In a recent post, Big Rocks First, I mentioned Focus Days as something I put on the calendar well in advance of the day-to-day activities that cry out for my time. I’ve been asked to say more about Focus Days. What are they? Why are they important to me?
Let me start by asking, what are you really paid to do as a leader? I’m assuming you may have multiple answers to that question. However, if you’re a leader, I’m going to guess you’re paid to lead - that is why Focus Days are important to me – the prerequisite to leading well is to think well. Focus Days provide that opportunity.
A Focus Day simply stated is a time set aside to THINK. If we’re not careful, we’ll think on the fly. And, admittedly, for most things that is sufficient. We don’t need designated time to consider what we’ll wear to work or even how to do the routine parts of our job. However, there are bigger, more complex issues that demand our best thinking. I’ve found over the years that my best thinking is done when I can schedule it and allow enough time to go deep and wide on an issue.
The first time I ever heard anything like this was from Bobb Biehl. He kept a running list of what he called “Deep Thinking” items. Then he periodically scheduled time alone to consider these issues. It was a foreign concept to me at the time, but now that I’ve incorporated this into my routine, the value is immeasurable.
Here are four tips that help me make my Focus Days more productive – you’ll have to decide what works for you.
1. I don’t try to do my Focus Days at the office. There are too many distractions.
2. I try to schedule at least 4 hours in a single block of time – a full day if I can get it. Part of the value is the EXTENDED time to think about an issue.
3. I need a day like this at least once a month. I’ve found that my normal pace and level of activity is actually counterproductive over the long haul. If I don’t stop and think, I sub-optimize my leadership.
4. I keep a list of candidate items to focus on during these days. Just prior to the scheduled day, I review the items, select the one or two I’ll focus on and pull together the resources I’ll need.
A cautionary word is in order – if you try this, fight the temptation for it to be a day to catch up on email. Although there is value in being caught up on administrative items, that’s no substitute for focus on important issues. If you need an Administrative Day, schedule it – but don’t sacrifice your time to think deeply about important issues.[GLS_Shield]