There is a Japanese saying that translates as ‘you can’t chase two hares’. If a top-class hunting dog chases after a hare it has a 10% chance of catching it. But if the dog hedges its bets and tries to chase two at once, its success rate is reduced to nil. The dog quickly learns that 10% is the way to go!
Yet I know from my own corporate experience and from my observations in different businesses how difficult it is to chase one hare. Dashing from meeting to meeting, executives and managers are almost assessed on the amount of work they have. And the length of their ‘to do’ lists. “Are you busy?” is a typical opening question at the coffee machine.
The problem is that effectiveness is not related to ‘busy-ness’ in any way. On the contrary, busy people can be truly detrimental to an organisation. By trying to achieve many things simultaneously they run the big risk of achieving precisely nothing. What’s more they often create spurious and needless work for others.
The pressure for you to be busy rather than effective comes from three main sources:
At work your time does not always belong to you, but to others, particularly your boss. As long as the organisation pursues a busy, two-hare approach to work you are likely to be caught up in it to some extent.
Within the organisation, others will be seeking to be heroic on many different projects and initiatives. What’s more, they may well be rewarded handsomely by the organisation for their efforts (if not their results). In these environments, it is easy to be seduced into following a similar route to the top.
Your own work ethic.
Many of us carry around a strong work ethic and gain satisfaction and feelings of self-worth, not by how effective we’ve been, but by how many things we are seeking to do and how much time it demands from us
So, what can you do about the situation? Here are five practical actions you can take to help you focus on one hare rather than seeking to bag two:
Know your #1 priority.
If you achieved nothing else in the next 12 months, what one thing are you able to do which would most contribute to the success of your organisation? What is it that you can do that others will not be able to achieve?
Plan for success.
Once you have an understanding of your #1 priority set out milestones for the next 90 days which, once achieved, will help ensure that it is delivered effectively within the year.
Critically review your diary.
Understanding how you really spend your time will help you understand what is really important to you. Review your diary regularly to ensure that enough time is spent on the things that matter, and not just on stuff that you have difficulty recalling even one day later.
Block out chunks of time for your #1 priority.
Can you find a day or half a day a week to work on the important things? Or can you schedule all your meetings to one or two days a week? As Peter Drucker wrote, “Even one-quarter of the working day if consolidated in large time units, is usually enough to get the important things done. But even three-quarters of the working day is useless if it is only available as fifteen minutes here or half an hour there.”
Don’t expect perfection.
You can’t control everything and shouldn’t expect perfection. But, for many of us, there is a great deal we can do by re-focusing our time. Being effective on the things that matter, rather than merely being busy on the many things that don’t.
The bottom line is that you can’t chase two hares no matter how hard you try. Remembering that being busy does not mean being effective will allow you to better focus your efforts on the things that matter.
© Stuart Cross 2017. All rights reserved.