3 Ways to Live and Lead Strategically
Are you where you want to be in your career? Are you where you want to be in your life? You and you alone can set your strategic direction. You and you alone will decide if you’ve reached your full potential. You and you alone will look back on your life with great joy or great regret. The choice is yours. Strategy is the power to get from where you are today to where you want to go: the power to live strategically. You have that power. The question is: are you using it?
In life and in business, we’re either reacting like a bumper car bouncing from one thing to the next, or we’re purposely committed to a strategic direction. Research with 154 companies found that only 30 percent of managers are strategic. This means that 7 out of 10 managers are chained to the activity treadmill, checking off tasks without adding real value to the business.
You and you alone will look back on your life with great joy or great regret. The choice is yours.
Strategic thinking can be defined as one’s ability to generate new insights that lead to advantage. An insight is when we’re able to combine two or more pieces of information or data in a unique way that creates new value. For many managers, strategy has become an annual pilgrimage to a two-day offsite meeting leading to a dog-and-pony-show presentation that disappears into a binder that sits on the shelf collecting dust. The reason strategic plans aren’t used is because they aren’t built on new thinking. They’re simply a rehash of old tactics and new budget numbers. Strategic thinking moves strategy from an event to an ongoing dialogue about the key business issues.
So what’s preventing people from thinking and acting strategically? Research with more than 500 managers shows that in 96 percent of organizations, a lack of time is the biggest challenge. Only 9 percent of managers are “very satisfied” with how they spend their time.
To more strategically utilize your time, consider the following three ideas:
1. Dedicate chunks of time to a single task.
The opposite of multitasking is to work on one task at a time—simple in concept, challenging to practice. Dedicating a significant portion of time to one task can boost productivity dramatically. Setting time aside to focus on one thing increases productivity by as much as 65 percent in some studies because the person is able to channel all of their cognitive processing power to a single item. Start blocking out 30-minute chunks of time to dedicate to single tasks.
2. Send fewer emails.
While it can be difficult to limit the number of emails you receive, you do have influence over how many emails you send. One company’s total e-mail output dropped by 54 percent over a three-month period after the company’s leaders reduced the number of e-mails they sent out. The company realized a gain of 10,400 man-hours over the course of the year, all started by executives limiting the number of emails they sent to others.
The reason strategic plans aren’t used is because they aren’t built on new thinking. They’re simply a rehash of old tactics and new budget numbers.
3. Make time trade-offs.
Before we can improve on a current state, we need to understand what the current state is. If we’re going to improve our ability to allocate time effectively, then we first need to determine where our time is currently being spent. The following steps will help you improve your time allocation:
Step 1: For a typical week, record how you spend your time in 30-minute increments throughout the day.
Step 2: After the week has elapsed, identify the time categories (e.g., operational meetings, e-mail, teleconferences, customer meetings, etc.). For each category, list the total amount of time invested during the week.
Step 3: Label the time categories and increments of time on the Time Gauge graph.
Step 4: Plot the time investments for each category and connect the dots for your current investment (Figure 1.0).
Step 5: Review the Time Gauge results and then use the Time Trade-Off Matrix to place the investment categories in either the “Eliminate,” “Decrease,” or “Increase” quadrant depending on how you’d like to change that particular category investment. Fill the “Create” quadrant with any new areas you’d like to invest time (Figure 1.1).
People want more time. What most people really need is more direction and greater discipline in how to use the time they already have. Strategy is the power to get from where you are to where you want to go. Strategic thinking is the ability to harness that power on a regular basis to set your direction and reach your goals. You have that power. Now, use it.
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