Better Speed or Focus?
When, on a very short notice, I learned that I had to rationalize my business unit strategy and create a compelling slide deck to be presented in two days to the Executive Vice President, I experienced a surge of mixed feelings: I was thrilled to be in charge of a fundamental aspect of the business, while, at the same time, given the pressing deadline, the task appeared daunting, to say the least.
I thought: “I need to maximize my productivity, which means removing any distraction and noise for the next couple of days”.
So I did. I spent about an hour pushing out every meeting scheduled in the following two days; then, I proudly blocked my calendars and turned on do-not-disturb mode on both collaboration applications and devices.
In about 20 min, I reached flow state and slide number 3, when I realized I was far from having all the information I needed to complete my slide deck. I depended on other people’s input for a number of strategic aspects, and, for some of them, I did not know whom to contact.
So, I started to compulsively reach out to people, initiating a series of parallel messaging threads, hoping to save precious time by carrying out multiple conversations at the same time. However, I got caught in a spiral that completely drained my energy, diverting my attention from the main task: working on the slide deck.
In fact, during peak work hours, nearly every single person I needed to get a hold of, had a messaging presence different from “green”; even the available people weren’t reading my messages, because they were probably juggling among various communication threads, just like me!
Every key request to a known person, sometimes higher than me in the ranks, kept me unproductively glued in front of the messaging app waiting for a sign of life, while wondering why it was taking so long to answer. At the same time, I was bounced left and right by other people trying to point me to the right subject matter experts who could help with further issues.
For a few of those issues, the ones that required an in-depth discussion, I had to schedule 1:1 meetings for the following days, thus “violating” my recently freed up calendar with more constraints. In other words, in order to get the input I needed, I had to create more obstacles along the focused path towards delivering my strategy deck.
Do you recognize that situation?
We are constantly struggling to balance the trade-off between:
- being productive by focusing on existing available information, and
- the cost of acquiring new information that would bring our results to the next level.
This is far from an easy task. Your reputation is at stake, as well as your next promotion. Mismanage the trade-off and you appear:
- Superficial. You spend too much time hunting down people to gather input and you have little time left to focus on processing newly acquired information and producing a quality deliverable.
- Outdated. You spend too much time focusing on your deliverable and disregard the collection of key inputs, thus producing useless beautiful work based on old information.
What’s behind this struggle?
It’s a mix of:
- Inefficiencies of asynchronous communications. It takes much more time to exchange the same amount of info via text than in a live conversation.
- Blocking focus time. People go in do-not-disturb mode and/or block large chunks of their calendar to work on what matters. This makes it very hard to get a hold of someone when needed, making messaging-based asynchronous communications and scheduling the most productive alternatives.
- Meetings are scheduled too far in the future. Busy calendars with booked focused time have very few short-term slots available to schedule effectively. Which means sometimes meetings are organized days later, delaying the collection of crucial information to make decisions or complete your task at hand.
Needless to say, these inefficiencies are spread across multiple threads, compounding the adverse effects.
The Key is Speed
If we went all-in on focus, we would be very productive in a self-contained box full of our own beliefs. There are certain tasks, for instance writing this article, for which focus is your best choice.
However, most of the activities that matter in a fast-paced work environment require collaboration, which imposes to manage the trade-off between obtaining current information and focus.
Better speed for focus?
Speed is what makes the difference. The faster you obtain the information you need, the less time you waste communicating and coordinating your availability with others, the more time you’ll have to focus on your tasks.
In other words, get the inputs faster and more efficiently, so that you can focus on producing quality deliverables based on current information.
Attributes of a Fast Solution
How do you achieve more speed?
By overcoming the forces behind the current struggle:
- From asynchronous to intelligently synchronous. Don’t you ever wonder how much more ground you could cover faster, if only you could speak to someone instead of messaging? In the ideal world, when you need a certain information from somebody, you get magically connected through a live conversation at the most appropriate moment for both, without hunting each other down, wasting precious time exchanging messages, or scheduling 1:1 meetings.
- Work around scheduled focus time. If a busy person you need to talk to, books her own calendar to be able to focus, wouldn’t it be great if you could magically connect with her when, during her focus time, she is having a pause and would be keen to help you?
- Avoid scheduling. What if you could obtain the input you need to excel today, rather than investing time to schedule a meeting for tomorrow, thus procrastinating your tasks, decisions, and ultimately achieving a poorer outcome?
In the ideal world, you get much higher speed with less coordination and communication cost, as well as less constraints in your calendar, so that you can get all the input you need from other people, while preserving precious time to focus, elaborate that input, create, excel and standout.