No” was her response to my request, followed by her rationale, “I don’t have time and I don’t have any openings now.” I shook my head because it made no sense. My request was for her to make time to interview a candidate who recently moved to St. Louis, was living a few miles away, and whose experience and interests were related to the department this manager supervised. To me it was a “no brainer” because I was looking to what was next for this manager, what would happen soon. I knew there wasn’t a current opening, but I also knew the turnover statistics for the department and the numbers told me there would be a vacancy sometime soon. Yet her focus, as it is with many managers, was on today. If your focus is only on today, not the next six months or the future, you would agree with her decision.

The challenge for a leader is understanding three words, now, next and future.

 Now – This is where many leaders spend a lot of their time. I’ve done it too. It is easy to become trapped focusing on today because the problems and challenges are in your face. A new e-mail arrives with a problem today, the call you answer is “today’s crisis”, and on and on it goes. Every problem you solve today is quickly replaced by another problem demanding your time, now. Being busy with today can become like sitting in a rocking chair, i.e., there is plenty of activity, but you don’t get anywhere. Unfortunately, many of the crises you face today are the result of two things:

  1. Someone else didn’t plan well and they now want to push their crisis on to you.
  2. You didn’t plan well or procrastinated and now you must get it done, today.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things that must be addressed today, you must do them, but they are few. Ask yourself which of “today’s problems” would you focus on if you could only spend 25% of your time solving them? Which ones would be left alone or delegated to someone else?

Next – Is the immediate future, which are the things coming up in the next six to nine months. I believe this is where leaders should spend the majority of their time, maybe as much as 50%. A focus on next will make the future todays much easier to handle. Imagine your organization is rolling out a new IT system in nine months that will be transformational for your department. If you spend your time swatting at the problems of today, procrastinating on what you need to do, you won’t be ready. Or focus on what needs to be accomplished before the new system goes live, i.e., process changes, re-examining procedures, determining what can be eliminated, training your team in the new skills they will need, etc. Spending your time today on what’s next, will make the roll out and your productivity so much better.

Future – When you don’t spend time thinking about the future, you will be unprepared. Most of us don’t do enough of it. The future isn’t five to ten years way, the world is changing too fast. The future is one to three years away. Make time to look at your industry, what is changing, what you believe will change? What changes will your organization and your department need to make to be successful? Consider small changes you can begin implementing now, that will make the future more successful.

How you spend your time is critical, spend it wisely.

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.  Ephesians 5:15-16

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