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Altitude of Attention

Get out of the weeds 🌱.

Get your head out of the clouds ☁️.

These are both ways we encounter advice about adjusting the altitude of our attention. What are we paying attention to? Is it too high-level? Are we not seeing the forest for the trees? Or, are we hearing all noise and missing the signal? Have we lost sight of what’s happening on the ground?

Only recently did I recognize that unsettling feeling for what it was: an internal warning to adjust my altitude. I was working hard in the middle of a tricky task recently and was struggling with internal resistance to finish. I talked it out with some colleagues I respect when I realized, I needed to connect the purpose of that task to the vision and value of the project. With that personal revelation, I offer how I rise above to see the big picture or get down on the ground to drive work to completion.

Recognize the signs

  • Difficulty finishing an otherwise “easy” task
  • Worry about what’s next while I should be focusing on the work at hand
  • Concern about whether the current task is worth doing or if it’s really the biggest priority
  • Trouble explaining something to your direct reports, a peer or your manager in terms they understand.
  • Trouble understanding the connection between tasks or projects with the goals and strategies they serve.

What to do about it

There are two things I do to ensure my attention is at the right altitude.

  1. Use a system of record to capture the mutually agreed upon direction for yourself, your team, the department and the organization. This goes for timeless items like organizational mission and core values as well as timely things like goals and strategies at the yearly or quarterly level.
  2. Develop a mutually agreed upon process for setting and tracking goals that connects to the work management system of record.

At a personal level, this can be done with flat files but the ceiling for collaboration on homemade approaches is very low.

Instead, there are many capable platforms focused on goal setting and tracking (I’ve used Betterworks and Weekdone in the past). The real value though, comes when you connect goal tracking with your work management system. Said another way, I’ve seen several goal tracking efforts fail because these don’t natively connect to the place where work gets done.

In this way, Asana has developed a great bi-directional validation that allows work with related big picture goals to be prioritized, and goals without related work to be scoped for accountability. Just seeing their pyramid of clarity at a glance can make you feel like you’ve been working from an incomplete context your whole career.

For more details about how to implement a goal tracking system of record, see the enablement presentation I gave on the topic.

An enablement presentation on connecting project-level work to team and department goals

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