Clearing Space to Focus on What Matters Most

The end of one year and the beginning of the next gives most of us cause for pause. “Out with the old, in with the new!” sounds so festive when the bells are chiming at midnight. Yet, it’s difficult to embrace new habits and approaches when the old ones have served us reasonably well. That is, until they don’t.

If, for instance, you find that driving meaningful change for yourself, your teams or organization has remained elusive, it’s likely an opportunity to experiment with ways to carve out space (time & energy) for all that goes into delivering high value outcomes.

Driving change that matters requires deep thinking, idea generation, problem solving, collaboration and project management — an imposing set of requirements for most mere mortals, and a likely reason for abandoning our quests or holding on to familiar (but ill-suited) approaches.

Indeed, creating space for impactful change requires a shift in how we prioritize and organize ourselves. The following steps are designed to help you do just that.

Let’s take it from the top.

Step 1:  Begin with the end in mind. Get clear.

Identify the top three things you want to deliver to make a significant impact on your life and/or the lives of others this year. At the end of this year, what would you like to have accomplished or changed for yourself, your team or organization?

The more specific the goal, the easier it is to measure and course-correct periodically. For instance:

At the end of this year, I will have…

  • Established a sustainable and flexible hybrid workplace model for optimal health, well-being, and productivity of our team.
  • Bolstered the engagement level of my team in our hybrid workplace model.
  • Fortified the bench strength of my team (leaving me more time for strategic initiatives).
  • Strengthened my network, surrounding myself with energizing (vs. draining) colleagues and friends.
  • Disengaged from work after 6PM during the week and on the weekends.
Step 2:  Design your framework.
  • Carve out your vacation time, personal days off and holidays now. Of course, some dates may shift, but you will be more apt to work around those dates, vs. trying to find vacation time later.
  • Set aside time for health & wellness. How many times a week, which days and where do you want to exercise, do yoga and/or meditate? If a walk around the block at lunchtime is your goal, block the time on your calendar. “Decline” meeting invites that encroach on this time. Decide now on your exceptions (i.e. your manager’s hair is on fire). Yes, this feels incredibly awkward, especially at first, but over time, you and others will adjust.
  • Be intentional about the degree to which you’re okay allowing work to intrude into your weekends and evenings.
Step 3:  Remove the clutter. 

Pinpoint the pesky distractions that infiltrate your high value time. Ask yourself: 

  • From which newsletters & blogs can I unsubscribe? While newsletters and blogs are easy to “delete” or comb through, they have a way of growing our inboxes and stress levels. 
  • Which meetings can I stop attending? If the objective of the meeting (or your role) is unclear, consider whether it would be time well-spent, or you could send a delegate in your place.
  • Which meetings can I stop hosting? Is there someone else suitable who can drive the agenda, determine objectives, and follow up on outcomes?
  • Do I need to be copied on every email that involves my department? Is it time to give team members some latitude in making decisions or determine which topics warrant a “cc:?”
  • Do I need to respond to every email, text, or Slack message immediately? The simple answer is “no.” This is hard if you value responsiveness, of course, but less so when you end up with more time to focus.
  • Does every meeting require a full hour?  If you have four meetings a day that can be shortened by 10 minutes, you’ve found 40 minutes. Or, how about a “no meeting” day?
  • Resist completing the customer satisfaction surveys and product reviews. Yes, they only take a few minutes, but again, they add up.
Step 4: Minimize the friction.

By friction, I mean…stress on the system. What is draining your energy?

  • Which decision making processes are confusing, taking too much time and in need of improvement?  Is the decision maker clearly defined on each initiative? Are there too many people involved in a particular initiative?
  • Are all responsible parties on-board and showing up with agency? Most of the time, big initiatives involve too many people and we are not often blessed to work with an “all-in” group. What can you do to restructure who’s involved when and for what?
Step 5:  Dedicate and honor time for your “make a difference” goals.
  • At last, it’s time to carve out dedicated space to focus on the significant changes you identified in Step 1.

If building bench strength is a priority, it’s important to understand what each team member needs to advance their leadership skills. So, carving out time for individual development meetings is on the critical path. It may include introducing one or two of them to others in your network or adding a leadership coach to the mix (shameless plug).  Either way, now that you’ve cleared space for this initiative, you’re able to take the steps that have escaped you for so long.

Yes, changing it up can be uncomfortable, but let’s face it, so is another year of rinse & repeat. Here’s to your newfound space and time for what matters most this year.

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