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How to stay focused on your priorities, in business and beyond


Happy New Year! I hope that your 2023 is off to a good start.

Now that we’re in the third week of January, you’ve had some time to get back from holiday, sort through your inbox and plan your to do list, and shake off the cobwebs as you polish off the last of the holiday cookies.

Perhaps you made some New Year’s personal resolutions this year (which, if you’re like me, may or may not be off track already), but what about your business? It’s a good time to think about your company’s goals for the year, and how you’re going to achieve them.

If you’re running a larger enterprise, you’ve probably done this. Corporate planning is often earmarked for September or October, so that the strategic plan is ready to go for January 1. (If you didn’t do this in 2022, make a note to start your strategic planning in September this year.) Any strategic plan should include a budget that’s designed with the plan in mind.

So hopefully, you’ve got the plan and the budget. Now’s a good time to consider your team—do you have the right people in the right place? Or do you need to move some people around or fill some gaps? Last March, I wrote about what happens when employees are promoted beyond their competence, and how to avoid that.

Ideally, you should have a team that’s dynamic and forward-looking, with each member able to accomplish the basics of the position effortlessly, while spending most of their time going beyond the norm to make insightful improvements, building better processes, and creating a great team environment.

Once you’ve reviewed your team’s skills, make sure that you’ve clearly communicated your plan for the year to your team. Does everyone know what they are trying to achieve, collectively? Make sure they understand the overarching goals, and their part in reaching those goals. Each team member should know what to focus on and what is less important.

That’s why last month I highlighted The Trial by Franz Kafka as a book that everyone should read. It’s a good case study on what results when people don’t understand what is happening to them. You want to aim for the opposite, and make sure that your whole team is aligned.

The corollary to that is making sure that you have an incentive plan in place that is aligned with the goals you want your company to achieve. It makes no sense to reward people for achieving goals that aren’t related to your strategic plan. If your company succeeds because of what one person did, then the person should be rewarded. It’s crazy to reward a person if the company doesn’t get rewarded or vice versa.

One formula that I have recommended for senior profit centre executives is a bonus structure that is composed of a 40% weighting on earnings before tax, a 40% weighting on cash created minus capital expenditures, a 10% weighting on measurable employee engagement, and a 10% weighting on safety. This ensures that a senior executive is not only incented to generate profit but also to maximize cash and provide attention to some “soft” targets as well. Different positions require different targets and weightings but you get the idea.

So from a corporate perspective, these are the things you want to focus on:

~ making sure you have your strategic plan and budget in place
~ making sure that you’ve got the right people in place to realize that plan
~ sharing the strategy with your team so that everyone is aligned
~ reviewing your incentive plan to make sure you are rewarding people for achieving goals that are in line with your plan.

That’s on the corporate side, but what about on your personal side?

Don’t forget that it’s important to maintain relationships outside your immediate corporate world and where you work. Now’s a great time to go through your business contacts and make a list of people you haven’t touched base with recently. Then make it a habit to call one person a week or month to set up a coffee, lunch, or dinner.

Otherwise, you run the risk of becoming totally insular. That’s when you know everything about your business or where you’re working, but little else. We’ve all been there; so focused on the day-to-day—but it can be dangerous…you can suddenly find yourself out of a job without a network.

Don’t forget to keep learning. That could be as simple as planning to read more, or more broadly, or as advanced as taking a class or learning a new skill.

And of course, making time for exercise is key, but it often gets ignored. When you’re busy, it’s too easy to make excuses. For me, too busy usually means too lazy—should I ride the bike for 20 minutes or just watch television for 20 minutes? Watching television almost always seems easier.

It can be helpful to spend two or three weeks tracking every minute of your day, logging what you do and how long you do it. This exercise isn’t about judgment or shame, it’s about auditing yourself to discover if you’re spending time on what’s most important to you and what you want to achieve.

People often get sucked into things they are comfortable doing…whether that’s busy work or processing stuff. You want to try to get to a point where you’re more strategic about your time, both at work and at home.

If you want to learn more about this, I highly recommend reading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey. He writes about how it’s easy to get trapped going from one urgent thing to another urgent thing instead of focusing on what really matters, both in business and to yourself personally.

Make this the year that you shift your focus so that you stay on track with what you’re trying to achieve in business and beyond.

Larry Smith is the founder and president of Kathbern Management, an executive search firm based in Toronto. Kathbern helps companies find the executives and senior managers who not only have the experience and credentials to fulfill their responsibilities, but also have the emotional and “fit” requirements that will enable them to be successful in a particular environment. Kathbern simplifies the process and, through deep research, brings more and better candidates forward than would ever be possible through a do-it-yourself passive advertising campaign.

 Learn more at, or contact us today for a free consultation about your key person search. Follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

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