The famous Jim Collins quote says that the most important thing is to first to get the right people in the bus, otherwise you’ll spend most of your time arguing where you should be heading and how to get there.

This is highly applicable also to how you prioritise your activities and goals: if you don’t have a clear alignment between your goals and aspirations, it is much harder to get to where you want to go.

This week’s blog has been inspired by the process of going through the annual performance review at the moment, and trying to think about how to best analyse this year’s activities and how they align (or don’t) with what I am trying to achieve.


Prioritising through leveraging or stepping away

Doing prioritisation is a core skill in today’s workplace because there are more possibilities to get involved and more distractions as well.

Yet, we need to be careful about overcommitting because doing so many things at once leads to decreased focus but also decrease in the amount of time that we can devote to a particular activity.

Having done my activity map recently, which I coined “Johanna’s Life”, coupled with an achievement and activity list for 2019, I can see clear patterns in the tasks that I have taken on.

And at the same time, I can also clearly see where I have gotten distracted, where I am not being able to devote the attention and energy that the task or role actually deserves.

In these cases, I am left with two options:

  1. Either find a way to step out of the role, and free more time for those things that matter; or
  2. Find a way to leverage that role in a way that ticks off more goals and also progresses my big-ticket items that I need to achieve.

In each of our roles, we have activities and tasks that are not negotiable: for instance, in the life of academics, writing journal papers based on your research and publishing your results is a non-negotiable.

Our Key Performance Indicators rely on demonstrating that we are doing research, and that we are also writing about it and getting the results out to the broader academic (and non-academic) community.

Often these are measured by the number of publications each year, citation rates (how many times a paper has been cited by others), and increasingly also how we have communicated those results also to the non-academic audience.

(Although recently there has been criticism about the number of publications as KPIs vs. the quality and impact of those publications).

Yet, often in performance review conversations we don’t focus enough on what is  driving us towards a particular direction, and what that direction is or should be.


Develop directed commitment through alignment

On top of the “non-negotiable” core parts of our job descriptions, we commit to a range of activities because we have particular items and assets that we value, and these also drive our beliefs about what we should be accomplishing.

Directed commitment is when you have a vision (= direction), and you have the right people in the bus (=your tasks and activities are aligned).

A useful exercise here could be the following (which I have partly started): map out all your activities for this year or month in a table or in a mindmap (or both), and just jot down what you have done.

This is an initial brainstorming activity and fact listing so don’t try to make it too pretty and it’s nothing you have to show to anyone else: key is to just write down areas of work with specific activities that you have done.

Then, for each activity, write down the reason why you did that: why did you choose to write an opinion editorial, choose to speak at a particular community event, why did you establish that partnership and with that company, why you chose to invest in that professional development course… the list can go on.

The idea here is to see how your activities a) are linked and contribute to the common vision (sometimes your vision might emerge from what you already do), and b) give you the opportunity to pause and to reflect what thoughts and beliefs are actually driving the way you spent your time.

(For those wanting to take a step further, write down also what you learned on that particular task/activity; this can be an additional plus when you go into your performance review discussion).

I am not being naive here: I fully know that sometimes we cannot 100% choose the tasks and activities at work, and sometimes we have to do tasks that we would rather not.

But doing this kind of time and focus mapping (what you focus/choose to focus on) gives us a bigger picture of what is going on at work for us, and whether we are practicing “directed commitment”.


Mapping of beliefs and assumptions

This kind of mapping exercise can give us something very valuable: it gives us perspective both in detail and in the bigger picture.

At the same time that we develop such lists for performance reviews, we can also start understanding our own beliefs and assumptions as to why we do what we do, and also have an opportunity to have a look at the activities that might not support the vision we have.

We all know the age-old saying that time is the most precious resource we have.

Wouldn’t it be awful to find out that we are actually wasting time in a lot of activities (including less efficient ways of doing them) that are unlikely to help us in getting at least better alignment?

There are plenty of books, like Morten Hansen’s Great At Work, and a range of others where you find key tactics in how to focus better at work, how not to be distracted by new and shiny opportunities, and how you need to be steadfast in knowing where you, the driver, need to take the bus (yes this is getting cheesy ;)…).

But this mapping of beliefs and assumptions is exactly about that: it is about finding out what you believe and assume is taking you forward, and having an opportunity to re-evaluate what that actually means for you and your institution/company.

(I haven’t even touched upon here the broader organisational goals as I have focused on the individual review so lots to also consider in the future in how those individual goals could link with the organisational bigger picture).

And exercises like this could also be useful for fields like climate adaptation: how do e.g. adaptation project activities actually map into core beliefs and assumptions about how adaptation should progress or how it should be implemented.

(Luckily this is what my current DECRA project at Griffith University is focused on so look forward reporting here on that progress as well at some stage).

Now onto figuring out further who should be in my bus…

Ps. if you were inspired to do the Directed Commitment exercise, please drop me a line; would love to hear what you found!