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The Power of Focus: Leadership in the Age of Distractions.

A weighing scale that is balanced. On the left is a jumble of clocks. On the right is a collection of daily tasks such as memos, calendar, to do lists.

Insights on Time Management.

It's common to hear it said that time is your most precious resource. Once it is gone, you cannot replace it.

But how many people honestly believe this?

And how can we tell one way or another?

It comes down to what we spend our time on.

We can see this in action around us.

Here is a powerful example. Dominic Cummings (former Chief Advisor to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson) highlighted the complete misprioritisation of the UK government's time and efforts on the Dwarkesh Podcast:

"Imagine if Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, or Patrick Collison spent a large part of their day just doing photo ops.You have a person whose time is the single most precious asset.Yet, they're actually standing with the ambassador from Tonga Zonga, just doing photo ops for a large part of the day or going to stupid ceremonies.These people have all grown up in a system where they just don't know any better than dealing with the media all day."


It doesn't matter your opinion on Cummings, love or hate him (he is like Marmite, after all), but he hits the nail on the head.

Focused versus Unfocused

I assure you it is the same for business and the modern workplace.

Being unfocused is one of the common chronic issues I see with clients when they start working with me. Often, they struggle to concisely and clearly explain their priorities without resorting to a lengthy list of to-dos.

It is common for successful executives to become distracted. Everyone wants a piece of them, and often, they become magnets that attract all kinds of extras. The risk of becoming unfocused and losing sight of your core responsibilities becomes elevated.

The key to success lies in avoiding distractions and focusing on your top priorities. Successful individuals distinguish themselves by eliminating irrelevant distractions, ensuring they don't squander time and energy on trivial matters.

The most impactful people I coach are experts at saying "no" to keep their top priorities front and centre, ensuring they appropriately prioritise their time and effort. This contrasts with a trap many people fall into - what Dominic Cummings was referring to on the podcast - which is that many people become unfocused over time. Common symptoms of being unfocused:

  • A packed calendar with no room to breathe.

  • Neglect in essential parts of your life like family, relationships, and health.

  • Underinvestment in self-development.

Make sure you spend your time on the most important thing right now.

I recently started working with a successful senior executive with a brand new boss, the CEO of this fast-growing organisation. My client, an executive leadership team member, had proven himself and had recently taken on several additional responsibilities requiring him to wear several different leadership hats. But one of these new responsibilities stood out to me as being different. It was a limited-time opportunity. My client had proactively offered to lead a potentially transformative project close to the new CEO's heart and would give them a fantastic chance to demonstrate their capabilities and work closely with the CEO in their first few months in the role.

This was a potential crucible moment for them, a chance to shine and pour rocket fuel on their career. They had made one of the best decisions in their career to lead this initiative.

We started to double-click on how they spent their time, which is where we spotted clear opportunities for him to have more impact. My client's schedule still reflected business as usual. Consequently, he still spent 80% of his time on day-to-day operational things. Necessary things, and important for sure. But not what would define his new relationship with the CEO and demonstrate his team's importance in the future. He was so busy doing the things he was good at, that had helped to establish his credibility and track record that he failed to take the time and understand that, paraphrasing Marshal Goldsmith, "what got him here wouldn't give him the best chance of getting to where he wanted to be under the brand new Chief Executive."

It was as though my client had decided to multiply by zero and cancel out the positives from leading the new project. Suppose you are going to take the initiative. In that case, you must ensure you prioritise your time and energy to focus on it. Do not treat it as just another important thing to get to in your spare time, between all the meetings, committees and day-to-day management. Fortunately, our first coaching session came at the perfect time. The agreed action point from our coaching session was to redirect his time and attention to the limited time opportunity. He needed to urgently rearrange his weekly schedule and protect time for deep work on the strategic initiative. A crucial first step was to make his Executive Assistant (EA) a key ally. The EA would help to ensure they remained focused on this new top priority for the next few months by being a powerful gatekeeper and blocking and tackling for him when, inevitably, people wanted his time unless it was something critical.

As an executive, everything flows from how you spend your time! Time is emphasis, and your schedule directly affects what gets done.

Think longer term - it pays to take time to read.

How you spend your time is also important when time isn't a predominant factor.

I was reminded of this by Margaret Heffernan, writing in the FT; she writes:

"I have yet to meet a chief executive who reads regularly. Many skip newspapers, and magazines are a stretch. They don't have time, they say. It's inefficient; they can get the information they need from those around them."

I don't know who these CEOs are that Margaret Heffernan is referring to. Perhaps they are CEOs of the FTSE 100 companies, and that might go some way to explaining why the share prices of their companies have woefully underperformed versus peer companies, even if we exclude the technology-heavy S&P and focus only on Europe:

I know. Clearly, there are many moving parts, and this is not apples to apples, but as an investor, the point is clear to me, at least.

The CEOs are too busy not taking the time to learn.

Why does it matter?

Well, let's bring in Revan's axiom:

"For organisations to survive and grow, their rate of learning has to be equal to, or greater than, the rate of change in their environment. Learning >= Change."

Framing the hypothesis on the individual:

"For executives to differentiate and succeed, their rate of learning has to be equal to, or greater than, the rate of change in their industry."

In my work as an executive coach, I've never seen this refuted in a meaningful way, so let's presume it to be true.

You could have made the best decision in the history of good decision-making to take your role and join the company. Yet, if you don't invest in yourself, you are effectively multiplying by (1 - rate of change). People who don't make the time to learn are falling behind rapidly.

We owe it to ourselves, our teams, our businesses, and our investors to continuously learn. And not just from the information supplied by those closest to us.

What are they so busy doing that they don't have the time, energy or capacity to read?

🏋️ Monthly Challenge: Audit Your Schedule

Adopt a mindset where your top priority is viewed as the "oxygen" essential for your team or business's survival. While numerous demands will constantly vie for your attention, they must not overshadow this vital priority. Without it, a business is as doomed as a human without air. Other seemingly high priorities are the food and drink, not the oxygen, for a business. You can last for days or weeks without food or drink.

Subscribe for free to my Substack email newsletter version (of the blog) to get access to the monthly challenge:

Final Thoughts

Leadership is not just about guiding others; it's about being open to guidance ourselves. It's about cultivating resilience in the face of irrational adversity and being mindful of the impact we have on our environment. As leaders and coaches, we must strive for the insight that allows us to grow and help others do the same.

If you're grappling with these issues or looking for strategies to enhance impact and effectiveness within your team or organisation, let's connect. Follow me on LinkedIn and subscribe to my "Coaching Contemplations" newsletter at for more insights.

What strategies have you found effective in dealing with time management? Share your experiences; let's learn from each other.

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