No matter how busy we may be doing stuff during the day, that “busyness” is not necessarily a measure of progress. In fact, if we haven’t established a goal plan for our work for the year, quarter, month or day, then we really don’t know what we’re doing or why. Unless, of course, our goal is to “keep busy”.
A day in the life
What’s a day in the context of a lifetime? Not much, but if we think of a day as a kind of ‘lifetime’ with a beginning, middle and end, with its own special purpose that’s never coming back and that offers unique opportunities, then we can think of it as a timespan that’s worth planning for. That way, we can squeeze the maximum out of the hours the day offers. This can be as simple as writing down the evening before or first thing in the morning a list of the tasks for the day. It has to be a realistic list, not a wish list, or it will only lead to frustration. This is very important because we don’t have complete control over everything that happens during our day. We are all involved in a network of interdependencies. Yesterday I spent 3 hours engaged in resolving a technology problem. However, precisely because I had a list of the tasks to be done that day I was still able to get them done. The list gives you focus so you can get right back on to what you were meant to be doing before you got sidetracked. Plus, there’s something very satisfying about getting through the things you’d marked out.
A check list is never enough
However, we can’t achieve anything great with a check list. That’s because there is not enough thought behind it. There has to be deeper thinking that goes on to come up with the tasks for the day. Those tasks have to be part of a bigger plan that moves us forward in the direction of a goal and we have to figure out the right goals to be working on.
Whether we are leading just ourselves as free-lancers or we are leading an organization, we need to know the direction for our work. We need to see the big picture of where we are going and why. In other words, we need to identify a strategy. You can create very effectively a full blown, systemic strategy using the Future Reality Tree from the Theory of Constraints. This is important because it guides you to verbalize the overall, common goal of the organization, in other words, its operational (not theoretical) purpose.
Planning for the bigger picture
A Future Reality Tree can work for a range of time spans, even several years. It’s how we started our own firm back in 1996. The key word is operational. Every aspect of strategy derived through a Future Reality Tree is expressed in terms of what we have to do to achieve the desired changes in reality towards the goal. This work is made possible by first completing a Core Conflict Cloud to identify the key drivers (needs) of the organization and the mental models or limiting beliefs that need to be addressed through a set of solutions (called “injections”) that move us towards the overall goal.
If using the Future Reality Tree seems too ambitious for a given situation, then we can still think more comprehensively and effectively about the actions we need to take with a Prerequisite Tree. This remarkable tool provides a guide to exactly what needs to happen to get us towards an identified goal. It’s a roadmap where a check list just can’t cut it. We can then break down the steps even further into individual tasks using the Transition Tree. The Transition Tree is a kind of value added check list because as well as the how (i.e. the tasks) it provides you with the why of all the steps.
After all, how do you achieve anything big? One step at a time. The Theory of Constraints teaches us to leverage constraints for more throughput. We can leverage the shortness of a day by using it to increase our focus.
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About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management and author of the business novel+ website The Human Constraint . This downloadable novel uses narrative to look at how the Deming approach and the Theory of Constraints can create the organization of the future, based on collaboration, network and social innovation. She is co-author with Dr. Domenico Lepore, founder, and Dr. Giovanni Siepe of ‘Quality, Involvement, Flow: The Systemic Organization’ from CRC Press, New York.