We spend hours each week speaking with pharma executives and managers on their way up the ladder. Our conversations often focus on the work they are doing, and how to do it better. We don’t claim the title of “coach”, but several of us have been in this industry for a long time and have had significant roles in building companies and brands, so it appears we qualify as reasonable sounding boards or shoulders to cry on, depending on the person and topic of the moment. After more of these conversations than we can count, we’ve started to see some trends emerge. Here’s one that seems to have become much worse over the past five or so years, and it’s something to avoid if you want to be successful.
People are too busy, doing too little work that matters, and too much “work” that doesn’t.
Does this scenario sound familiar? You spend your days in meetings, and when you’re not in a meeting you’re often creating a presentation for one. You probably have more than 50% of each day filled with meetings, and if you are leading a conversation in a meeting, you often feel that you need a presentation to communicate your ideas to others, rather than just having a conversation. You rarely use all the slides in those presentations, and if you’re really honest, your slides are often more a cluttered collection of text with some pictures and charts than a visual story. Oh, and when you’re not in a meeting, you’re likely doing email. You have email notifications turned on, so you see (and maybe even hear) that you have a new email, and you do the same for texts. This distracts you every few minutes, often. You might even have Teams or Slack or something similar set to grab your attention when someone wants to “chat”. You vaguely realize that these things allow someone else to prioritize parts of your day, and that you rarely feel truly focused. Instead, you generally feel hurried, frenzied, and that you never have enough time. You hate that feeling but think “that’s why they call it work.”
How close is that to your reality? If it’s a little too close, read on.
You may be blaming your company’s culture, or your boss, or your lack of resources for this. And you are probably at least partially correct in each case. But the hard truth is that we see the same behavior and problem everywhere, in every company, and from not just a few people, but rather from most managers. It’s less common in executives (how do you think they got to be executives?) but it still happens far too often, especially as technology has become more prevalent and powerful in its ability to distract us. You have probably made several attempts to bring this under control, but none have worked very well. If only there was something you could change that would really help with this…
The hard truth is, YOU need to change. You need to stop doing work you don’t need to do, allowing distractions and other people’s priorities to rule your day, and instead focus on your top priorities, and ONLY your top priorities.
Now, you are probably thinking, “These people have no idea what I’m faced with. I can’t do that.” But we do know. We’ve been you, and admittedly we occasionally need to bring our own workday back into balance and focus. But it happens a lot less for us than it did in the past, because we’ve learned that there’s only one thing that will fix this problem. Our secret? We…
DO LESS STUFF. Seriously. We likely do a lot less “stuff” than you in our average workdays, and we make a living do “stuff” for many different clients! But we can do this because we likely do much less work that doesn’t really matter, which frees us up to do work that does – including, of course, the work we do for clients.
The reality is that you probably have between two to five things that you really NEED to get done, because those are the things will make a difference in the success of your brand, or your department’s goals, or your own goals. The rest of your “priorities” are NOT priorities at all. They’re just things that are interfering with your priorities. And if you are not delegating or outsourcing those things and saying no to everything else (that doesn’t advance your real priorities), you will never get things under control. You will be less effective in your work, so all that extra effort is really just wasted effort. It feels like you need to do it, but that’s just wrong. You don’t, and you shouldn’t.
Basically, if you can delegate or outsource work to members of your team or outside suppliers, do it as often as possible. And, go to fewer meetings (yes, just decline them). Have shorter meetings (most don’t need to last an hour) IF you need to have a meeting at all. Reserve meetings for decisions, truly essential discussions and building relationships (you probably need to do much more relationship building – and you will have time for it if you get rid of the low-value work that you’re still doing). Remember, every hour not spent on work that you can instead delegate or outsource frees you up to work on the things that will make you successful. Stop spending so much of your time on non-priority work and you will be amazed at how much you actually get done.
Now, don’t feel too bad. You were actually trained to think this way when you were younger (and less valuable to whomever/whatever you worked for back then). The problem is, this training wasn’t really intended or thought out. It just happened, because that’s what we do with junior employees. We focus on “getting work out of them”. But then we rarely think to untrain them when we need them to act like rising star managers and executives, where thinking, solving, and directing others is what we’re paying them to do. So, naturally, they keep on doing the things that got them to their current role, which was a lot of activity. The problem is, “work harder” becomes a less and less effective way to work as we rise in a company. And eventually, it doesn’t work at all, and the person’s career “flattens out”, or worse. Bottom line: When you were a junior employee, you were paid to do work. But now that you are moving up in the organization? You are not paid to do work – you are paid to get work done. And for the most part your boss and their boss and the board won’t care how you get that work done if you do it in a legal and ethical way – they just need it to be done.
So, what’s the lesson here?
Focusing on doing work makes you frazzled and tired. Focusing on getting important work done gets you a corner office. Choose wisely.