The inclination of every leader (indeed, of every employee) is to deal with what’s right in front of him or her—that is, what’s due today. And yes, sometimes you do have to take that “here and now” approach. But if you find hours or even days going by where you’re focused only on tactical issues, you’re doing yourself, your position, and your company a disservice. As you move up the ranks, your job is to pay more attention to the strategic concerns that inform your organization’s long-term goals. In order to make that happen, though, you need to focus on your own strategic thinking life first.
Before moving forward with this month’s blog post, take some time to review last month’s tips for defeating the time thief. Once you’re sure that you’re using your hours wisely, check out the following suggestions for moving from the tactical to the strategic.
Step 1: Delegate the Small Stuff
It’s hard to let go of a task, especially when it’s something quick that you’re sure you can knock out in 20 minutes. The next thing you know, though, that one “small” task has turned into three tasks—and you’ve just killed an hour. Also, rarely does anything truly take “only a few minutes,” especially with the constant interruptions caused by e-mail, texts, and phone calls.
So delegate as much of the small stuff as you can right now. If you can’t delegate a small task, ask yourself whether it’s really essential. Remember, 20% of your efforts results in 80% of the profits, so make sure you focus only on stuff that matters (and avoid falling into the trap of doing a task simply because it’s easy). And recognize that even though it’s not always an easy thing to do, sometimes you have to say no to the nonessential stuff so you can focus on what’s important.
Step 2: Block Time for Strategizing
Spend time each day plotting out what you’re going to accomplish that day. (I typically spend the first 30 minutes of my day doing this.) On that list put the tactical items that definitely must get done (for me, these include client-related tasks), but be very strict about how you define the “musts.” If you don’t, the tactical tasks can take over your day!
Right after you finish building your action item list, either jump right into strategy mode or block time for this exercise later that day. I make time for strategizing every single day, even if I can devote only half an hour to it. This daily habit is a key part of my professional life—and it should be part of yours, too!
Step 3: Evaluating Strategic Issues
What exactly does it mean to “strategize”? Strategizing means evaluating your long-term plans and goals and answering these two questions:
- Do your plans align with the future you see for yourself professionally? (For me, as an entrepreneur, that means asking myself if I’m moving toward securing future business that is meaningful to me.)
- Do you spend time each week working toward your company’s strategic objectives? (When I worked at Oxygen Media, answering this question meant evaluating my department’s goals and determining if they were in line with the organization’s long-term vision.)
If you answer “no” to either of these questions, you need to reconsider how you’re spending your time. Reprioritize your time by dumping the “nice to have” items and focusing on the “must haves” you need to reach your strategic objectives.
Step 4: Make a Plan
After determining what to focus on, it’s time to figure out how to make your plan happen. To do that, prioritize your strategic objectives and set real deadlines for them. Unless you choose dates that matter, you might not feel genuine pressure to work on your plan—and your strategic goals will remain mere pipe dreams.
With end dates in mind, map out how many hours a week it will take to accomplish these objectives. Then block out on your calendar the time you’ll need to work toward them. Every bit of time helps, and you’ll be amazed at what you can get accomplished: spending just one hour each weekday on this work, for example, yields 20 hours a month of concentrated effort.
Traits of Good Strategic Thinking
As you shift your focus from tactical thinking to strategic thinking, keep in mind that effective strategizing requires you to do the following:
- Think outside the box. This sounds trite, but it’s true. Strategic thinking means anticipating what’s next before anyone else does, at personal, department, and company levels.
- Question the status quo. Doing the same things the same way year after year means falling behind. Constantly ask how to improve so you’re not settling for “business as usual.”
- Focus inward. Always push yourself to learn. Evaluate your skill set and determine what you need to move up and lead your organization. And if your skill set doesn’t enable you to spearhead company initiatives, be cautious about advancing through the ranks: there are already enough inadequate leaders out there who have sunk companies.
- Focus outward. Do the research on your company and its competitors so you can provide alternate strategic options for your organization’s future success and be part of the bigger picture for both your department and your company.
Do you have any additional recommendations for moving beyond the day-to-day tasks to the bigger picture? What has worked for you as you’ve shifted your emphasis from tactical actions to strategic thinking?