4 Tricks to Keep You Focused on Your Destination

Do your accomplishments, come Friday, look a lot different than what you envisioned on Monday?

You had a destination in mind on Monday.

You sat down and said something like this: “This week will be different. I will get get things done. I will accomplish my goals. This week will be productive. I can do this!”

Then you charge into your week like a high school football team charges onto the field full of vim and vigor… for about 7 1/2 minutes.

But uh-oh!

The ‘new email’ notification slides up from the bottom right corner of your monitor. You check the email. You decide that you can respond quickly and get back to that big project or strategic planning item you know will move your nonprofit forward.

But you don’t get back to that thing. You respond to that email and then forget what you were doing because another email came in. Then a phone call. Then a coworker.

Your grip on that first day of the week is gone…

The rest of your week is spent responding to everyone else’s priorities. Friday comes and you crawl out of the office, knowing that you did stuff all week, but Lord only knows what you accomplished.

It was just stuff. You were a pinball and ‘urgencies’ were the flippers and the bumpers.

What is your destination? Photo Credit: Patrick Lundgren via Compfight cc

What is your destination? Photo Credit: Patrick Lundgren via Compfight cc

How Can You Keep Your Focus on the Big, Important Stuff?

Hugh Culver pointed out in Erik Fisher’s Beyond the To Do List podcast that pilots operate with a single focus: They have a destination landing strip or airport. That’s their only goal.

Even if circumstances during the flight require slight changes in course, all decisions center around bringing that plane safely into the final destination.

I love that picture. It’s a powerful and clear visual. If I’m clear on where I want to end up, then I can use that as a guide to draw my focus back, even if I get pinged off course from time to time.

We can all relate to the situation I describe at the beginning of this post (at least I hope I’m not alone, not that I want you to suffer the same malady as I).

We have a vague idea of what we want to see happen, but we get taken off course. It’s like we are the pilot, but we allow the loudest passengers decide halfway through the flight where the plane will end up.

We land at some place in the middle of a random field and that one person is happy, but you’re frustrated and so are the majority of the people who depended on you to get them where you said you would get them.

It’s similar for organizational leaders. Your employees or clients or stakeholders depend on you to get them to the destination that everybody originally agreed upon. It’s not serving the team as a whole, over time, if you allow these very same people to distract you from getting there.

You, as the leader, are a keeper of the vision and mission. Despite their cries for your immediate attention, they really want you to get the big projects done.

My ultimate goal, beyond helping you decipher insurance, is to help you protect your vision. Your vision isn’t protected if you don’t accomplish the big, vital projects and do the hard strategic work that serves the vision.

How to Keep Focus on the Destination

 We all have our productivity and time management hacks that help us maintain some measure of focus. But let me make a few small suggestions that might work for you.

  1. Have 1-3 Clear Goals for the Week: I would say ‘one’, but most of us don’t have that luxury. I start my days with an ‘M.I.T.’ or three. This is a Most Important Task, a task that must get done regardless. Consider having 1-3 of these M.I.T.s for your week. Most of us don’t. Before you turn on email, social media, or have a conversation with a coworker, sit down and decide on a clear destination for the week.
  2. Make and Keep Appointments with Yourself using ‘Time Blocking’: This is the most important, yet the most difficult habit to develop. Just as you have appointments with other people, make 2-3 appointments with one particular person: YOURSELF. Give yourself at least 5-6 hours during the week for project time (at the very least – to start out with). You’ll discover that two hours won’t kill anybody. If you get an email at 9am and don’t answer till your appointment with yourself ends at 11am, nobody will notice. After all, you could have been in a staff meeting. Block project time. Keep project time sacred.
  3. Batch Process the  Mundane: Give yourself boundaried time to work on the mundane stuff that just simply has to get done because we have jobs and are responsible human beings. This is key because as you get traction with the little weeds in your work, you’ll feel better about your appointments with yourself. This helps rid you of the guilt of being ‘selfish’ with your project time. Respond to emails. Make phone calls. Sign and send letters. Write press releases. Update social media. I recommend reading David Allen’s Getting Things Done to help you develop a system for processing emails, phone calls, paper in your inbox, and random thoughts that float through your head.
  4. Turn off automatic send/receive: While social media can be a distraction, there’s nothing more distracting than someone’s ‘urgent’ email popping into your inbox with the little email notification sliding into view in the lower righthand corner of your monitor. Start by turning off your email auto send and receive. In the new Outlook (perhaps it was in the old one too, but I didn’t see it), there’s a ‘Send All’ button. Use that button to send emails relevant to projects you’re working on without the stress of getting new emails.  At the end of your half-hour, hit the send and receive button and do what you need to do. Preferrably, you can stretch the time between send/receive to at least one hour, maybe two. Just look at it this way: is there anything that wouldn’t be reasonable for you to wait two hours to respond to? If it’s that important, the sender should have your phone number.

So… relating this all back to focusing on the destination:

Decide where you want to go.

Build practices to protect your focus. If you lose focus? Go back to your M.I.T. list, and decide on the next action that will get you to your clear destination.

As a nonprofit leader (or any leader for that matter), you will never be ‘done’ with your work. You will never not be in demand. You have to build practices that allow you to do the big, strategic thing people depend on you for.

Consider your destination and be passionate about getting there. That’s what we need you to do above all else.


 1. What are your personal pitfalls in getting to your destination?

2. What are some hacks for you that help you accomplish the big projects and build in strategic planning?

3. Are you good at doing ‘important’ things while ‘urgencies’ scream for your attention?

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