Monday, September 9, 2013

What's your focus?

If you ever find yourself short on time, over-stretched while doing too many things, today's coaching button is for you.

We only have so much time in a given week. How you divide your time is up to you. But where should you provide focus?

You may be familiar with the concept of lead-manage-do. It's a somewhat simplistic way to say "You can't have it all." The "lead-manage-do" concept helps us to understand the focus we need to put into our work. To be the most successful, one person really should concentrate on (at most) two of the "legs" of this triangle: "lead-manage", "lead-do", or "manage-do". While it's not impossible to do all three at once, doing so reduces focus in your other areas. For example, directors are often expected to provide leadership within their teams, and to meet with staff and perform other HR duties, but don't have logins to the computer systems their teams manage. Or, line managers may provide day-to-day management, while providing hands-on assistance with a project, but do not generate long-term "vision" or strategic direction.

Think of your available time as a "pie," and how you divide your time as "slices" of the pie. That's your time for the week. You can't make the pie any bigger, unless you want to work through the weekend. How do you spend this available time? Start by considering the types of duties you perform each day:

Tracking trends, anticipating future needs, developing vision and strategies to achieve goals, engaging others.
Working to organize, allocate, and coordinate people or processes. Drafting goals and operational plans, allocating resources, budgets, assigning responsibilities.
The "hands-on" activities: collecting data for a report, providing help of a routine nature, developing basic business processes, dealing with day-to-day email and phone calls.
We all do at least some of each category; even a university president responds to email and phone calls, for example. Someone who was equally divided among all three areas would look like this:

Providing an equal balance can lead to trouble. That implies someone who provides effective leadership, manages efficiently, and still does the day-to-day hands-on work? It's really hard to do the work, all of it, and do it well. A person who claims to be equally divided among lead-manage-do may be short on time, over-stretched while doing too many things. Sound familiar?

The path to success starts with balancing these focus areas with the work that you do, and your role in the organization.

For example, some large companies have a technology architect role who develops new technology and provides leadership for using that technology effectively. This kind of architect is both "lead" and "do." In contrast, other organizations use working managers. These managers are typically responsible for running their department, but also provide some hands-on assistance with technology systems (such as database administration or systems administration.) These managers are in both "manage" and "do". The working manager remains focused on the day-to-day running of the department, not to mention the systems, and does not provide much leadership for the "next generation" of what they do. They may push for more automation, or to make things easier, but rarely are able to focus on dramatic changes that take their organization to the next level.

These people divide their time differently, focused into specific areas, depending on what is important for their role in the organization:

Consider how you need to spend your time, and what types of duties are important to the work that you do. Do you need to provide "vision" or "leadership" for your area or organization? Try to exercise the most focus in "lead" and find balance in "manage" while limiting the "do." Or, is your job function to support a technology or service? Then you might focus on "do" while minimizing "lead" and "manage." Some may give so much attention to one area that the other areas might be zero, and that's okay too. How you divide your time may depend on where you are in the organization, and how you contribute:

But where should you provide focus? We only have so much time in a given week. If you decide to give more time to one area (for example, "do") you must balance the remaining time in the other two areas ("manage" and "lead). How can successful leaders divide their attention to be most successful?

Reflect on what you need to accomplish as part of your role in the organization, and use that to guide your time. Do you know your top priorities? Spend time only on the important things, not just the "immediate" items. If your focus needs to be "manage" or "lead," reduce the amount of time spent "doing" by handing some of these tasks off to others (delegating.) If your inclination or natural tendency is towards "do" and your role is "manage" or "lead," look for ways to exercise "do" outside of work, without drawing attention away from your responsibilities (I contribute to open source software). Be decisive, use defensive calendaring, avoid multitasking, organize, reduce the time spent on email, use meeting time wisely.

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