- Posted by Liz Gooster
- 1 Comments
- action, change, focus, goals, performance, productivity, SPACE to Grow
Self-awareness, a positive mindset and a sense of connection to our intentions are all critical underpinnings of successful change and sustainable progress. Contemplating what we want to do gives us clarity of purpose. Reflecting on what we’ve done helps us learn from experience. Yet ultimately, making the changes that will help us do better, be better and feel better demands that you step up and actually do things differently. Actions count. ‘Vision without action is a daydream’, as the saying goes[*]. That’s why the ‘A’ in my SPACE to Grow framework is for Action.
New habits, new behaviours, new ways of working and thinking: these are the things that drive the shifts we want to make. The tools that help drive focused action include setting goals, breaking them down into manageable chunks, taking small steps, and establishing realistic timeframes to work towards. Plus of course, putting in place mechanisms of accountability to keep you on track, as well as making time for that all-important reflection!
Action and productivity
Action blends into productivity – there is a whole world of books, blogs, systems, mantras and training courses on time management, prioritising, effectiveness, getting things done … Personally I love this stuff. I am always drawn towards the latest tips and techniques for ticking off the tasks on my to do list, scything my emails and living a four hour work week. But this is all an overlay. The fundamental thing with action is to be doing the right things, at the right time. Keeping a clear sense of purpose about why we’re doing things is important. It helps steer us towards the actions that matter most and away from those things that make us feel satisfyingly busy but are actually a distraction from the things we really want to achieve. In his book, Secrets of Productive People, Mark Forster makes a useful distinction between action and activity and says ‘Real work is the work that progresses our goals, vision, career. Busy work is what we do in order to avoid real work. … Real work is action, while busy work is merely activity.’ One of my Alliance colleagues colourfully describes ‘busy work’ as ‘being a busy fool’; in other words, being busy doing the wrong things.
Acting with your strengths
For those of you who, like me, who have a natural strength in action, there can be enormous value in pausing, taking stock and ensuring we align our actions with our strategic priorities. Unchecked, I can be prone to rushing headlong into new tasks and projects in a whirl of enthusiasm. So I gain a huge amount from calmer time – my regular solo offsite strategy days, for instance. Spaces and pauses like this allow me to reflect on what I want to achieve. The heightened sense of clarity I get from this solo time helps me generate a more clearly targeted list of things that will help move me towards my headline goals.
Some of my likeminded clients have adopted this approach to great effect. Rebecca, for instance, a senior executive in a creative industry, can be distracted by less important activities because of her love of variety, her drive, her approachability and her willingness to help others. She often finds herself bringing the same level of commitment and energy to things that aren’t really her responsibility as to the things that would really make a difference. Rebecca has established regular slots of ‘thinking time’ away from the office and finds it recharges her sense of the bigger picture and brings clarity to her priorities. Now, when she goes back into the whirligig of the office she is more easily able to concentrate on the actions that really count.
On the other side of the coin, people who prefer to analyse and consider extensively before taking any decision or action can find the changes they’d like to see a very long time in coming. For them, a focus on action can bring forward a commitment to act. This unsticks the situation and allows change to happen. A desire for change without an accompanying sense of responsibility for taking the actions necessary to move things forward can be a frustrating path to follow. Sometimes this can be partly due to ineffective time management and delegation. Heading up a team of 12 in an international firm in the financial sector, another of my clients, Thomas, acknowledged that he could sometimes be a ‘bottleneck’ in the team’s work. Some of this was down to disorganisation, some a parallel to the situation described above – not finding enough time to think through the issues facing him and set priorities. But perhaps the most paralysing thing for Thomas was a lack of clarity on where he was heading, which made it difficult for him to decide what his priorities were and therefore what to actually do on a day-to-day basis. This clouded his decisions on everything from recruitment to networking and eventually he decided to experiment by ‘trying on’ the different options. Choosing a clear direction, while recognising it might eventually shift, allowed Thomas to steer his actions more explicitly and with a greater sense of control.
The importance of focused action
Having the time and space to think, reflect and be challenged is important. Yet if we want to change, ultimately we also have to act, to do things differently. Focused action is what will bring about the changes we seek. Unfocused distractions will get in the way and eat up our time and our energy. The ‘urgent but not important’ things[†] (that so often occupy so much of our time) frustrate us in the long term, even if in the short term they give us the buzz of ticking something off our to do lists. So how do we know what we should focus on? This is a critical question, because much of the guidance on productivity either presupposes that we know our priorities, or makes no distinction between getting things done and getting the right things done. The theme of my next post is Connection, part of which involves connecting to our sense of purpose and to our own priorities, so that we can focus more easily on the areas where our actions will be most successful.
3 tips to help you reap the benefits of focused action
- Identify your overarching purpose and your most important priorities – these are the guiding lights for the most effective actions you can take
- Break down big, intimidating goals into smaller steps. Work out the first thing you need to do next – and do it!
- Explore where your strengths lie, and use the things you’re good at and that make you feel energised when you do them, to help you take the actions that will help drive change for the better
If you liked this, you might also be interested in:
- My overview of SPACE to Grow: How to change for the better
- A couple of my posts on productivity, How to get more done: the power of the power hour and The Productivity Paradox: How slowing down can speed things up
- Herminia Ibarra’s book, Act Like a Leader, Think Like a Leader, on why leaders need to focus on acting before thinking (and I have reviewed it here)
- This video, Take Action, by leading life coach and motivational speaker Tony Robbins
- Mark Forster’s Get Everything Done website
- This post by Brian Kim, The power of taking small actions consistently
[*] Based on a traditional Japanese proverb
[†] After Stephen Covey’s classification of tasks in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
I like to describe myself as happily ‘At Large’ in an independent portfolio career, balancing executive coaching, coach training and publishing consulting. Other interests include travel writing, literature, film, food and drink. Connect with me on Twitter @lizgooster.