By Vicki Wrona, PMP:

It’s human nature for us to focus on what we love. If your main focus is work, or you work long hours to the detriment of your family, that says something about what you love. You choose to focus on that, but it’s incredibly easy to lose sight of your path. I want to discuss how to avoid that since I, too, fall into this trap.

One way to make sure we don’t lose focus of what is important to us is to create a daily check-in or checklist of 3-5 questions to ask yourself at the end of each day. Marshall Goldsmith discusses this technique with Stever Robbins in this podcast interview. Create a list of questions that you will ask yourself at the end of each day. They should be questions with answers that are either yes, no, or a number. At the end of every day, ask yourself your predetermined questions (as many as you like) to check whether you are on track.

Your questions can address a mix of short-term and long-term goals as well as personal and professional goals. It can include tasks for the week as well as strategic initiatives or even goals such as balance or family time. Goldsmith’s questions focused on becoming a better person and included questions such as, “Was there a time today when I was unkind to someone?” “How happy was I today on a scale of 1 to 10?” “How many times did I try to prove I was right and it wasn’t worth it?” “How many times did I get angry today?” “How many sit-ups did I do?” “How many minutes did I watch television?”

If your focus is to be a good manager, your questions will look at whether you did a task right and will be more operational in nature. Questions might include:

  • Did I make progress on my top two tasks today?
  • Was there any work done by me or the team today that did not live up to my boss’s or our customer’s standards?
  • Do I understand where each individual on my team is with their work?
  • Am I current on all of my customer follow-up?
  • How many minutes did I spend doing ‘x’ (where ‘x’ is an important activity you identified)?

If you want to be a better leader, your questions will make sure that you focused you and your team’s attention on the right things. A leader is one who has people who watch, emulate, and admire them. They influence others. They can be at any level of the organization. If your focus is on doing the right things, your questions may include:

  • Did I keep myself on track today?
  • How many times did I create my own distractions?
  • Did I begin or participate in unnecessary fire drills or emergencies today?
  • Did I lose focus or get lost in the minutiae sometime today?
  • Did I make any progress on my #1 strategic goal?

At this point, you might be saying to yourself “but my job is only to accomplish daily or project tasks, nothing more.” That’s fine. But is that all you want to be or do? If so, great. You’re in the right place. If you want to be more, what are you going to do to get there?

Your questions can include:

  • One on weekly initiatives or goals
  • One on longer-term, ongoing initiatives
  • One on work-life balance or family
  • One on personal growth

Can you see how asking questions that are balanced in this way can help you come up with ideas to get out of that reactionary, fire-fighting mode that is so frustrating for many of us? This balance of questions will help you stay focused on what is important and not get lost in the day to day. It may help you come up with ideas on how to better manage outside requests, “unreasonable” bosses or customers, unresponsive team members, etc.

Not only will it help you come up with ideas on how to get out of your difficult situations, by reminding you to focus on your longer-term goals or work due later in time, hopefully you can avoid the last-minute rush that often occurs because of procrastination driven by daily emergencies.

In my case, my daily focus will be different depending on whether I am in front of clients all day, working remotely with clients, working on strategy or on operations, or working on proposals and sales generation. Still, over the week, I can hold myself accountable to make progress in these various areas. I make this model work for me. Especially because of the breadth of my responsibilities as small business owner, this model works for me.

You can also use this technique with a trusted peer in that you each ask each other that person’s questions. This technique gives you a safe accountability partner. It holds you accountable to another person and makes it more likely that you will follow your plan and stay on track.

This process helps to make our behavior match our values. We are forced to live up to what we say we are going to do….or realize at the end of each day where did not. Then we need to decide if we want to keep the original questions and goals or change them. This is better than the lofty talk most people engage in, where they talk about what they will do, but rarely do it. When a peer asks another person their list of questions, rarely is feedback necessary, so the process could only take 5 minutes. However, if feedback is given, the rule is it must be positive feedback, not negative.

Do this for a while and see what impacts it provides for you. Share your stories with us. We’d love to hear from you.

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