Stay on track with regular focus!
For most non-managerial wage earners, their “to do” list is something controlled by outside forces. Either a boss tells them what to do or their tasks are assigned by the systems and processes in place. If you’re a knowledge worker doing customer support, your tasks are likely determined by customer issues and requests. If you’re in retail, you play your role and execute your part of the processes – cashiers check people out, stock handlers keep shelves full, others clean the restrooms, and so on. People in these roles tend to think of themselves as “worker bees,” just reacting to what comes their way and doing what they’re supposed to do. No more, no less.
But it’s not just people working the front lines of retail and service industries who get stuck in this rut. Far too many knowledge workers do the same thing. They learn all the tasks associated with their jobs and then simply wait for an outside stimulus to tell them what to do next.
If you want to be a Relaxed Leader, you need to get out of “reactive mode.” You need to have some sort of a plan – even a short-term plan – and then ensure you’re making time to do the tasks necessary to execute that plan.
Being Proactive with Short-term Goals
Several years ago, I held a position where my team’s primary role was responding to customer issues. We weren’t doing break/fix support – that would’ve been easier. We were doing “customer advocacy,” which meant that we got involved when the customer was angry about something. It was our job to figure out what went wrong, smooth things over with the customer, and then ensure the problem was addressed and resolved.
My team was very good at firefighting but I decided we’d be better off focusing our efforts on fire prevention. The problem, as you can imagine, was that we barely had time to be reactive. How were we going to find the time to be proactive?
The environment at the time was very dynamic and the “road map” we would put together at the beginning of the fiscal year was usually irrelevant by the 2nd quarter. Things were just changing too rapidly. So instead of creating all kinds of detailed long-term plans, we decided to set more short-term goals. If we could change something THIS MONTH, what would it be? How would we do it? What tasks would need to be done and by when?
Drive Progress with Weekly Reviews
Once we had some short-term goals, I set aside an hour each week to review the necessary tasks. Every Friday afternoon at 3 PM, I looked at what we had queued up for the week that was ending. Had we completed everything? If not, then what happened? Did I over-estimate what we’d be able to accomplish? Did something unforeseen pop up? Or did we just lose sight of the tasks and fail to work on them with our available time?
If we accomplished the tasks as planned, are we on track with the overall plan? Should we consider tackling more of these tasks the following week? Or should we keep the same cadence?
My Friday afternoon review sessions were used to assess our performance in the week just completed and lay out the plan for the coming week. At that point, I would have a good idea of what else was on our schedule and could determine how many additional tasks I believed we could take on.
The type of work your team does will likely determine how you approach planning the coming week during your review session. When my team was dealing with customer problems we couldn’t predict, then I only scheduled additional tasks that I believed we could comfortably handle. On the other hand, my current team deals with very few “emergency” situations. We now have more control over our calendar and the work we do, so I am much more aggressive when scheduling additional tasks.
Finding the Right Balance
I have to admit that I continue to be surprised at how many senior managers have long-term plans but have almost no visibility into whether their teams are on track to complete those plans on schedule in any given week. Of course, on the other end of the spectrum are the micromanagers who keep such close tabs on everything that their teams slow to a crawl because nothing gets done without the boss’s review and approval.
As Relaxed Leaders, our goal is to find a balance between the two extremes. We need to keep an eye on the long-term plans but never lose sight of our weekly progress. We do this by ensuring our direct reports understand the critical tasks for the week so they know where to focus their energy. However, we also need to set expectations in a way that accounts for all the other day-to-day work our team members have to contend with.
The Weekly Review allows us to do all of this. It gives us the means for keeping everything on track and adjusting course if needed. We understand what happened (or didn’t happen) and why, which helps us understand the team’s overall performance and plan even better in the future.
Relaxed Leaders are rarely surprised because we take time to do weekly reviews. It helps us ensure we’re on track to reach our goals and provides a timely opportunity to adjust priorities if we’re falling behind. Reviewing and reflecting on a weekly basis also helps us process our experiences and identify important lessons we and our teams can learn. But simply knowing it’s a good idea isn’t enough, so start implementing it today.
I’ve created a 1-pager that will help. Just download a copy of my Weekly Review & Reflect Process and get started right away!
SERIOUSLY – don’t wait until later! “Someday” isn’t a day of the week, so take action today and you’ll be on your way to becoming a much more Relaxed Leader.