All projects exist for a fundamental reason: to reach specific goals and objectives. A good project manager knows where they are going, knows how they want to lead the team in getting there and never loses sight of the goal. This means they must maintain focus and direction. After all, if you don’t know where you want to go, there’s a strong probability you’ll end up where you don’t want to be.
Each day in the life of a project is an opportunity to accomplish a little bit more toward reaching your goal, but only if you’re headed in the right direction.
Maintaining direction often means breaking very large goals into smaller daily achievements. There is an abundance of power in the aggregation of many small daily successes. The consistent application of effort toward reaching daily objectives provides the power needed to reach the larger goal. When all the daily objectives are aimed in the same direction, great things can be accomplished.
This is where the need for focus comes in. Things that would not otherwise be possible become possible with clear, consistent focus. Focus provides clarity, putting a spotlight on opportunities that might go unnoticed, and, through effective time management, enables us to keep moving forward. Focus provides momentum and a clear understanding of what needs to be done next.
If you’re constantly changing direction, starting and stopping, tasks take longer to achieve and the probability of going down the wrong path greatly increases. In a day and age when we are asked to do more with less and at a faster pace than ever before, there is little time to get lost along the way. Maintaining focus is like driving down a well-constructed highway; it enables you to maintain a faster, consistent speed with a clear sense of direction. Losing focus is like taking the same trip by driving down side streets without a map or GPS, with many stoplights and alternate paths on which to lose your way.
A clear sense of purpose and direction is the driving force behind effective focus. Why are you there? Why are you and your team doing the current project? What are you trying to achieve? Knowing your purpose, your daily objectives and your overall goal, and keeping them front and center in your mind, will keep you focused.
What We Can Learn From Florence May Chadwick About Staying Focused.
The story of Florence Chadwick and her first attempt to swim the 26 miles between the California coastline and Catalina Island helps illustrate the concept of focus. Along the way, she encountered heavy seas. Fortunately, she had trained extensively and was in peak physical condition. She was completely prepared for the cold temperatures and the large waves she would have to deal with. In addition, she had asked others to come alongside her in small boats. They were there to watch out for sharks and help her if she got hurt or grew tired. They also greased her body to protect from the cold and kept her warm by occasionally giving her hot soup.
It would appear to any observer that she had put together a great team, had a great plan and was ready to go. However, in all of her training and preparation, she had failed to consider what she should do if she encountered heavy fog along the way. As she swam, fog began to surround her to the point that visibility was limited to only a few feet in any direction. The water grew much colder than anyone had anticipated, further slowing her down, and as the waves continued to slam against her body, the muscles in her arms, hands, feet and legs eventually began to cramp.
After swimming more than15 hours, she began to doubt her ability to make it. The pain was excruciating and the small incremental achievements that had kept her focused were replaced by what now seemed to be one huge, insurmountable problem. The direction that was once so clear was no longer visible.
Her friends continued to encourage her, shouting that she had to be getting close and the shore was surely just ahead, but she couldn’t see it. She continued to swim for another hour before finally giving up the effort and asking to be pulled aboard one of the boats. Sometime later, after finding out that she had stopped swimming just one mile away from her destination, someone asked her why she had given up when she was so close. She replied, “I simply lost sight of my goal. I’m not sure I ever had it firmly in mind.”
A few months later, she tried again. This time was different. Although the conditions were exactly the same as in the previous attempt, including the thick fog, she made it. When a reporter asked her what had made the difference, she said that she kept a mental image of the shoreline in her mind while she swam. She simply maintained her focus.
The takeaway for us as project managers and leaders is simple:
- Know where you are going.
- Maintain focus, direction and momentum.
- Have a detailed plan of how you want to lead your team in getting there.
- Never lose sight of the goal.