In working with community organizations, one of the most common challenges I’ve encountered is the tendency to focus on what we need to do instead of why we are doing it. This happens for many good reasons; not only are all of us are struggling just to stay afloat in our work, but we also have many competing demands on our time and attention. It’s easier to simply meet each of those demands in turn and move on to the next.
The challenge here is that we focus on the activities that feel the most urgent, rather than those that will have the most impact. We also focus on ‘getting the job done,’ rather than paying attention to what the job needs to do for us, our communities, and our organizations.
I’ve included a few examples of some very different common deliverables where it’s very easy to focus on doing the task rather than delivering the benefit:
Theory of Change – Do we need all the elements of a theory of change, or do we need what the theory of change enables us to do (e.g., focus our efforts in the most promising places, coordinate and inspire a team, identify how we might track and evaluate our efforts)
Community Engagement – What do we hope to achieve by engaging community? What does ‘doing community engagement well’ look like in our context? Do our activities line up with the outcomes we hope for?
Meeting Minutes and Notes – What is most helpful and useable? Will people read a full summary of everything that was said, or are action items and core themes most important? What is needed to inspire next steps?
Of course, applying this type of thinking to every task we work on takes away time we could be spending getting things done. Instead, I find it helpful to do a quick spot-check every once in a while – sometimes daily, sometimes weekly – to see whether what I’m working on lines up with my intent. If that sounds like it might be helpful, here’s a few questions that you can use in your own spot-check:
What is the broader goal that I am working towards, and why is it important?
- How does the task I am doing right now contribute to that goal?
- What do I need to do well in this task to best contribute to that goal?
- What don’t I need to do well in this task to contribute to that goal?