Many years ago I had a boss who had a catch phase he played back to business stakeholders when they wanted to do major projects “It will require 50% of your time. So is that mornings or afternoons?”.

Of course, in reality, this never did happen. But it is the truth. To get things done you need to dedicate the time and effort, and not be distracted with other things. This is true in business as it is in your personal life.

Clearing away distractions is critical when you want to achieve a successful outcome.

I see there are a two of types of distractions:

Operational – the day to day work going on in your life and business, that is required to keep the lights on.

Structural – I also call these emotional distractions, such as people issue, financial problems, internal politics.

How many times have you been part of a project that just seems to stall because of lack of progress or decisions? The people who need to do the work are working on operational issues, and decisions makers canceling meetings last minute. It’s really frustrating. Often it is ourselves that are guilty, and we are stopping delivery.

We all work in busy jobs and finding the time to do those important projects gets in the way of operational and day to day running of the business. In my case, right now, the time to find new clients at the same time as working with clients is always a double edged sword.

Clearing the runway for a few hours or days is often possible, but with large projects it often means focussing on things for weeks and months.

Clearing Operational Issues

I often use a couple of techniques to allow me to focus on the important things that are not my day to day things, but things I need to do to achieve long term objectives – such as growth, efficiencies or new processes and systems.

Blocking Time – use your diary carefully. Depending on what you are doing block out time specifically for the type activity you need to get done, not too many. I often use Strategic, Sales, Client Work. You can choose your own, but it really helps me ensure I focus on the important things (longer term), as well as the urgent things (short term).

Succession Planning – this is tricky to do in smaller organisations, but in larger organisations it’s a great way to build bench and coach people. It does take some investment in people, but it does allow you to step away to focus on other more important activities than the day to day. It is critical to get people to make decisions without you, on your behalf. You also need to plan this in advance for when you do need to ‘clear that diary’.

Delegate Commodity Activities – this is something I do a lot. Smaller compartmentalised activity is easy to move out to someone, even outsourcing it. Think about all things you actually could give to someone else. It could be something as simple as responding social media, diary management. It requires you to let go and trust someone (or something) – but do it and get rid of that distraction.

Recognising Structural (and emotional) Distractions

There are also other distractions that prevent a business from doing things, from delivering change and success. They take less (or sometimes none of you time) but they do hinder clear thinking. These are much are more challenging. The first rule here is to recognise they exist, denial is often the first and last response – they litter the runway like hidden craters – there is no chance of take-off. They are often emotional and we do nothing about them, because we don’t want to talk about them. Sometimes we feel we can’t talk about them.

I don’t know about you, but when I’ve been distracted with something, something as simple as a headache, my mind is not able focus on the task at hand. This is the same in business – if there is a problem with leadership, business model, cash flow or debt, talent, moral, lack of space, or simple not enough resource available to deliver the day to day – you can’t do those big important things when these are all distracting you. We put off dealing with them because they are difficult and challenging. We sometimes even put of the simple things like taking paracetamol – “it will go” – when we can just deal with it. Clearing away the structural things is critical. You have to remove them, just like you need to free up your time to focus. Thinking about them (or other people thinking about them) means you can’t focus on what you really need to do.

Capture The Issues – making a list of the structural business (and emotional) issues is a useful exercise. What do you need to resolve before you proceed? Are people motivated? Can you refinance? Can you provide training for a team? What is clouding up your mind that is stopping you or your organisation performing a certain activity?

You can’t fix these structural issues, unless you acknowledge them – and it might be these are the issues you really need to work on and confront, rather than the big idea you had in the first place?


I can think of many times in my life when I cleared the runway to success – I can reflect on one crucial time in my personal life when I was juggling so many things it was stopping me achieving a happy outcome in my life. Clearing away things that were not important was critical to succeeding, removing the structure and emotional distractions took many months – but having the clear runway led to a change that transformed my life for the better.

In business and working in organisations, I advocate the “morning or afternoons”. I also encourage people to talk honestly about what is holding their organisation back. What are those structural issues that clutter the runway, and consistently mean a project is late, not fit for purpose, or worst still continues endlessly without any prospect of delivery.

As businesses, as people, we can only do a few things really good at one time. When we must do something outstanding – clearing the runway is essential.