Five Steps to Improving Your At-Work Focus on Long Range Projects

Amber Johnson Leadership

Now that’s commitment to your to do list.
(This photo is used with permission from robstephaustraliavia Flickr.) 

If your task list is like mine, it can be broken down into two categories:

A) Things that must get done. Today.
B) Things that I need to work on so I’m not in a panic when they come due next month.

It will come as no surprise that “Today” tasks are easier to check off the list. Urgency is a catalyst for productivity.

But the “B” list items are equally – often more – important. So how – without the added benefit of urgency – do you tackle the B-list, today? For me, it all boils down to focus.

Here’s a leader’s guide to focusing on the non-urgent task at hand:
1. Clear your schedule. 

Block time to work on your big projects, and have your assistant hold that time as sacred: no skipping it, no pushing it back by a week (or two, or three).

If your schedule seems too full to block time, it may be time to reevaluate the priority level of this project. Is it important to the future of my business? If so, find the time. Or at least assign one of your staff members to begin advance work, and spend an hour giving setting the scope and vision for the project. If the project isn’t key to your business, then hand it down to someone else, and mark it off your list all together.

2. Close the email account. And Facebook. Put down the smartphone.
When it’s time to focus, close your accounts on your laptop and other portable devices. Multi-tasking has been proven to be the least effective means of getting work done: don’t try it.
Allow yourself a break when you hit a milestone. (For example, “I’ll take a 15 minute break when I’ve finished reviewing the legal documents.”) During that break, if you find an important article in the Wall Street Journal that seems to be begging for your time, save it for later. iPhone and iPad users may like the Pocket app for this – it saves online articles to an account, that you can download and read offline later. By using Pocket I ensure that I do read those important news items, just at a time that doesn’t distract me from the work at hand.
3. Change location. 
Your office may be the worst possible place to get real work done: especially work that takes visioning or deep thought. Increase your focus by working from home or the conference room at a public library. If you can’t leave your office building, try finding a conference room or a table in the cafeteria during quiet hours.
4. Set deadlines – even for non-urgent tasks. 
You know why this project is important enough to be on your to do list; and you know why it’s important to start the task early. Make sure you stick to it by setting deadlines along the way. Establish a due date for Draft 1 or schedule a project launch meeting for which you must prepare. Break the project into smaller pieces, and set a deadline in your online calendar for each piece.
5. Establish some accountability. 
Number 4 works best if there’s a consequence to not meeting your deadlines, even if the consequence is just moving a meeting date or telling your CEO the report will be in tomorrow afternoon, instead of today. Establishing accountability for your deadlines adds the needed element of urgency. Up the ante on responsibility based on the importance of the project. For the most important projects, set expectations with someone outside your organization, which puts your reputation on the line.
Long range planning is part of a leader’s primary responsibility. But it can’t be done last minute. Block time today for your major projects, and cross them off the to do list tomorrow.
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Amber Johnson is the Center for Values-Driven Leadership‘s corporate relations and social media advisor. She is a non-profit and small business communications professional. In addition to blogging about business for the CVDL, Amber writes about other topics on her personal blog