The art of focus

One of the biggest challenges I see in corporate life is learning to say “no” to things and not spreading yourself too thinly across multiple projects. There are lots of ambitious people in corporate life and we all love a challenge so we continually add more and more to the work stack until we find we’ve spread ourselves across so many projects that you have to wonder how much time and effort is spent on any single project. This is what leads to mediocre results at best or complete failure  at worst.

The one thing we all need to learn to do is focus; learning the art of focus is easier said that done. I often say to people who work to me that we need less width (quantity of projects) and more depth on the projects we choose to work on and then go on to do the exact opposite myself!

A large company works through a process of consensus and agreement. That’s what makes the wheels go around in these large systems of effort. When you’re producing a product or new service in a competitive environment you need that product to be good enough for the job in hand, but even good enough can require a huge amount of time and effort. This means that often consensus and agreement leads to compromise and that leads to be a product or service that is often not good enough for the market. This is where senior managers and execs have to have their hands firmly in the day to day tasks to ensure that only appropriate compromises are made and inappropriate compromises are challenged and avoided. Junior members of the team are often not empowered or able to make the necessary challenges to avoid inappropriate compromise in a large company and this is why it falls to senior managers to ensure this doesn’t happen. Many senior managers however don’t have the necessary information or in-depth understanding  of projects to challenge poor decisions at the working level because they’re busy working on a zillion other projects.

So what’s the answer? Unfortunately there is no easy answer. Individual leaders have to master the discipline of focusing on a few things and being bold enough to say no to the others. They have to continually assess whether they’re spending enough time on the projects with their team and if those projects are delivering the necessary quality. Keep asking yourself whether the output will succeed in the competitive environment.

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