Ingredient #2: Strategy
Stress bubbles up in your stomach as you open your laptop to start the work week on Monday morning. Maybe you’re building a website and there’s so much code to write that you’re overwhelmed. Maybe your sales numbers are stacking up like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Maybe you need to host an event with so many moving pieces that you don’t know where to start.
Internal panic sends you into a tailspin. You find yourself checking your e-mail a thousand times a day and switching between 15 different tasks. Maybe you even procrastinate and scroll social media. Your mind is getting a work out between on the stress and having a dozen open tabs on your lap top. While in the middle of it all, you might feel productive.However, you can't see that you are spending your work hours in a terribly inefficient way.
Can you relate? I know I can. While output is about working harder, strategy is about working smarter. You need both. So first, let’s talk about the importance of strategy.
Strategy space can include a number of things: organization, reviewing results/feedback, creating hypotheses, or brainstorming. The time you block off in your schedule for strategy space needs to direct and enhance your output.
Organization: As the story highlights above, when you are unorganized in your work day, it’s easy to fall into inefficiency. Also, consider your brain space. You might be clocking 8 hours a day on your lap top, but the stress of work weighs heavy on your brain after hours. That stress is like a life sucking leach! If you’re like me, you might even have dreams about work! This particularly happens when you try to store details like you calendar, priorities, and schedule in your head. So, free up some brain space by getting it out of your head and onto a paper. Set aside some time, 45 minutes at the beginning of each week or 15 minutes at the start of each day, to get yourself organized. Make a to-do list, prioritize, utilize scrum methodology. If you are freeing up your mind and reducing our stress levels, you are NOT wasting your time. In fact, you are enhancing it.
Feedback: If you’re going on a road trip, you wouldn't consider yourself making progress if you ended up 200 miles in the wrong direction, would you? No, because that 200 miles that was effectively wasted. In fact, you are probably in a worse spot then when you started the road trip. You gotta check the iMaps now and then to make sure you’re on the right course. Same with your work. You don’t want to be chasing dead marketing channels or providing clients features that they don’t actually need/use. Set some designated strategy space to evaluate your current results and create a plan to move forward.
Creating hypothesis: Startups navigate the uncharted waters of their market by a calculated system of trial and error. The results of those “trials” of hypotheses provide helpful information on how to gain customers and build traction in your target market. While this methodology is typically applied to sales in the start-up world, it can be extremely helpful anytime you, your company, or your project is hoping to make improvements.
There is a strategic element here, and you will increase your efficiency by splitting up your experiments into two different blocks on your calendar: design and execution. Take a few hours to do nothing but design what you want to test and how you want to carry it out on Friday or Monday. Then, set up time during the week to execute those plans. When you try to do both at the same time, you’ll find yourself spending a much longer time on the tasks without gaining as much traction.
Brainstorming: Every once in a while, you’ll need to lift your eyes from the weeds of your work, and step back to the big picture. Open up a white board and look at your quarterly, yearly, and 5 year goals. This will give you direction and inspiration to know what you’re working toward!
What's your default?
For some people, strategy space comes naturally. If your favorite types of classes from school are theoretical such as philosophy, critical thinking, or economics, then you are prone to naturally falling into strategy space. If you're an "I" on the Meyers Briggs system, or if you’re highly intuitive, you will naturally enjoy spending time in the clouds of strategy, exercising those mental muscles.
If you find yourself drawn to strategy space, you might be prone to inaction. Drawing up ideas can be a place of excitement and comfort and a hole you might get trapped in.
Remember, our goal is to work harder and smarter, which is where strategy space comes into play. Stay tuned for ingredient #3!