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Major in the Majors

Business books come and go, but it takes more than a cursory reading to gain the benefits they offer. When you apply the principles you read about, the results can be transformative. One example is Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.

This book is part of the core discussion for one of the executive peer groups that I lead, and I’m privileged to have seen how it played out as the foundation for some real-life success stories.

Take a moment to look around and consider the plethora of choices we’re exposed to every day. From entire grocery store aisles dedicated to pet food options to a limitless supply of goods that appeal to our human desires–fountain pens, clothing, shoes, fashion, household goods and electronics. We have available an immense selection of TV and entertainment programming choices to entertain us as well as newsletters, podcasts and other sources of information all vying for a chunk of our finite attention. It’s easy to see how the allure of “more” permeates our culture.

That sense that “more is better” creeps into our minds until we deliberately take a step back and reframe the conversation to focus on “less but better.”

Essentialism gets its share of attention. As an executive coach, I’ve seen the beneficial results of this shift in focus. I’d like to walk you through an example. Also, as an executive coach, confidentiality is a cornerstone of my practice, so while the process and transformative power of focus described are real, the client I’ll discuss is a composite C-suite executive. Who knows, you just might recognize yourself in this picture

 

Situation: Overwhelmed and under-producing

Our executive is Sarah Mitchell, the Chief Operating Officer of a tech firm that’s growing fast. She has been under constant pressure with responsibilities that include overseeing operations, implementing strategic initiatives and managing critical relationships–within the organization and with clients.

A multitude of issues and topics competed for her attention and pulled her in several directions. Sarah’s days were spent balancing an endless stream of shifting priorities that took the form of urgent emails, texts, and Slack messages that arrived between–or during–seemingly constant meetings and added to her never-ending to-do list.

Despite long, busy hours struggling to address every pressing issue, she ended each day feeling she had accomplished little and questioned the value of her efforts. At this point I introduced Sarah to the concept of focusing on a few top priorities instead of on the many thoughts, ideas, and to-do items that occupied her time.

 

Implementation: Foundational steps toward “less but better”

Our discussion centered on exploring how her attention was distributed. Spread thin across an array of responsibilities her effectiveness was diluted; concentrating her attention instead on a few key priority areas could enhance her clarity and improve productivity.

We created a strategy for Sarah to use in her work day built upon these steps:

Identify core priorities
Sarah sifted through her responsibilities and identified the three most crucial that aligned with the company’s objectives. For her, these were scaling the operations team, optimizing the supply chain, and building collaboration across departments. Your goals may differ, but limit the list to three items.

Delegate and eliminate non-essentials
While many tasks are valuable, not all tasks require Sarah’s personal attention. Sarah determined her three priorities, and evaluated the rest. She assessed each one in light of her overall goals, delegating work to qualified team members and eliminating non-essential tasks.

Apply time blocking
Each of the three identified priorities earns specific, dedicated time blocks on Sarah’s daily schedule. Based on the timing of her best energy and peak focus, she allocates blocks of time to work on these three focus areas and commits to her plan. I encouraged Sarah to intentionally block in time to think, read, and plan. In addition, I recommended incorporating clarity breaks in her schedule–time to take a walk or get out of the usual environment. Breaks like this provide space for the mind to creatively process all that it has taken in. Although it may seem counterintuitive, these breaks can be a game changer as I’ve learned through work with clients.

Review regularly
At the end of each day, and again at the end of each week, Sarah reviewed her progress and plans for the next day and week. This gives her an opportunity to make adjustments while ensuring she remains aligned with her goals.

 

Outcome: Clarity, productivity and confidence

Significant changes appeared within the first month. Instead of feeling constantly overwhelmed, Sarah gained improvements in focus and results toward her objectives. Over a three-month period, overall results include:

Increased productivity
Daily and weekly reviews allowed Sarah to see the progress she was making toward her goals. By the end of this three month period, she had accomplished, or made significant progress toward each one of her objectives.

Enhanced clarity
Maintaining tight focus on a limited number of focus areas helped intensify her focus and gave her greater clarity. Her decision-making abilities improved, and her stress level went down.

Mastery and confidence
With a narrow focus and fewer distractions pulling her away, Sarah could invest more of her ability into each project, producing a sense of mastery that significantly boosted her confidence.

 

Takeaway

An intentional, disciplined focus on a small number of priority focus areas intensified Sarah’s effectiveness, revealing the power of focusing on the few rather than the many. Eliminating distractions while improving decision making strengthened her control and mastery of her responsibilities, and that increased her confidence as an executive.

Make no mistake, these changes required dedicated effort, but the results were clear. Accountability, a community of peers, and executive coaching contributed to the effectiveness and accelerated Sarah’s progress. Do Sarah’s challenges sound familiar? If you’re reflecting on how you could begin to trade chaos for focus, why not grab a spot on my calendar and let’s talk.


Nancy Owsianowski is the Founder of RoundTable Consulting
where her relational, insightful approach transforms teams,
leaders, and organizations.

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