When I was studying to become a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) my strategy was two pronged. First, was to attend a CMA review course with a pre-set itinerary and instructors with whom I could interact. Second, was to create an intensive study schedule that included studying for 20 – 24 hours each week in addition to attending class. In order to accomplish this, I created a strategy where I would work intensely for 45 minutes and follow it by a 15 minute break. This permitted me to stay fresh and focused for 8 – 10 hours at a stretch. This strategy worked well for me and I accomplished my goal of earning my certification and receiving a top score with just six months of preparation.
Here are a few things I learned from this endeavor.
- Strategies may need to be adjusted as you go along. When I first started studying my approach was to study for as long as I could maintain focus. On a good day I would work steadily and absorb information for as long as four hours at a stretch. On a bad day, I would top out at two or three hours. Unfortunately, recovery time once I reached burnout was frequently equal to the amount of time that I spent studying. Once I adjusted my studying to 45 minutes on, 15 minutes off, I found that I could study almost indefinitely without ever reaching burnout.
- Strategy only works well when you know who you are as a person (for a personal strategy) or ‘who’ your company is as a business. As an individual I find it easy to focus for long periods of time. In fact, the 15 minute approach advocated by many productivity professionals does not work well for me. I tend to start off slowly and only begin to churn out the work after I’ve been working for 10 – 20 minutes. On the other hand, I have friends that produce their best work in the first 15 – 20 minutes. Their approach to studying would have been much different than mine.
- What you say ‘no’ to is as important as what you say ‘yes’ to. For six long months I said no to a multitude of invitations, opportunities, and distractions. I said yes to eating lunch at my desk every day with the door closed so I could study. I said no to joining my coworkers on Friday outings. I said yes to getting up early on Saturday mornings to attend classes and no to watching most of my favorite television shows. (OK – my very favorite ones I taped and watched during my 15 minute breaks.)
These same rules that I learned as an individual strategist apply just as aptly to business strategy.
- Strategies are not set in stone (or at least the best ones are not.) It’s important to have a goal or set destination of where you are heading and how you plan to get there. It’s just as important to remain flexible to new developments and opportunities. There is a balance here that is maintained by…
- Knowing ‘who’ your company is as a business. This knowledge comes from defining your company’s vision, mission, values, and operating guidelines. Together, they form a framework that defines not only what the company stands for, but also what it does, for whom it does it, and why.
- In other words, the vision, mission, values, and operating guidelines help you to determine when to say yes and when to say no, enabling you to stop chasing shiny baubles (distractions that appears to be opportunities).
These three concepts are core to creating any strategy and to thinking strategically. So I encourage you to continue to clarify ‘who’ your company is, stay flexible, and be prepared to say no more often than you say yes.
Have a great day!