In my last column we discussed innovation—and how you can achieve it as a marketer. Following the article’s publication, I’ve been asked about the most common reasons managers, teams and companies sometimes fail to achieve their goals. This may sound more like self-help than a marketing column, but the most common problem I see: A lack of focus on the most critical aspects of whatever a person is charged with accomplishing.
Why? The problem is almost never that the team or manager doesn’t have great ideas, or that they have had some situation dumped in their lap that exceeds their talent to tackle it. The problem is managers often lack the necessary bandwidth to properly address the problem or opportunity on their own, given the long list of tasks they must accomplish on any given day. Because they don’t have the time to focus on the matter, the project may just get kicked down the road like the proverbial can.
At some point we may be called in, and above all else, the thing we bring to the party is a laser-like focus on addressing the situation. So did I just shoot myself in the foot and give away the secret sauce to my business? Hardly. There’s more than enough work to do, and more than enough people that want to harvest opportunities and prevent problems. In fact, our favorite clients are those that know how to focus. Here’s what I see the best of them do on a regular basis:
- Keep a running list of priorities and projects, and rebalance at least every three months—more frequently if necessary to maintain focus.
- Ask yourself—and your team—the most fundamental questions about your brand or role, over and over. What do our customers most need? How are we different than alternatives? How are we better? How are we worse? Markets move quickly and needs change faster than ever. Make sure you are focusing on the right things.
- If you have control issues deal with those. Failing to do so means you will manage less—and likely succeed less.
- Rent talent and time when needed. Sometimes an outside party can free you up for other work—or allow you to focus on your larger role.
- Limit meetings and emails. Calendars may default to 30 minutes or an hour, but the 15-minute option is there as well. A quick phone call can also prevent a long email thread. Try it.
- Also, set aside time for deeper thought. Read! Discuss ideas with smart people. Try trading one agenda-less meeting each week for one article about a difficult concept not directly related to your work.
- Remove distractions. Shut down email for blocks of the day. Turn off your phone for an hour. Close your door, or put on headphones. Intense periods of focus achieve more than broad dabbling.
- Create periods of non-thought, each day. Whether meditation or just a period of two minutes in which you try not to think, it’s like a reset button.
So there you have it. Let me know how it’s working for you!