They and their bosses reflect on the effectiveness of the employees' actions and accomplishments for the year. But all too often, people equate activity with exceptional performance.
I once consulted with an organization that had created a culture of high activity but not necessarily with purpose. While appearing constantly busy, employees were not working towards common organizational goals. It was a high-stress environment because everyone felt pressured to appear busy at all times.
This company and its employees missed the purpose of what they were doing and as a result, they were ineffective. In fact, the real question is whether their activities might actually lead to desired outcomes/goals; have a measurable positive impact on the organization; and are the most important in which to engage.
It may sound trite, but it is essential to incorporate purpose, actions and activities into your work. Add power to your actions and you add strength, force, intensity, authority, and control.
As you contemplate on your performance this past year, look for new ways to integrate yourself more fully into the success of the business. Add power to your actions by asking yourself four simple questions and then engaging in four steps:
1. Are you aware of how your actions link to the goals of the organization and your unit?
2. Are you engaging in activities with intention of moving towards one of these goals?
3. Are you paying attention to the results associated with your actions?
4. Are you avoiding common traps that lessen the power in your activities?
Understand how your actions support your boss, your unit, and the organization. By raising your awareness and understanding of how your activities support the organization, you will be able to make grounded decisions about the importance of your work.
Sharpen your focus on what are the most important items to be accomplished by you within your unit and organization. What are the main goals of your boss, unit, and organization? Link your goals to these. Breaking the big goals into smaller increments and complicated goals into simpler goals can help you achieve them. Prioritize. Which action steps need to be taken to accomplish the goals? Lay these actions out in detail. Think about the time and resources you will need to accomplish these actions.
The second step for putting power into your actions is to create intention or meaning and importance behind your actions. Take the time to understand why your activities are important and what purpose they actually serve in the organization. This will ensure that you are indeed focusing on what needs to be done.
Regularly evaluate your activities to focus on those at the top of the priority list. Remember that priorities and their importance change over time, so you need to periodically evaluate each activity for its impact. Focus on those that will give you the greatest return first. Then if there is time, work on other tasks.
Stop to take time at the beginning of each day to reflect on what you should be doing. Make a list of your top three or four activities to accomplish that day - with no exceptions - and put the list where you can see it. Make sure they are aligned with the highest priority and highest importance. At the end of the day, review your accomplishments and start planning for the next day.
Plan for unexpected demands because they crop up every day. Keep some reactive time as part of your schedule so that you can address these.
But it is also important to navigate the longer-term transitions associated with big changes such as those accompanying economic downturns, mergers/acquisitions, and layoffs. Reprioritize, reexamine, and reassess your actions to cope with unexpected transitions or changes.
The third step for putting power into your actions is to concentrate on the impact and contribution of your activities. Are your activities getting you closer to the accomplishment of the organization goals? If not, reconsider the nature of your activities
Can you point to how an activity significantly helped accomplish the goals of the organization or your unit? If an activity does not have a high impact, don't keep doing it. Focus only on those with the greatest return for the organization even if it means giving up activities that you like, but are not necessary.
The fourth and final step for putting power into your actions is to avoid common traps that people fall into regarding their daily activities. Are you in a constant state of doing without much thought why? Make a list of activities that you a) should keep doing, b) should stop doing, and c) should start doing based on the direction of the organization.
Do what needs to be done. Now. Don't engage in activities that you want to do rather than those that actually contribute to the organization. Behaviors that promote self-interest over organizational interest are not well-regarded within organizations. And often people focus on activities that they enjoy but are not high impact or high priority - if you do this, you won't be successful. It's also easy to avoid more difficult work activities, but do not procrastinate. This is a dangerous cycle, especially when many high priority items might often fall into this category.
Don't overanalyze activities because many times you will end up not doing anything. Decide on a core set of activities and just get started. Don't be serial in your actions. People can fall into the trap of focusing on only on a set of activities or one activity. Be sure to assess your need to multi-task and tackle multiple projects simultaneously.
When you do tasks just because you have always done it, then that is a clear sign that you're not putting purpose or thought behind what you're doing. Justify why you're doing them.
Today, succeeding in business requires that you put power and purpose behind your actions. Do not mistake activity for achievement or accomplishment. The ability to focus, use time wisely, provide a consistency of purpose while adapting to corporate change, positions you to stand out and move up in 2010.