You have ten strategic projects, a twenty-five person staff with their own problems, three supplier agreements to negotiate, and an ever-growing laundry list of other things that you need to do. Although the idea of taking a break seems appealing, finding the time seems unrealistic. And what would you do if you did take a break?
Perhaps taking a break would be a good time to review your purpose. We are not talking about some great purpose in life, such as a trek to Tibet to discover some deeper spiritual meaning. What we are talking about is taking a step back to evaluate if what you are doing is working towards your personal or organizational purpose.
Defining a purpose
The concept of defining a single purpose is a bit misleading. Many people have two purposes: they have both a personal and an organizational purpose. The personal purpose is what they want to make of their lives. The organizational purpose is what the organization wants and needs from them.
A personal purpose is something that most people develop over time. It is something inside of them that tells them what they want to do and how they want to do it. The real challenge is that personal purpose shifts and adapts as we live our lives.
My personal purpose, for instance, is to be an enabler. This means that my personal goal is to enable people to reach their fullest potential. Consequently, the things that I do that fulfill me the most are things that develop the people with whom I work. For others, the goal is to excel at their job. Still others are committed to excelling at a hobby, or being a parent, or being a community servant. The actual purpose is not really important. It is in understanding your personal purpose that is the key.
Organizational purpose shifts, as well; however, organizational purpose is usually driven externally, whereas personal purpose is driven internally. Organizational purpose is often driven primarily by your role in the organization, but in some cases, such as in "Special Projects," your role may not be very well defined. I once had the title of "Special Projects." For a few months, the organization needed me to put together a framework for reducing obsolete and excess inventory. For the next few months I was automating our direct import business.
Titles more frequently, however, help to define your organizational purpose. For instance, a director of development is focused on making the development processes work within the organization. However, it is sometimes necessary to dig a bit deeper to understand not only what the organization expects from you, but also the mark that you can leave on the organization.
Determining the mark that you will leave on the organization is no small or trivial task. No 15-minute coffee break or 1,200-word article is going to lead you to this answer. You are going to need some time to yourself. For most people, this must be focused time; it cannot be commute time or a 15-minute break between meetings.
The good news is that, once you have taken the time to find your purpose and how you can make a difference, it takes substantially less time to make sure that your purpose is still appropriate for you and for the organization.
Purpose has to be tempered by your abilities and skills. This may not change your overall purpose, but it may affect how you fit into the organization. One of my skills is the ability to write. Because of that, I can fulfill my personal purpose of enabling others through writing documentation, position papers, and articles like this one for my peers. My organizational purpose is, therefore, well aligned with my personal purpose. My current role is one of enabling and developing staff so that they can be more effective at serving our clients' needs.
When considering our purpose, we must evaluate whether we have the right skills mix or sufficient skills to fulfill our personal and organizational purposes. Even as we assess our skills, we must evaluate what skills can be developed. By identifying your purpose, you can identify which skills you need to work on and the amount of effort that you must expend in order to learn those skills. If you were to go back and speak with my sixth grade English teacher she's probably have a heart attack if you told her I was a professional writer. Learning to write is a skill I developed because it was important to my personal goals.
Sticking to purpose
Having a purpose and integrating it into daily life can often be two different things. There is a delicate balance between doing the things that you must do every day to "keep the wheels on the cart" and doing those things which truly fulfill your purpose. One of the ways that you can seek to incorporate your purpose(s) into your day-to-day activities is by integrating your purpose into routine tasks.
For me, this means taking the time to explain to my team why we are doing something. It means helping them to understand the factors at work and not just the actions that are expected of them. This takes a bit more time; however, it fulfills my purpose within the organization and my personal purpose of enabling while handling my day-to-day activities.
When I spend long periods of time in an assignment where I am not fulfilling my purpose, I will shift my working arrangement accordingly. For instance, while working with a client for an extended engagement, it was clear that I was serving a critical technical role for them; however, it was equally clear that there was not an opportunity for me to develop their staff or our internal staff. That engagement was terminated to allow me to work with others in ways that would allow me to train, challenge, and develop them.
Reevaluating all of your tasks
With purpose sometimes comes the ability to see clearly which of the day-to-day tasks can be reassigned. While they may still need to be done, it may be that you are not the right person to do them. Maybe there is a need within the organization that you cannot fill that needs to be filled. Maybe you need to challenge someone else to fill that role or, perhaps, you need to find someone else to join the team to perform that task.
For instance, if you are CIO in a relatively small IT shop, one of your tasks may be keeping up with new technologies. However, your organizational purpose may primarily be to stabilize the operation of core systems and reduce costs. With that focus you are not likely to be able to evangelize new technologies. Perhaps you need someone within your organization that can integrate new technologies into the organization, when appropriate.
Other kinds of tasks you may find are unnecessary. Developing relationships with area consulting organizations may be one example. If you know that your organization is trying to focus on internal reliability, it may not be necessary to develop relationships with consulting organizations that do application development. This may not be something that would be beneficial based on the current organizational purpose.
Stop. Take a breath. Take another. Step away from the tasks at hand to think about what you want to do as a person and what you want to do for your organization in order to make the time that you do spend more productive.