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Focus on the Important Long Term

Important versus UrgentI read a post by Seth Godin about 2 weeks ago (his post is dated January 19, 2016) and it reminded me of back when I used to work at SAIC. He wrote about working on the urgent things that satisfies the short-term but does nothing for the important long-term. While he was really talking about the purpose of breaking news that are rarely important, I could relate to it. And I believe most finance or accounting folks work on the urgent rather than try to make time for the important long-term. It is really easy to get seduced by the urgent.

As an example of what it takes to focus on the important, let me tell a story about when I first started working for SAIC…

This was before the Great Recession. I managed to hop out of Getronics (which would implode about nine months later) and into SAIC. The environment at SAIC was very hectic with a lot coming at you. The turnover amongst the project controllers was very high. It seemed like every time we had a (monthly?) meeting, there was discussion of yet another project controller leaving the company. What the project controllers were doing was fighting fires through intense multitasking. There was a constant barrage of requests for reports, for data, do this, do that. Emails were constantly pinging. Many project controllers were trying to manage 50+ projects. When I came on, I had about 150 projects. In this environment, the project controllers were focused on the short-term requests and could not focus on long-term activities such as getting a new software in place that would satisfy Sarbanes-Oxley and potentially ease the workload. They just couldn’t get things done.

One day, early on with the company, I received a typical request for a report. I inherited a position that didn’t have a good system for producing information for all 150 projects so the person before me just produced information for those who hollered the loudest. This meant only a handful of project managers received financial information to indicate how they were doing on the project. When I received the request, I thought, “I need to set up a system to produce information for all 150 projects at the same time and in a timely and consistent manner.” How did I do this? Well,…I basically pushed everything off my plate and ignored all of the urgent pleas in order to focus on creating a reporting system. I made sure I did satisfactory work for accounting close but I ignored everything else. Even the guy who originally asked for the report, asked me again “where is my report?” I told him, “Please be patient. I’m working on it but since your idea was such a good idea, I want to create something that everybody can receive for their projects, not just your projects.”

It took a while but when it was done, a funny thing happened. The noise level from the project managers went down. They were finally getting timely and consistent information they needed that they no longer had to ask. By doing the upfront hard work to figure out an automated system, I actually carved out time to pursue other important projects. I added value by enabling project managers to manage their projects.

So always work on the important long-term things because that is where the true value comes in.

To read his post, click here.

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