Imagine driving down the highway drinking a warm cup of coffee. There are a lot of cars around you, and you’re cruising at about 65 MPH. Suddenly you hit a speed bump and spill coffee down the front of your shirt.
Your brain processes that something urgent has occurred: warm, staining coffee has unexpectedly spilled on your clothes. Because this is startling and urgent, your brain wants to give your full focus to the coffee. The problem is that the coffee is not what’s important. Keeping your car in your lane is important. Maintaining your distance between the other cars on the road is important. But because these factors don’t feel urgent in the moment, hundreds of motorists each year get into accidents because of spilled food, dropped phones, and multitasking.
What does this mean for leaders in the workplace? Well, we use the same brains that prioritize coffee over distance between cars when we’re making decisions at work. How much of your time is spent putting out fires? Most leaders divide their time between resolving crises and attending status update meetings. Our work calendars clearly show that we prioritize the urgent over the important every day, relegating our long-term planning and priorities to a mental “someday”.
So what do you do about that?
Schedule Long-Term Planning
Block out a time slot in your calendar every week and dedicate that time to your long term goals.
You can dream dreams, make action plans, make progress on existing goals– whatever is going to further your important priorities. Guard these time slots, because it will be far too easy to schedule over them. If you have to move the time slot, move it to a different day in the same week. Consider early morning or late afternoon, when you’ll be less likely to have scheduling conflicts.
Talk About Your Goals
Make it clear to your employees, your peers, and your boss that your long-term planning is a high priority. Do your part to socialize prioritization and to call out excessive fire fighting. Allow time in employee meetings for them to tell you about their goals and recent important successes. Create a culture of strategy and intention.
Question the Root Cause of Crises
Just as you want to spend more time on what’s important, you want to spend less time on what’s simply urgent. As you resolve crises, take the time to look at what went wrong. Avoid blaming, but discuss what the root cause of the crisis was and how future issues will be avoided. (Use the Five Why’s or the Fish Bone Diagram to get to the heart of the issue, not just the symptoms.)
Don’t Be Married to Your Goals
Long-term strategy and vision are healthy, but keep some flexibility in your expectations. Over time your industry and economy and resources may change, and your customer needs may evolve. If your goals are no longer realistic for your company or no longer serve your customer, they may need to be adjusted or replaced altogether.
- Make time to resolve the root causes of ongoing crises and schedule time for long-term visioning and planning.
- Create a culture of strategy and flexibility, where people know their goals but also adapt them to meet the changing needs of their customers.
- Questions: Do you agree? Disagree? Are there times when it’s good to focus on the urgent over the important? What tools assist you in long-term visioning?