Have you ever attended a great seminar or workshop, walked away with amazing ideas only to find them unrealized in your notes months later?
With our constant stream of emails, voicemails, meetings, conference calls, social media and so on, it is a minor miracle that any of us can accomplish anything. With our smartphones and tablets surgically implanted into our hands, our time is sliced so thinly that we never have the focused time to develop the big-picture perspective required for an action plan, let alone the time to execute it.
“Daily routines, superficial behaviors, poorly prioritized or unfocused tasks leech managers’ capacities—making unproductive busyness perhaps the most critical behavioral problem” in business today, contend Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal in their book A Bias for Action.
For so many of us—whether CEOs for major corporations, small business owners or solo-entrepreneurs—there is a fundamental disconnection between knowing what should be done and actually doing it. This behavior is so prevalent that it even has a name, the “knowing-doing gap,” as identified by Stanford University researchers Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton. So, if we know what needs to be done, why do we fail to take action so often? Where is the big disconnect?
Getting things done requires two critical components: energy and focus. And both are at risk in the modern workplace.
“Purposeful action-taking depends on engaging the power of the will,” according to Burch and Ghoshal. “Not only does willpower galvanize your mental and emotional energy, it also enables you to make your intention happen against the most powerful odds: distractions, temptations to move in a different direction, self-doubt, and negativity. Willpower is the force that strengthens your energy and sharpens your focus throughout the action-taking process.”
Burch and Ghoshal identify four key steps that form the basis of successfully taking action:
Form your intention. To work, your goal must appeal to you emotionally and be something you can define concretely enough so you can clearly visualize its success.
Commit unconditionally to your intention. This is the key step. Making a commitment to yourself can be difficult. Be sure you are truly in support of your intention, it aligns with your “why”, it is something you believe in and not just something you think you should do or must do.
Protect your intention. Once you have made your commitment, you have to protect it from forces both within yourself and outside, especially naysayers, new distractions, other ideas, self doubt and fear.
Disengage from your intention. Define your “stopping rules,” the point of success—or failure—from which you walk away and take up the next challenge. And don’t view an unsuccessful outcome as a failure. View it as a learning opportunity. Many things we try simply don’t work. Part of keeping your energy high and maintaining your focus is the ability to recognize that and try something else.
From commitment comes both the emotional energy and the focus that are critical to your success. In short, the process of getting things done in business is pretty much the same as in any other aspect of life: The only things that get done are those that you genuinely believe in, and truly want to get done.