Do You Want to Shift from Spread Thin to Strategic?

Do you feel crazy busy…and everything seems important…and you want to give to everybody…and you feel guilty if you don’t…and it seems like nothing can give???  Take a breath..

Do you crave to shift from spread thin to more strategic?

What do I mean by strategic?

Being strategic is about choosing “what” projects to pursue, (and which to drop), not just keeping busy.  It’s about having ‘time to think’, and thinking at a deeper level with more meaningful learning and more valuable output.  Being strategic is one of the top traits in people seen as ready to promote and step into more visible opportunities.

Here’s a great example (thanks to my cousin,  head of PR at an entertainment company): “I’d rather my team members spend 8 hours tapping their pen on the desk in order to come up with one idea that will land our celebrity on the culture pages of the NY Times, than spend the whole day frantically sending emails to reporters for a small mention or no placement at all.”

As you reflect on 2018,  did you initiate the most meaningful work, the work that will move your career, your company, your life forward?

Or did you put off that next level or next chapter because you were ‘busy’ and thought you didn’t have the time or bandwidth?

I gave a webinar for 1000 people at a global company yesterday titled: Spread Thin to Strategic: Practical Strategies for Success under Stress.  I discussed what gets in the way and how you can shift to be more strategic starting today.  

Read on for a list.  Check off any that apply to you then follow the guidelines to lift yourself up and do the things that will take you to your next level in 2019:   

1. Lack of clarity
Lack of focus or overwhelm is often due to a lack of role clarity.  You may end up doing your role AND others. You do busywork that is not at your level. Or your Manager may not have made clear the metrics you will be evaluated on.

If your role is fuzzy, have better and regular communication with your Manager to align on priorities.  If your Manager keeps giving you more to do, don’t just suffer and live with it!  Review with your Manager what you already have on your plate and make a recommendation how you think the work should be prioritized (i.e., always bring your Manager solutions).  Ask for your Manager’s approval or suggested changes.

If you have too many priorities as a business owner you may want to throw out your ‘spray and pray’ approach and get more clear on who you serve and what you offer.

2. Culture of ‘busyness’
Do you work in a culture of busyness… (or are you creating one yourself?)  Is it routine forpeople to dump adhoc tasks on you and ‘create’ fake work instead of focus on the few most important priorities?  (I bet the answer is Yes)

Even if your company has a ‘busyness’ culture you can create an oasis on your own team. One of the best solutions is to initiate what I call the “Ideal Day Exercise”.   In this exercise, all team members add their idea of what an “Ideal Day” looks like (i.e I’ve facilitated dozens of these  and its universal – everybody want to accomplish the most meaningful work, have fun, and feel valued!) Because every team member gives input, everyone has ‘skin in the game’ to make ‘this day’ happen.

Problem solve how to achieve that day (eg., coordinate so each person has uninterrupted time to complete work,  discuss which projects are highest and lowest priority, establish ‘no meeting’ times, etc)  This exercise is the most powerful one I’ve seen to increase productivity on the important projects.

3. Comfort Zone
You know you can succeed doing the work you are doing now, and you are worried you won’t succeed at a next level requiring new skills…so you stay in your comfort zone.  You might be a little bored, but ‘at least you’re safe!’   Does this describe you?

Staying in your comfort zone is a confidence issue: you are preventing others’ judgements:  You are trying to keep the respect you have earned and not ‘put yourself out there’ in a way that might erode it.

It can be helpful to shift attention away from how others will judge you, and focus on the value that you can bring to others.  Thinking about the people who will benefit from your confident action can give you courage to get started on a deck describing your bold new marketing idea, or step into a leadership position.

[Side note: You might speculate that if you made mistakes you will be judged and you want to prevent that. (If you are a woman, these fears are grounded, not paranoid.  There is evidence that women’s mistakes are remembered longer and punished more severely.  It can help to get ‘air cover’ or to share first drafts of your ideas with people so you get early feedback and shared responsibility for the outcome. Educate everyone that you are doing a ‘fail fast’ and rapid iteration approach.  Also, having a plan to leverage any learnings for later success helps you ‘put on your big girl panties’ and go for it!)

