They say the road to Hades is paved with good intentions. If that is true, than I say most of the heavy road construction was completed by the “new year special committees.” Those business groups we form in January and February charged with special tasks such as POS rollout, Training Initiatives, or Shrink. The intentions are, of course, in the right place. Certainly, in at least the first couple of meetings goals are met…and then comes Spring…and Summer…and attendance and attention wane.
Now granted, I’m not a huge fan of committees. In my opinion committees are as the British politician, Sir Barnett Cocks said: “a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled.” My distrust for such groups is not born out of dislike for being a team player. Team’s are critical to achievement—small teams. Small teams with a specific set of goals, that follow specific plans, and include specific and individual responsibilities—I call it managed creativity. My reason for a small team preference is that while evolution may make great leaps to achieve change, human goals are reached through small and incremental steps. The more people there are milling around, the more likely we are to lose focus and misstep. But this isn’t an article on the pros and cons of committees. It is about “attending to what you intend.” A premise that is much simpler in theory than in practice.
The practice of attention and focus has grown more difficult in the last decade. Business operations continue to get leaner and positions that were once strategic and supervisory now include many of the types of tasks that leave little time for more contemplative thinking and planning. Technology that should work to simplify our lives and amplify the amount of information we can shift through has instead added to the daily noise. And it seems the only advice we’re being offered are things like “don’t look at email before 10 a.m.” (What job is that? Sign me up), “purchase this App to organize all your other organizing Apps,” and “learn to say No.” I keep emailing those “just say NO” articles to my boss, but he just responds by sending me postings for job positions…in other companies.
I think the real problem is muddled intentions. Whether the goal is company shrink reduction, improving team operations, losing weight, or writing a novel, we are at constant odds with the battle between the tasks to complete and the objectives to achieve. It’s an issue of confusing production with performance. The former are the things we get done. It’s a strict numbers game—the number of trainings, newsletters, audits, apprehensions. Production alone, however, doesn’t always correlate to performance. So it is problematic when getting stuff done becomes of greater focus than achieving the goal.
It can seem a bit paradoxical. If I want to get in shape then isn’t going to the gym the proper small task? Well it depends. If you just “go to the gym” and sit around checking email, the results probably won’t be what you intended. It’s what you do when you get there that counts. A hundred apprehensions reduce future shrink if we use the information to close loop holes and tighten operations. The apprehension in an of itself only prevents the future impact of that past behavior…no others. The point is that the task is far less important than the goal. We find success when we attend to the thing we really intend.
For example. I write fiction novels on the weekends. A lot of people intend to write one. Most dream of a day when they can retire and pursue that goal. I didn’t think retirement was necessary and I’m currently working on my fourth novel. People interested in such things often ask “how do you find the time?” I approach novel writing in the same manner I approach all my other goals. I begin with the big “intention” and then attend to the important steps that help me reach the goal.
My method is simple and repeatable. I have a plot that must be told in around 75,000 words. In my writing world that is twelve chapters of 6,000 words. Chapters are made up of three sections of 2,000 words each. By setting these parameters I have greater focus on the “space” I have to get each piece done. The limitations also mean that every section has to bridge to the next section and every chapter has to bridge to the next chapter. The attention to space limitations creates a focus on the fact that every line either serves the goal…or has to go. By attending to these rules I don’t find myself buried under 100,000+ words of an unfinished story. I’m also not overwhelmed by the thought of 75,000 words to contend with…all I need to deal with on Saturday is the next 2,000, and then the next.
What is true of a novel process is true of any business goal. You have a shrink goal to reach. Instead of 12 chapters, however, you have 12 months. And within each month you have 4 weeks (sections). If your tasks are advancing you towards the fabled “the end,” you know you are attending to what you intend—if the sections are filled with “other stuff” then you know that you are not.
And like business, a novel has several different parts. Besides being written, it needs to edited, formatted, a book cover needs to be illustrated, and it has to be published. My goal, however, is to write a novel so that is where I keep my attention. I employ people who intend to edit to edit, who intend to make covers to illustrate my cover and who intend to publish to publish my book. In other words, for me, delegation is a key ingredient not to simply reduce work load—but to put the peripheral tasks in the hands of experts at those things. In business we have many expert partners. People who specialize in the types of things that can help us achieve our goals and getting their help usually assists them in reaching theirs as well.
Attending is really just another word for focus, but it is a focus on the things and the actions that move us toward the goal. It is a mindful approach to our objectives and a continuous, objective evaluation of both the actions we are taking to obtain the goal and those that are filling space but not purpose. Without that level of attention we don’t really have goals, just another pretty wish list that employs hope as its key strategy. And if wishful thinking is our preferred vehicle to arrive at success, well, save time and just buy a lottery ticket.
Authored by: Ray Esposito