The secret lever for achieving your ambitions

This post is part of a series on personal effectiveness and impact. You might like to review the previous articles:

 The most important lever

In this post we are going to discuss the most important lever you have in attaining your dreams and goals without overwhelm and burn-out. But it’s a topic that gets a lot of bad press. For example:

Just yesterday (I kid you not) I was handed a piece of paper.

“It’s the new strategy. What do you think?”

What did I think? Well, let me just say this. If I’d had a long blonde wig and my electric guitar I would have jumped on the desk and treated my friend to an impromptu rendition of that Bon Jovi classic, slightly modified:

“Shot through the heart and you’re to blame;

Darlin’ you give strategy a bad name!”

(Hands up those of you who are humming the guitar riff now; you know who you are! Well done you! Give me a shout on Twitter with hashtag #yougivestrategyabadname !)

You give strategy a bad name

Yep, it wasn’t a strategy. It was a smatter-gy! A smattering of vague aspirations and ambitions. 6 main points and 23 sub-points. It was laudable but laughable. Laudable because everything was very worthy, laughable because it says everything and nothing, and has no chance of actually being implemented.

This is the kind of thing that gives strategy a bad name amongst “get things done” types.

I get it. As a strategy consultant I’ve seen too many strategies end up gathering dust on a shelf, and watched initiative after initiative fizzle out. I remember a grand transformation plan in my very first firm called VISTA. It looked great on paper. However it quickly overwhelmed the people supposed to implement it, who decided that VISTA stood for Virtually Impossible State To Achieve!

But as you probably know, Purposeful People is all about people like you achieving outsized results in areas that truly make a difference. It’s my passion. So I’ve made it a mission of mine to help people build strategies that actually do their job of focusing effort around a workable set of projects that have the best chance of getting to the best possible results.

With that in mind, let’s test whether you have effective and helpful strategies to nail your most important goals.

Your strategy is your HOW

In Effectiveness Engine language, once you have your:

then you need a set of Prioritised Projects to explain HOW you will achieve those goals.

Your set of prioritised Projects IS your strategy! It’s the HOW – which is what a strategy is. And this is why strategy is so important. The projects you choose will determine the speed at which you progress towards your goals.

A great strategy = high impact projects = high achievement of goals.

A word of caution here. The word ‘project’ can conjure up a complex and even rigid plan with dependencies and critical paths and so on. I’m using it more in the sense of ‘initiative’ – the things you intend to accomplish in order to attain your goal.

A couple of examples might help:

  • If my goal is to lose 10kg over the next two months, my prioritised projects might be to consistently consume no more than 1500 calories per day, and to increase of 5km runs I do from zero to 1/week.
  • If my goal is to generate $100K in consulting revenue, my prioritised projects might be to secure 3 sales meetings with a new potential customer every week, and to establish a partnership with another firm within the next 2 months.

So the skill is in choosing the right projects. For example, if my goal is to double my blog subscribers in 3 months, then I could imagine a lot of different strategies, from getting #1 on Google for a specific search term, to securing guest posts on other blogs, to running an advertising campaign. Some of these are likely to work better than others, and some of them require more time or budget than others. The art of strategy is the art of generating and then prioritising amongst all these options.

Overwhelm versus focus

strategy as a lens

Think of strategy like an optical lens between vision/goals and activity.

A strong strategy focuses well, like a strong lens. Specifically, it focuses effort towards a focused outcome. Like a hammer on a nail, the focus creates impact and progression.

Compare this with the weak strategy (“smattergy”). Effort and activity is unfocused, leading to a weak and diffuse impact. Welcome to the world of overwhelm!

Are you a strategist or a smattergist?

As ever, I want to be practical. There’s plenty more to say about how to select an effective strategy, but for now, let’s do a quick check about you are planning to achieve the big, important things in your life and work. A strategy audit, if you like. So:

  1. What are your strategies for attaining your most crucial goals?
  2. Do you have a strategy (small set of high-impact projects) or a smattergy (large set of good ideas)?
  3. Would somebody looking at your diary be able to guess those strategies?

If you’re brave enough, give yourself a rating from 0 (no real sense of strategy) to 5 (laser focus) and leave the number as a comment below! Who dares?

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