Not Right Now, Maybe Later

How do you balance working on your business with working in your business? Do you find that day-to-day issues take priority over longer-term preparation and planning?

Senior executives understand the need to define long-term goals and establish the capability to realize those goals. They understand that without a description of benefit for a long-term goal it is hard to decide on what investment is possible while still delivering value. We know what needs be done. The funny thing is, despite what we know, we often plan to work on long-term goals, just not right now, maybe later.

Often our perception is that the demands of the future will somehow be less than the demands of the present. Present day issues can seem worse than any past issues. It can feel like if we get past this next five days, the next two weeks, or the next three months then it will be better. There will be more time to think in the future. We will be so much smarter then. More effort can be devoted later to the tough longer-term issues. Seriously, it can't get any worse than right now, can it? 

The idea that our future challenges will be less demanding is a myth. It is as if there is a “bubble of urgency” accompanying the timeline of our lives. Somehow our sense of opportunity and threat seems more attuned to the present. We look back to the past when things were not as challenging and ahead to when we will have more time. 


The problem is our attention is drawn almost involuntarily to the urgent matters of the present. We are wired that way. We react to what goes on around us. We are pulled to act on issues with proximity to us. A scientist could explain it better, probably correcting me on multiple overly reaching generalizations, but this is like a higher order fight or flight response.

So what is the solution? We are sentient beings, conscious of not only the present, but also possessing an ability to anticipate the future. We can act rationally and deliberately even when faced with immediate circumstances that invite us to react. We have the ability to consider and act on concepts that are not immediate or tangible. We can deal with the abstract.  

The first step is to set aside time to work on the longer-term issues. This time should be scheduled and sacrosanct. Devote some of your reserved time to considering the longer-term issues you should be working on. Consider reserving one monthly meeting with peers and deputies to work on longer-term issues.  

If you feel like you cannot do this because you don’t have the time to set aside, then start by finding the time. Consider the items you can delegate. Review your calendar for meetings that do not require your participation for decision-making. At the end of each week, consider how your time could be better invested and make adjustments in the coming week.

Executives can think of time as invested in three buckets. One bucket is devoted to the longer-term issues, questions and strategies. The second bucket is devoted to developing the talent of our team members. The intended outcome of talent development is to free up the time needed to work on the longer term.  The third bucket is the day-to-day work. It includes the things we have to do in the present. We should be always emptying the third bucket into the second bucket, using the delegation to give our team members the challenging assignments that will help them grow.

Time devoted to longer-term goals produces the best outcomes when it can occur in longer intervals and with fewer interruptions. Longer term enterprise planning requires looking at the landscape and goals in a novel way. This is by its nature not efficient. It is hard work. We cannot rely on current ways of thinking. We may need to consider new models, markets, methods, approaches and people.  

The day-to-day work provides us with a change of pace and allows us to stay grounded in the reality of the organization. The talent development provides us with sounding boards for ideas and we can both improve our ideas and challenge our teams to think of problems in new and creative ways.  

You can do this! It may take time to break old habits, to block out time and not let urgent matters creep in. Let someone else answer the call to reaction! So think about it. It is never not “right now” and there is no maybe about it, we never really get to later.

Joe Thompson

© 2016 Differentiating Strategies, LLC