To most of us getting things ticked off our to-do list means that we have shown serious productivity levels throughout the day. But getting to the point where we feel we’ve made an achievement is often difficult, especially when we’re being inundated with tactics to help keep our minds energised and focused on completing as many tasks as possible. But is this what defines an achievement? Whilst getting more things done sure looks like we’ve been productive, getting the right things done is far more commendable.
A State of Work Report conducted this year found that 65 per cent of employees say they’re so swamped with getting their day-to-day work done that they don’t have time to think beyond their daily to-do list. This alarming statistic goes to the root of the productivity challenges we’re all experiencing in our workplaces.
Many businesses go about achieving their strategic goals by adopting a ‘do it all’ approach. Don’t get me wrong, setting ambitious goals is laudable- there’s no point setting a goal that is too easily achieved but these big, lofty goals can feel overwhelming, and can leave employees lost and without direction. In an attempt to reach these goals, workers often aren’t sure where or how to get started, and a cycle of unproductive work continues.
I believe I’ve found a solution to cracking the perennial productivity crisis by embracing elements of minimalism. Don’t worry, this isn’t just about clearing your desk in an attempt to increase your productivity (the jury’s out on that one) what I want to introduce to you is the idea of work management minimalism where you can achieve the most from your day by setting a ‘Commander’s Intent’ and a ‘Best Next Action’.
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What will be your Commander’s Intent?
Workfront CEO, Alex Shootman introduced me to the idea of setting a ‘Commander’s Intent’ through his book Done Right. Simply put, Commander’s Intent is a clear articulation of the end goal. Former US Navy Seal Commander now turned management consultant, Mark McGinnis, describes Commander’s Intent as “the single most powerful leadership concept”. For him, setting the Commander’s Intent was a matter of life and death on the battlefield: “As a leader I’m going to communicate the purpose of the mission: what we’re trying to accomplish, the ‘WHY’ and what the battle space is going to look like when the gun smoke settles.”
Setting your Commander’s Intent involves communicating the purpose of the goal, why it’s important and what it’ll take to achieve it. Exactly how the end goal is accomplished is down to your team, it’s key to trust in their expertise to execute against it, not to micromanage. Commander’s Intent respects and even encourages the varied ways individuals work because the central and most important question: WHAT ARE WE TRYING TO ACHIEVE? has been answered.
I use Commander’s Intent with my own team. With this as our north star, we have a common language and destination, ensuring alignment and focus on the things that will make the biggest impact. And when tough decisions, disagreements, or prioritisation is required it is the shared place where we turn for re-focus.
Set a Best Next Action to help get closer to the end goal
After setting a Commander’s Intent, the next stage of work management minimalism is embracing the ‘Best Next Action’ (BNA). The goals for my team are annual, but we review quarterly with the key activities and milestones being adjusted. We discover the Best Next Action by asking our team this simple question: “What’s the one thing we’re going to do within the next two weeks that will take us closer to our goal?” Using this simple question makes any goal or project that initially seemed overwhelming feel much more manageable. It focuses the mind. I don’t need my team members to tackle the whole project at once, I just want them to think about the one thing that matters right now, the one thing they can accomplish this week that moves us closer to the larger goal. It empowers each person without overwhelming them. Working in BNAs -manageable chunks- also allows me to course correct at pivotal moments without resorting to micromanaging. It also gives us the opportunity to look back at - and celebrate- the significant milestones we achieve along the way, providing that motivation to keep going and reach the finish line.
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Whilst the end goal may seem far away, setting a Commander’s Intent ensures you and your team always support the bigger picture. Using a Best Next Action to reach your goals makes everything seem more manageable and allows you to ruthlessly prioritise your tasks and if you’re sitting behind a messy desk whilst you do it, you can be confident you’ve achieved minimalism in at least one area of your life.
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Jada Balster, Vice President of Marketing, Workfront (opens in new tab)