How To Keep the Main Thing The Main Thing

Most have heard Steven Covey’s famous quote: “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  Not many people would disagree with the premise, yet we know it’s easier said than done. Finding time to check in on whether we’re moving toward what we want and intend – or “think time” as many clients call it – is a constant challenge for leaders.

It’s mid-March and the bloom is off the New Year’s rose. I wanted to offer some tips – courtesy of my clients – to be sure that your January notions about what’s important for 2015 haven’t gotten usurped by the daily grind or crisis du jour.

Below are 5 practices that various Initiate clients developed in their quest to find “think time” and to allow high impact, strategic topics to stay at the forefront. You can mix and match the ideas and the timing: they run the gamut from daily to quarterly to weekly. The trick is to find what works best for you, just as they did.

Quarterly: 3 Goals, 2 Hours

One client takes the first Saturday each quarter to check in on big-picture goals. Which ones were accomplished and can be crossed off the list? Which ones are to be moved up in priority, or conversely, are no longer relevant? Any to be added? He picks Saturdays to be sure he won’t get interrupted, and schedules no more than two hours to keep him on task. This practice ensures he consciously has time to get above the fray and makes it easier to track progress against yearly goals. Note: be sure to communicate any key shifts or decisions to teams.

Monthly: A Work at Home Day

This doesn’t sound revolutionary given how many people telecommute, but between travel, meeting schedules, and just the need to stay visible, it’s not easy for execs to come by this luxury. This client picks one day a month when she can be home alone. She doesn’t schedule calls, and she disciplines herself to only check email a few times. The day is devoted to strategic, “think” work. Note: she looks at her calendar on the first of each month to schedule these days in advance.

Weekly: Two Drives

This client decided he could dedicate two of his ten drives a week to himself. Sometimes this is just decompression time: listening to music or a book on tape. Typically, though, he uses this time to get his head above water: are my high-priority items progressing as needed and expected? If not, where do I need to shift time, attention, resources? And so on. Again, this isn’t revolutionary. The key to this practice is breaking a habit many of us have: getting on the phone the instant we get in the car. Alone time is precious. Don’t give it away so easily.

Daily: Calendar Delete Game

This client looks at her calendar each morning to ask: are there meetings where my presence is really not needed today? She’s pretty good about asking these questions as meeting requests come in, and she doesn’t overlook the importance of her presence once she’s committed. However, habitually asking the question helps her to stay aware of where her time is spent and to note trends regarding the areas where her team most asks for guidance. This practice has often highlighted areas for staff development or places where she needs to delegate more. And, it does sometimes allow her to delete or reschedule meetings, thereby getting some precious space in her day.

Ad Hoc: The “Tickler”

Anytime this client creates a new project with a staff member, she determines at what points she needs to pull up and check on its progress. She then puts reminders in her calendar as meetings (a.k.a. “ticklers”). This does a few things. One, it assures her that deadlines don’t creep up. Two, it allows her to clear mental space about delegated tasks, knowing there is a designated time and space to check in about it. This practice not only helps her manage her own time (and head!) better, but she’s been getting better results on delegated tasks. Before, she often wouldn’t hear about how something was going until it was due. If the work was off track or needed refinement, it was often too late to do anything about it. It’s been helpful both for her and her staff.

Which of these might you be able to implement to help you keep the main thing the main thing? What other tricks do you use?

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