Or it may be a temperamental wiring where you prefer ‘routine and consistency’.  If that’s the case, then take on new responsibilities slowly. Emphasize to yourself all the things that will be the same even in the face of dosing in some new approaches.

4. Fixed Mindset
With a Fixed Mindset you tell yourself you ‘know what you know’.  Without realizing it, I used to have a Fixed Mindset about running a group program: “Groups” are for other coaches.  Once I noticed, I put on a new head with a Growth Mindset (“I can learn this”) and initiated my first virtual group coaching program.  Now 150 mid-career professionals have gone through the program: 90% achieved the next level outcome they wanted and 100% said they are more strategic!  (Sound good for you? We’re starting the next group in January, check it out)

5.”Office Housework”
This is the term for women being given tasks that are outside their role and seen as ‘less valuable’ to the bottom line.  Examples include taking notes, planning the office party, etc.

You always have a choice. There are times when it’s worth it to you to say “Yes” to office housework (e.g., if it enables you to get in the door to a relationship with an important leader or enables you to steer the group retreat in a direction you recommend, etc)  Otherwise, you always have a choice to say a guilt-free “I’ll pass on this one” (Harken to Arianna Huffington’s famous quote “No” is a full sentence).    (Also in this bucket, there is the more recently termed “Emotional Labor”   in which women are put in the position of managing feelings (others and their own) in order to fulfill the emotional requirements of a job.)

6. Perfectionism
Thank you for being a Perfectionist, you bring so much value to all the people around you.  But you feel your work is never enough because it’s a reflection that inside you think YOU are not enough.  And if the work isn’t good enough for you, you’ll ‘do and re-do’ it – creating work for yourself and others. And you might criticize people around you for not being good enough either.  Phew, exhausting!

How much time have you spent perfecting your projects rather than pursuing strategic opportunities?  (I tried to estimate this for myself,  I’m sure it’s at least 1 hour a week (some weeks more), that’s at least 52 hours this year.  Hand to forehead moment: What could I have done if I had 52 hours to devote to it this year?)

Start to distinguish between the projects that are ‘glass balls’ (things will crack if I don’t do it) vs ‘rubber balls’ (where you have some more flexibility).

Or notice how you are looking at projects asking “Is it Perfect?” (this by the way is code for ‘will they think I am perfect?’).  Instead, ask a different question: “What is it’s purpose?”  What are the success criteria associated with the project, does the project meet those criteria? If so, your efforts are a law of diminishing returns and it’s time to hit Send!

7.  “Always On”

Your nervous system responds to the relentless demand and constant change with two modes:  Your “On” button mode gives you focus and energy to run between meetings and tick things off your ‘to do’ list.  Your “Off” button gives you calm and rejuvenation.  In “On” button mode, you can only see what’s right in front of you (e.g. your current tasks) and your obligations.  This mode is very helpful to accomplish tactics but it makes you feel you are just surviving the day. Problem solving in this mode references only the past, you can’t come up with new ideas.  In contrast, your “Off” button mode enables you to see the big picture, connect the dots and tap your intuition and creativity.  It enables you to be strategic, and think for the long term.

If you are on the treadmill of the “Only On” cycle, your day will be an endless stream of tasks all of which feel of equal priority.  You’ll experience time famine. Your only aim is the relief of ticking things off your list.

The “Off” button part of your brain, however,  gives you discernment to know what is more and less important, and what do YOU want? When you balance the “On” button with the “Off” button you’ll be able to focus when you need to and relax when you want to.

The first thing you want to do is build some “Off button thinking” time into your schedule. Start with 1 hour a week (and don’t allow other people to schedule over it, make a sacred date with yourself)  Ask yourself strategic questions such as what you want for your career, or how to add value to your current projects.

And to balance your “On” and “Off” button, try this breathing technique to balance the On and the Off button).  It will give you the calm and focus of a 90 minute yoga class in 2 minutes while sitting at your desk!

How many of these did you check off?

Give yourself the gift of the “shift” from spread thin to strategic:

Building time into your day to lift up and be ‘strategic’ accesses the part of your brain associated with calm and creativity.  Deep thinking is stimulating and gives you the satisfaction of growing.  It also paves the way for you to have the ‘big ideas’ that will get to your next level.

Because aren’t you ready to have more calm, more satisfaction, and a bigger impact in 2019?

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