At a recent workshop, one participant asked how to balance focusing on new ideas versus optimizing the work she already has. Ideally, she would do some of both – deliver on daily responsibilities and work already assigned, but also stay attuned to important upcoming projects for both the company and her forward career momentum.
You want to be effective and fulfilled in the here and now. However, you don’t want to be so focused on what is immediately in front of you that you don’t invest in projects, activities or development that will only pay off down the road. If you focus too short-term, you may be comfortable for a while but find your career has stalled, as with another participant in the same workshop.
Here are three guidelines for finding the ideal balance between everyday work and future goals:
Customize your allocation to your circumstances, which invariably change
If you have just started a new role, you will be inefficient in your everyday work because you won’t have as much support in the new environment, the systems and processes will be unfamiliar, you will still be finding your way. It makes sense that you would need to focus more on your everyday work. Once you have some routines built out and shortcuts discovered, you will have more bandwidth to focus on additional activities, and these can be longer-term, more complex, in-the-future goals.
If you get into a nice mix of everyday work, plus future initiatives, but there is a looming project deadline or an unexpected crisis in your company or the market overall, then you may find yourself back to mostly focusing on the day-to-day and that might be exactly what you need to do. Circumstances will influence how much you can focus on long-term goals versus getting things done in the here and now.
Always include both immediate and future goals in your planning
However, you never want to only focus on your immediate, everyday work, or only focus on what’s next. Circumstances may change the balance of your focus, but you want to make sure there is always a mix. If you focus too short-term, you won’t see bigger changes until they’re right upon you. You won’t get big results for your career, as many initiatives require planning and effort over the long-term. On the flip side, if you are too focused on what’s next, you may miss deadlines, underperform on what has already been entrusted to you, and get a reputation for being unreliable. Ouch!
Many people tilt one way or the other – too short-term or too long-term — and even if you have a good mix now, circumstances may throw you off balance. Schedule reminders so you stay focused in both areas. You can set appointments to read like questions, so you’re prompted to be introspective. Every month, ask yourself, “Have I connected with my broader network outside of my day-to-day?” Every quarter, ask yourself, “What should I focus on in the next 90 days?” Every year, ask yourself, “Is my resume and online profile updated? What has changed in my role, skills and experience?”
Remember you have other resources than focus to allocate to immediate and future goals
Focus – i.e., your attention, motivation and energy — is only one resource you allocate between immediate and future goals. Time and money are other resources you can spend for now or the future. How many hours in a day or week should be spent on the daily work versus long-term projects? How much of your income should be spent on present needs versus future investment? You don’t have to balance all your resources in the same way, and this can help you keep both immediate and future goals moving.
A few years ago, I was experiencing a growth spurt in my business and having a difficult time getting all the work done now while maintaining my regular marketing for future work. I let the future work take a hit at that time, but I allocated the additional growth funds to real estate investments, which would pay me in the future, separate and unrelated from the work I was doing now. I didn’t have time or focus for future goals on my coaching business, but I had money resources to invest in my business future (albeit in my case, I built a second business in real estate instead of coaching). I know other service professionals who hire people or make other financial investments in their immediate business. It’s a similar concept – put some of your resources (time and focus, in this case) to present needs and some resources (money, in this case) to future. I just applied that same tactic to two distinct businesses. Now I have a real estate business that throws off six-figures in revenues, and the cash flow allows me to take on less immediate work (unless I want to) and increase my time and focus resources to projects with longer-term payoffs.
How do you balance your focus, time, and money on present versus future goals? On everyday work versus taking initiative on something new?