When Bill Gates first met Warren Buffett, their hostess at dinner, Gates’ mother, asked everyone around the table to identify what they believed was the single most important factor in their success through life. Gates and Buffett gave the same one-word answer: “Focus.”
Focus is not just something you have—it is also something you do. This type of focus is not static; it is an intense, dynamic, ongoing, iterative process. When people are focused on just a few things, they are usually successful; but when they focus on too many things, the quality, value and timeliness of their work often suffers. Meanwhile, after someone achieves success, they often find themselves suddenly presented with many more new opportunities and options. However, this sudden influx of new opportunities can ironically become the very thing that diffuses what brought success in the first place: it becomes difficult to effectively focus!
Just imagine what would have happened to Ray Kroc, the salesman who turned McDonald’s into a franchise, if after opening twenty McDonald’s locations, he decided to get into the pizza business?
By now, you should all be familiar with UTMB’s new document, The Road Ahead, our institution-wide roadmap for the future and the plan that forms the basis for more detailed goals in each mission area: the Health System, Academic Enterprise and Institutional Support. UTMB President Dr. David Callender recently reviewed the booklet at our most recent Town Hall meeting, and as I’ve attended different meetings and conferences at UTMB, I’ve shared the document with our Health System and Correctional Managed Care teams, as well. If you haven’t seen the document yet, please visit http://www.utmb.edu/strategic_vision.
Why did we feel it was important to revise The Road Ahead? One of the greatest reasons for this change was leadership’s realization that we were trying to do too many things. By distilling our priorities down to the very essence of what we want to achieve, it will not only help everyone remember what we are focused on at UTMB, but it will also help our employees and faculty connect to what is essential to our success as we move forward. Therefore, in the new document we streamlined our strategic priorities, the foundation for our strategic vision to “be the best”, from a total of eight priorities down to four key priorities: People, Value, Strategic Growth & Management, and Resources.
A while back, I read an article in Havard Business Review, written by Greg McKeown, about how in today’s society, we have a tendency to always take on more, more, and more. In doing so, the state of being overwhelmingly busy is sometimes perceived as possessing some sort of superhuman quality. But in reality, this sort of frenetic pace and perception of success can actually end up negatively impacting the quality of our overall performance—all of our endeavors, especially the most important ones, do not get the attention they deserve for successful outcomes. And we also diminish our own effectiveness as we jump from one thing to another.
McKeown compares the process of identifying our essential tasks and remaining focused on them with the great feeling we get when we box up the old clothes we don’t wear anymore and give them away. The closet clutter is gone. We feel freer. So, wouldn’t it feel liberating and energizing to clean out the closets of our overstuffed to-do lists and give away or eliminate the nonessential items, so we can focus our attention on the things that truly matter?
The pace of growth at UTMB is greater than ever. It’s a very exciting time, but at times it can also feel a little overwhelming—I’m sure every one of you can attest to this. On March 9, at my upcoming Mondays in March presentation, I’ll discuss how the Health System has progressed since FY2013, when it established its vision for the future. I’ll also talk about some of the specific things we’ll be focusing on in the coming year as they pertain to each of our strategic priorities. Then, we’ll talk a little about how each department, work unit and individual at UTMB can help support our goals.
As each of us begins to reflect upon how our work supports the Health System and UTMB’s Road Ahead, I want to encourage you all to remember something important: we can’t do everything, have it all or achieve it all without the ability to also know how to take care of ourselves, stay focused on what’s essential, and know when to say “no” to the opportunities that don’t support our goals as effectively.
This doesn’t mean we want to achieve less; it means we want to do the most important things better. So as we set our goals within our departments and on an individual level, let’s remember to keep our eyes focused on The Road Ahead. We must determine what is essential to our success and pause to carefully consider when something new comes along, whether it adds value to our work or if it can wait until a more suitable time in the future.
Directors and managers should help their employees connect with the goals by identifying and communicating specific actions and behaviors that either support or detract from our success. When each employee associates the work they do with the success of their work unit, they can also see how each person on their team adds value to the Health System and UTMB as an organization.
There are a few simple methods we can use to help ensure we are focusing on the essentials:
- Take time on a consistent, regular basis to think about what is essential and what is non-essential on your to-do list. McKeown recommends the “rule of three”: Every three months, take three hours to identify the three things you want to accomplish over the next three. We need time to think and process what we’re working on in order to see the bigger picture.
- Rest well to excel. There is a significant difference between good performers and excellent performers—this is not only the number of hours spent practicing, but research also shows that the second most highly correlated factor distinguishing the good from the great is how much they sleep. Self-care is important!
- When you hold a new event or complete a new project, keep in mind that although some activities should be continued, not every new activity has to become a tradition.
- It’s okay to say “no”—just because we are invited to do something, doesn’t necessarily mean that’s a good enough reason to do it. Although it may seem counterintuitive to say “no” to good opportunities, if we say “yes” to everything, then we won’t have the space to figure out how we really should be investing our time.
Should we really continue taking on more, more, more, or should we try to get more out of what really matters?
This year, we would like Health System employees to focus on the following:
- For inpatient settings or ancillary department goals for all employees will center on:
- patient satisfaction
- a quality goal or a financial goal
- employee satisfaction and retention
- For ambulatory clinic settings, goals for all employees will center on:
- patient satisfaction
- overall patient access
- employee satisfaction and retention
Any organization can have a vision and a strategic plan, and every department, unit and clinic can set individualized goals for the year, but that doesn’t guarantee anyone’s success. By focusing on the few things that are really essential, we’re able to make a more valuable contribution.
UTMB can best honor its long history of accomplishment and service by staying focused on its future. Thank you for everything you do to support UTMB’s vision of Working Together to Work Wonders.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust