Monday always feels like a fresh chance: “No distractions this week – I’m going to stay focussed on what’s actually important!” But then as the week passes by I sometimes feel I’ve been pulled off track by the urgent distractions crying out for my attention.
So I’ve started using the four building blocks of a robust strategy (vision, sticking points, guiding policy and coherent actions) to keep me focussed week-by-week on my strategic priorities.
And you can too: Think through these simple questions on your way to work each Monday, remind yourself of the answers through the week and keep on track with your strategic priorities:
1. Vision: What are the things I need to prioritise this week to take me one step closer to achieving my long-term work objectives? Quantify the time you’ll need and create a deadline for yourself if the task doesn’t already have one.
2. Sticking points: What are the things distracting me from focussing on this? Think about general reasons you don’t always stay focussed on your priorities and specific things which might distract you in the week ahead.
3. Guiding policy: What’s my general approach to overcoming these sticking points? You’ll probably find this won’t change much from week to week once you start thinking this way.
4. Coherent actions: What actions am I going take this week to keep me focussed on my priorities?
Plus, I’m going to add a fifth step because this is a week-by-week strategy process:
5. Reflection: On Friday reflect on how your week went: Did I focus on the things which are strategically important? If not, what sticking points got in my way? How could I improve my approach next week?
So, for example a school fundraiser might answer:
1. Vision: I need to write the first draft of the regular giving strategy paper for the school's governors by Friday. This will give me two weeks to get feedback from colleagues and key volunteers. It’s going to take about 4 hours of focussed effort to collect the data and write the paper.
2. Sticking points: I often get distracted by urgent, unexpected requests coming in by email. Plus, this week I’ve got to do the final preparations for the legacy lunch on Wednesday.
3. Guiding policy: I’m going to set aside times of the week when I focus on the regular giving strategy paper.
4. Coherent actions: We’ll talk about it in the team meeting on Monday morning and then I’ll jot down ideas as they come to me through the next few days. I’ll block out 2 hours in my diary on Thursday and Friday mornings to focus on the regular giving strategy. I’ll turn off email and ask colleagues not to disturb me during these times.
I regularly use this approach when I’ve got a lot on my plate. I’d love to hear feedback on whether this works for you too, or whether you have other top tips on staying focussed.
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Juliet Corbett is an experienced strategy consultant working with education and not-for-profit organisations.