Do You Know Why You’re Doing That?

July 2023 why

Spending part of the summer in Carmel has become a significant ‘Why” for me.

It started during the pandemic. I realized how meaningful it was for me to have a couple of summer weeks where I take daily walks on the beach with my pups, enjoy some amazing California cuisine, and experience the slower pace of small-town life. This goal has become so important to me that I now work hard to schedule time in my summer around it.

This past summer it was harder than usual as so many obstacles cropped up: my dog needing surgery (she’s doing OK), a family trip with set dates, and, I’ll admit it, the Taylor Swift concert.

In this case, my purpose for making the trip directly conflicted with other purpose-driven elements of my life.

But what about when you’re sacrificing the important for the mundane?

During a recent conversation with a client, we discussed the difference between a tactic and a strategy, and how missing this critical distinction can lessen your impact at work.

Let’s talk about why. Countless goals are set in the workplace  – grow a specific product line, deliver a new cutting-edge customer app experience, or transition the company to a new CRM system. Typically, there are initial conversations with your boss and leadership team that focus on the goal and its underlying purpose; then you’re off and running. You find yourself managing your team, having weekly progress update meetings,  and tracking missed and met project deadlines along the way.

What I’ve noticed with my clients is that the further you progress from the project launch, the less you revisit the WHY behind this project, checking to see if it still makes sense as construed, or whether you should shift your priorities as market and company dynamics evolve. In short, the longer you work on a project, the more that conversations tend to focus on the goal of project completion, rather than on fulfilling its original purpose.

I’ve seen this happen in marketing for many coaches as well; the coach wants to grow their business and so they decide to try Facebook ads. Along the way, however, their focus shifts from growing their business to increasing their ad click-through rates and lowering the cost per impression. It might be a year before the coach steps back to realize they’ve spent 10s of $1000s on paid ads, yet the bigger goal of getting more clients and building their business has not been reached. They have invested so much time in the process of winning at Facebook ads that in fact, their business income has decreased. It’s really easy to lose the forest for the trees.

Knowing how hard it is to stay connected to a project’s true purpose, here is my advice on how to stay aligned with your Why even when the daily milestones threaten to steal your focus. 

Dr. Jo’s Top Three Recommendations for Infusing Your Intended Purpose Into Your Daily Work

1Write down the Why for each project on a Post-it and stick it next to your computer. While this might seem too simple to be effective, the first step of staying connected to a project’s true purpose is to declare what it actually is, and then keep it top of mind. Don’t let it end there. Continue to stay connected by circling back to this “Why” with your team on a monthly basis. Too often team meetings can devolve into project management, yet if you want your team to stay strategic, you need to put strategic thinking on the agenda at least monthly (if not more). This has the dual purpose of coaching your team to connect their ideas to the larger strategy and providing a good litmus test for your current to-dos, checking to see if they are still a means to the bigger end state, or if they have become their own North Star.

2. Journal once weekly for 20 minutes about your team’s purpose. For some of you, this exercise might seem reminiscent of anguished adolescent diaries, but this different type of “top of mind” journaling (or mind-mapping if you prefer) is really training your mind to both focus on what’s grounding your work and also give you open-ended thinking time. Allowing your mind time to wander helps you brainstorm new connections and possibilities that are hard to create during the linear meetings and work sessions that populate your daily calendar. You might even want to visit your favorite coffee shop or sit outside for this journaling session. In my case, I left our rental house to sit in a café to write this article because the change of scenery allows me to think more clearly about what’s important to me without getting distracted by the reminders of other to-dos that surround my workspace.

3. Cancel at least one status update meeting a week and keep one meeting that is solely focused on the vision behind your goal. Truth: Our schedules need frequent editing. When we’re too busy to look through our schedule with a detailed eye, we end up at status meetings where no one has anything to report or repeating meetings with no agenda. If you can cull at least one of these meetings weekly from your calendar, you’ve cleared time to get out of your chair, change scenery and do your weekly journaling. Once you’ve cleared out a meeting, make sure that at least one of your remaining meetings allows you to make progress on the vision behind your work. When you know the bigger reason behind your goals is staying top-of-mind weekly, you can be sure that this purpose will stay infused throughout your project and become a true North Star for you and your team.

To be clear, the urgent has a habit of sneaking into our week to derail us from staying “on purpose” and “on track” all of the time. However, my three recommendations will grant you peace of mind, knowing that you’re staying on course and accomplishing what truly matters to your group, and organization amid the fire drills and unexpected challenges you and your team face along the way.  With a clear sense of purpose, it’s much easier to consistently create solutions that move the needle in the direction of meaningful change. 

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

Leave a Comment