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Focus on what you can control

How much energy do you (or your team members) waste by complaining and worrying about things that are actually outside your control?

I was recently working with a senior management team who were looking at how they were progressing against their business plan for the year.  It became apparent during the discussion that much of the focus of their attention was on the things that other teams should be doing or, more accurately, should be ‘told’ to do, that if they did so, would allow the team to succeed in their objectives.

To stop the conversation from spiraling ever downwards into blame, accusation and ‘Us and Them’ language I reminded the team of one of the elements of Stephen R Covey’s ‘Seven Habits’.

Covey talks about the concept of a Circle of Concern (things we are bothered about) and a Circle of Influence (things we can control and influence).  By becoming more proactive and focusing on the things we can control and influence, we can increase the size of our Circle of Influence and as a result our sense of taking positive action. We are able to focus positive time and energy on things that we can do something about and put to one side the things that we have no control over.

The process I used with the management team was as follows:

  • Identify all the things that were coming up for them when they thought about what was getting in the way of them achieving their plans for the year.
  • Allocate each of these things under one of three headings:
    • Things under their direct control
    • Things they could indirectly control (through influencing others)
    • Things they had no control over
  • Discard the list of ‘no control’ items.  (They actually tore it up!)
  • Agree the relative importance of the other items and put together a plan of attack for moving these forward.

By completing this exercise the team was able to acknowledge and (literally) get rid of the elements over which they had no control.  As a result they were able to focus their energy in a more constructive way on things that they actually had some control over and ability to influence.  The whole mood of the meeting changed, as if a shackle had been removed from around their collective necks through accepting that some things were out of their control and therefore not worth wasting time and energy worrying about.

A similar approach can be applied at an individual level if you become aware that you are tending to get bogged down by things that aren’t ‘right’.  Do a brain dump of what’s getting in the way and then look at what you can or cannot control.  Focus on what’s in your control and take action on these areas.

The net result at a team or an individual level will be a feeling of having more influence and more energy to tackle issues that you actually have some chance of sorting.

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