Advance the Plot

Kris Braun
May 4th, 2020 · 3 min read

How much do you get done each week? Tech tools make it easier than ever to put more checkmarks on our lists, and we’re increasingly working from many lists. Our tally of emails and Slack messages sent, meetings held, and tasks completed often looks impressive. We end the week exhausted, which confirms we worked hard. This is productive if our work is simply to process the most tasks, and those tasks are sufficient to advance our mission.

Leadership, creative, and entrepreneurial roles have very different measures of success. These are essentially about moving things forward, advancing the plot toward a new and uncertain destination. We want to be somewhere very different by next quarter. Getting there involves ending each week in a different place than at the start. This takes more than raw hustle and getting random stuff done.

Many weeks, while we may succeed in task productivity, we fail to sufficiently advance the plot. We may console ourselves with a couple resolutions to minor aspects of our most important initiative. If we’re honest with ourselves and our teams, we need to acknowledge when the trajectory of our progress is falling well short of our biggest goals.

Further every week

Try this exercise on a Sunday evening or Monday morning:

Imagine yourself at the end of this week. What is the one thing you would be most excited to have accomplished?

These accomplishments are usually key results that allow ourselves and our teams to move on to our next goal. For leaders, they often involve reaching shared clarity. For example, “This week, we’ll have an agreed plan between all teams to launch the new feature before the end of the month.” For creatives, it could be, “We will articulate our design approach for this project, enabling component work to begin next week.” For entrepreneurs, the best accomplishments are nearly always to overcome the biggest unknown, risk or obstacle to creating a sustainable business.

If you have trouble naming even one substantial goal for the week, take time to orient yourself to your larger goals and map out the rough path toward them. There’s no need for detailed estimates or scheduling. Simply clarify the destination and what it will take to reach it.

You may find yourself naming multiple goals. Strong leaders mature to set and consistently accomplish several each week. Honestly assess your performance. If you didn’t fully accomplish any of your goals in the past week, drop back down to a single goal for the week ahead. The danger of 80%-complete goals is we often underestimate the final 20%, so while we celebrate mission accomplished, we failed to actually release ourselves and our teams to move on.

Make it happen

Everything in our modern work environments conspires against us reaching our most important goals each week. Too many priorities, too many meetings, too many notifications.

Try another thought experiment:

What would happen if a few other things slid this week as long as I completed my biggest goal?

If we’ve truly identified the most impactful thing we could accomplish this week, the impact of letting a few lesser priorities slip should pale in comparison. Acknowledging in advance that there may be emails without responses at the end of the week frees us from constantly managing our inbox. We need more than the remainders of our time and energy to reach our goals.

Practically, executing on our goals will be the subject of many future posts. It’s what Plot is designed to turn into a powerful habit. This is core approach:

  1. Schedule your priorities — Successful leaders block off time for their priorities, both in the form of collaboration with others and individual focus. Rather than letting outside forces shape our calendars and hoping we’ll get to our priorities in the margins, we take control of our time. Everything else can work around our priorities, rather than vice versa.
  2. Prepare the context — Deep work rarely comes from a cold start. A small amount of preparation allows us to engage collaboration and individual focus sessions with an agenda to guide our focus and ensure we get where we need to go. Collecting all the relevant context before, during and after each session allows us to engage quickly with everything we need. Choose one place like a Google Doc or Plot for everyone to collect inputs from conversations, messages, meetings, documents, research, and ideas that strike us and our teammates throughout the day.
  3. Do the deep work — Within the scheduled time, focus exclusively on the priority. Ruthlessly remove all distractions: phones on silent, notifications disabled. Put your agenda and context front-and-centre, whether on your screen in an individual session or on a large monitor in meetings. Use a clock or Pomodoro timer to calibrate your pace. Set aside the final minutes of the session to capture your state, identify actions to complete before the next session, and set an agenda for the next session.

We can always improve in each of these three practices. What are your biggest challenges? Have you experienced breakthroughs? As we build Plot, I’m eager to grow together as a community of leaders committed to advancing the plot.

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