Is the Main Thing Still the Main Thing?

Most have heard Steven Covey’s famous quote: “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Excellent words of wisdom. 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 continual challenge.

We’re approaching March and the bloom is off the New Year’s rose. Thus, I wanted to offer some tips – courtesy of my clients – to be sure that your January notions about what’s important for 2013 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. None of these is particularly time intensive. They run the gamut from daily to quarterly to weekly. You can mix and match the ideas and the timing. 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 of each quarter to check in on his big picture goals. Which ones were accomplished and can be crossed off the list? Are there any to be moved up or deleted given a change in timing or urgency? Anything 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 doesn’t mean he doesn’t respond as needed within each quarter, but it ensures he consciously has time set aside to get above the fray each quarter. 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 disciplines herself on those days to only check email a few times, and devotes the rest of the day to high-priority or “think” work. Note: she schedules these days a month in advance.

Weekly: Two Drives

This client decided he could spare two of his ten drives a week for himself. Occasionally this is 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. 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 takes 5 minutes each morning to look at her calendar and ask herself: are there meetings where my presence is really not needed? Which issues really aren’t today’s priority and can be rescheduled? Now, she’s pretty good about asking these questions as meeting requests come in, and she doesn’t overlook the importance of her presence to her staff 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, 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. Too frequently things leave our minds as soon as we hit “send” or close the manila folder. We then realize at some point later we haven’t paid enough attention or set aside enough time, which creates worry and last-minute fire drills. This practice also helped her accomplish another goal, which was getting better results on delegated tasks. Often she 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.

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?

Stay up to date with tips and reflections on leadership.

Subscribe to Feed