It becomes readily apparent when you work with fully engaged colleagues. The normal ebb and flow of projects requires team members to seamlessly float between areas of deep focus where they thrive and areas of shallow focus where concentration is a key factor to stay engaged. As an example, I can get lost in code, analytics or triggered email scenarios for hours on end. It isn’t because I struggle with their intricacies or multiple scenarios, it’s because my mind seemingly functions better when dealing with those aspects of my job.
- Troubleshooting a drop in organic traffic for branded keywords triggers my deep focus as I search for a reason and solution.
- Creating a budget spreadsheet to forecast capital expenditures for the quarter is so far into my realm of shallow focus that I expend more effort staying engaged than actually creating the forecast.
Both tasks require problem solving and both require attention to specific details while slicing and dicing data in various manners in order to find an answer. Simply put, analytics fits my deep focus much more than budgets or capital costs.
I’ll openly admit that my weak areas, areas where I know I must force concentration, revolve around budgeting, project management and meetings that stray off course. I am not ashamed of these facts. While I have worked with countless people who can execute an excel formula with as much aplomb as I can diagnose a cross browser incompatibility issue, I do not begrudge them the fact that they do not know the difference between external or inline stylesheets. I simply understand that their deep focus is in the area that makes up my shallow focus.
But here is the rub, at no point has it ever come to pass where a colleague has been told to “get a better handle” on site code or “have working knowledge of methods to increase site speed”. On the other hand, I consistently hear that budget management is a weakness which I need to address or that project management must be an area of focus for me to excel.
Is it the fact that budget and project management are easier to grasp, thus more people place emphasis on these talents in assessing intelligence? Why the dichotomy? If I am expected to grasp Gantt charts and resource time management across projects, why then isn’t everyone, in turn, required to understand how to workflow an API call that triggers email sends and surveys? Why can’t I specialize without the stigma of being a budgeting nightmare or someone lacking attention to detail in regards to managing a project?
Often this is a battle best left alone. I know how to get by with budgets, how to ask the questions I need in meetings, and how to prioritize projects because those are standard business elements. These elements are merely flies buzzing around my head, inconsiderate intrusions upon my time as I strive to get back to defining wireframes based on user trends derived from analytical flows or map out optimization tactics that will drive more revenue and return purchases from customers spending over $100 per purchase.
- My deep focus tactics feed the budget goals of the CFO and accounting.
- Required Six Sigma project plans take as long for me to create as fully implemented landing page A/B testing strategy which will provide concrete methods to reach more customers.
- High-level, self-important weekly meetings held for “the sake of keeping people informed” waste time that I could be using to troubleshoot site speed issues causing abandonment rates to spike.
Just because I haven’t declared efforts or achievements in a PowerPoint, Pivot Table or Project Gantt Chart in no way minimizes the fact that I produce. Perhaps breaking from the corporate norm and visiting a world of Google Analytics, mind mapping and project workflows could provide an alternative view of successful methods. After all, it is only fair; I’ve had to play in the world of Microsoft’s suite of projects since I joined the real world. One weekly meeting won’t kill you.
Recognizing my areas of deep focus vs. shallow focus while understanding the methods of my colleagues, bosses and leadership teams have proven critical to success. If I am to manage them, I must know my method of delivery:
- How will I demonstrate success?
- Is it the dreaded ROI calculation?
- Is it, at minimum, a weekly touch base meeting where I define the agenda to prevent railroading?
- Is it a high level analytics report with charts and graphs that show trends necessary to see where the web business is going?
Most likely it is a mix of all these areas and it is subjective. Show me two people who agree upon what needs to be in a budget report or any group of people who can agree on how a meeting is to run. You simply can’t.
Try. Adapt. Try again. The lesson being, I am adapting to other’s ways because I know their grasp of code and UX, as examples, are not on par with mine. That’s fine. In return, I simply ask for equal consideration we plod through budget numbers or have the 10th meeting of the week with no deliverables.
To make it easy for myself, I kept track of the areas where I can “get lost” in productivity and come out on the other side with a solution or a tactic to meet actual goals. These are my areas of deep focus. I try to maximize my time in those areas.
Outside of the deep focus is the gray area where I must mentally and physically prepare to stay engaged for long periods of time and not wander back to the comfort of my deep focus. Truth be told, I look to escape the shallow focus endeavors as quickly as possible, but realize I need to be present out of respect to colleagues who are in their areas of deep focus.
What drove me to create this understanding can be summarized in one word…bosses. I’ve had bosses where I have been unable to adjust to their expectations and I normally see the common “what are you thinking” look as I sit across a room from them. This is a look that says to me “how can he not get what I am saying or why is he asking all these questions?” It is these bosses with which I know I have no chance to adapt. Aim to please as I may, the budget talks or the project management minutiae will inevitably get the best of me and I will lose focus. In turn, never have I encountered a boss like this who has met me halfway.
As an alternative to those types of bosses, I have known and thrived under bosses who know why they hired me and allow me to maximize my time in deep focus areas. While I will come up for air and handle budgets or go to meetings to address overlap in projects, it is understood that I am there to contribute based on the skill set I bring to the table. In short, we meet halfway. Inevitably goals are surpassed and stretch goals reached. When I, or anyone for that manner, is fully engaged in areas of deep focus that compliment the team, how could success not be achieved?
Below is my representation of my areas of focus. While this isn’t all inclusive, it is a method to help me gauge my tactics and determine my fit within an organization.