Short-term Versus Long-term Thinking
Recently, a professional friend of mine asked me "How do I know if I'm achieving the correct split of my time, energy, and effort between short-term needs and long-term goals?"
It's a great question, and at the time I didn't have a great answer.
Balancing short term commitments and long-term strategy is a constant balancing act for business leaders. You feel the need to command and drive the frenetic pace of day-to-day operations, but you should also be thinking "strategic thoughts" to give your team a vision and purpose.
At times, maintaining the balance can seem like standing on an unsteady seesaw (with your hands full, during a windstorm, after a few drinks). With such competing demands on your time and energy, how can you know you're achieving the right balance?
Testing Your Long-term and Short-term Balance
To know if I'm spending the right amount of time on each, I ask myself the following control questions:
1. Do I know what future I want for my business?
2. Will I survive long enough to see that future?
If the answer to either of these questions is "No" then I have a problem and I need to re-evaluate how I'm dividing my focus between short and long-term tasks and thinking.
Living on the Extremes
Similarly, I've been asked before if it is possible to be completely short term or long term in your thinking and still be doing the right thing?
My answer: of course it is (but it's extremely rare).
In most cases, if you are 100% dedicated to short-term thinking, or 100% dedicated to long-term thinking, your business is headed for an unforeseen disruption (that's a bad thing).
However, there are at least two scenarios I can think of where this extreme divide is warranted:
- You are just starting out and the actual business direction is unclear (you are 100% focused on the long term). In this situation, your business is just beginning so the long-term needs are the short-term needs.
- Your business is in chaos and likely will not have a future unless it is fixed ASAP (you are 100% focused on the short term). Here, if you don't focus 100% on fixing the current disaster, you won't survive to see the future. Therefore, the long-term plan is just to survive.
Like I said, these situations are the rare extremes, but they can certainly happen.
Another question I've received in the past is "What is the correct percentage of time I should spend on strategic things?"
To this question, I always answer "It depends" but I should add "so just relax". Chances are, as long as you're not 100% focused on either (except for the above scenarios) then you're probably doing just fine.
If you can confidently answer "Yes" to the two control questions then I would stop worrying about it. If you cannot, start tweaking your time allotment on either side until you can answer "Yes". In my experience, agonizing over the exact perfect split is not a valuable use of your time as a leader.
Take care, and I'll talk to you next time.