Distraction is the enemy of focus and accomplishment. The important task you set out to nail gets buried under the five to ten minor issues that snaked up during the day and grabbed your time and attention.
As Rodan of Alexandria noted, “It’s not the mountain ahead of you that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.”
Organizations – people too – create those grains of sand when they make the less important things, important, and take time and attention away from the big ticket stuff.
Here’s an example. My neighbor “Sarah” recently did some journalistic work at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Camera crew in hand, the production team from different parts of the country was reporting on the good work the Mayo Clinic was doing.
Things were going well, until Day Two when suddenly they’ weren’t.
“We have standards here,” the public relations liaison announced as she assembled the reporting crew in the briefing room. “No open toe shoes.” “And if women are wearing slacks, they must wear nylons as well.”
The dress code of what’s permissible went on (nothing skimpy in the work out area, no slinky clothes posing as work wear, etc.) but the focus was clear; while we’re focused on health, we’re focused on the fact that people who work (and visit here) need significant guidance on how to dress. Since some of the crew didn’t pack their close toe shoes, it was a dicey balance of the visit.
Duke University men’s collegiate basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski once said “The truth is that many people set rules to keep from making decisions.” The flip side? If you make rules, they better be good ones – stuff that’s really important.
You can rationalize some of this; open-toed shoes in parts of the Mayo environment (surgery room anyone?) make total sense, just as hard hats in a construction zone are no-brainers. Panty hose with slacks seems to be a different matter, and while perhaps there are odd things that people in Rochester do to warrant the requirement, it escapes common sense for this North American westerner to figure out what they might be.
Cut to the chase.
You get only so much bandwidth attention from people. Fill it up with the less important stuff, and you’re cutting off room for the big ticket items on which you want people to focus. Dying patient or panty hose? Oncology breakthroughs or open toe shoes.
Like the classic parenting scene from Mommy Dearest (“No wired hangars”), managing is about focusing on the most important, and making sure the less important doesn’t creep to the top, diverting attention and importance from what’s truly significant.
Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.