Right around this time of year, I find that my immune system just gives out. I had tried my hardest, forced as much sun-soaked vitamin D in our northeast summers, popped the multitude of good-for-you vitamins, washed my hands every time I could, alas I tend to get a cold during March or April. I think this New England body just runs out of reserves.
Equally, it can seem that way at work, at the gym, working on projects. We enter the new year with such gusto, however when we get past the first quarter of the year, the tyranny of the urgent can take our eyes off of the goal. We lose focus.
The definition of Focus: Adjustment for distinct vision, a state or condition permitting clear perception or understanding, direction, a point of concentration. It seems in this day and age with an app for everything, leadership excellence analyzed from good to great organizations, the pithiest, quickest, 10 step blog – we still struggle to move the needle. What’s our issue? In America specifically, don’t we have the most capital, the biggest ideas, the greatest talent and the resolve to create and innovate? And yet, so many times “the best laid plans” fall short.
I remember in my sophomore biology class a poster that something like, “Success depends not on flashes of brilliance, but on just plugging away.” The idea being that if you have the biggest, hairiest, most audacious goal or dream (launch a restaurant, create the next great app, build an empire like Apple), it doesn’t really mean much unless you’re willing to put in the time, discipline and methodical use of resources to accomplish that goal day after day after day after day.
It’s not overly sexy; it doesn’t create a great ad. But, it does get the job done. Asked any long standing business or executive and I’d bet they’d say the same thing. Rarely did it matter on flashes of brilliance, but on creating a great, quality product or service day after day.
In Great by Choice, Jim Collins calls this the 20-Mile March. The 20-Mile March cites the example of the difference in strategy between two explorers - successful Roald Amundsen and unsuccessful Robert Falcon Scott - in their efforts to lead their teams to be the first to the South Pole in October 1911. To keep you from the long story (however I suggest you read it as it provides a great analogy), Collins concludes that the glaring difference between the preparations of the two men was the focus of Amundsen to press forward in bad weather, and hold back his team in good weather – to keep a steady, unyielding, unrelenting pace to get to the South Pole. So often in bad weather we only do a couple miles at a time, and in great weather we have a tendency to blast forward haphazardly. The brilliance of Amundsen was that he set a marker of 20 miles a day, stuck to it and incrementally managed his way to success.
Imagine you are about to embark on a 3,000 mile walk from San Diego to the tip of Maine. On the first day, you march 20 miles, making it out of town. On the second day you march 20 miles. And again, on the third day you march 20 miles, heading into the hot desert. It’s hot, more than 100 degrees, and you want to rest in the cool of your tent. But you don’t. You get up and march 20 miles. You keep the pace, 20 miles a day. Then the weather cools and you are in comfortable conditions, with the wind at your back, and you could go much further. But you hold back, modulating your effort. You stick with your 20 miles. Then your reach the Colorado high mountains and get hit by snow, wind, and temperatures below zero – and all you want to do is stay in your tent. But you get up. You get dressed, and you march your 20 miles.
You keep up the effort – 20 miles, 20 miles, 20 miles – and then you cross into the plains and its glorious springtime, and you can go 40 of 50 miles in a day. But you don’t. You sustain your pace, marching 20 miles over and over and over finally hitting your goal with adequate resources, having survived and sustained hot and cold weather.
So often we let conditions and situations dictate the terms, dictate our attitude and dictate our output. Let me encourage you to take a breathe, reset and refocus. Build not only your 40,000 foot strategy, but your 10,000 foot marching orders for your team and organization and self.
Here are some suggestions to refocus:
Find a goal, short-or long-term, and focus on what your 20-mile march might be. Write it down and put it in front of you (your desk, your mirror, etc.)
Set checkpoints and milestones – focus on the task at hand.
Don’t get distracted about what the world is doing around you.
Share your goal with a friend or coworker; have them hold you accountable
Set celebration points; how will you celebrate
Focus on the discipline, the perseverance, the attitude needed for you to cross the finish line successfully.