As an executive, we have two assets which rival as to which is most valuable to us. Both our time and our team are the two most critical components in achieving our objectives, personally and collectively. Recently, while working with two Presidents who ‘job share’ the top leadership role in a multi-billion dollar division of an international company, the issue of simply ‘not having enough time’ was the hot topic of our joint session. Despite sharing the job responsibilities, this issue was putting them at risk of burnout, lack of performance sustainability, and potentially losing their health or worse – their families. Thus, mastering the art of getting the greatest return on our time is no longer a nicety – it is a requirement.
As true transformational leaders, in order to accomplish our mission, it is critical we spend our time doing the right things. We know this; yet, we often struggle with what is most important, how to prioritize, and how to keep our eye on the ball when distractions arise which they invariably do.
A few thoughts to consider and discipline ourselves around:
1. Manage and filter the interruptions
I recently read an article which touted that we spend only about 10 minutes on a task before we are interrupted by various issues. How can we curb these interruptions? What if we turned off our phones, asked our team to do the same, and instill a mutual respect for ‘sacred time’ to actually get work done? What if we actually say ‘no’ when these distractions arise? I know what you are thinking, how can we say no to our bosses? I am certainly not suggesting that is the standard answer every time; however, there are scenarios in which we must say no. A book I have found especially helpful, The Power of the Positive No by William Ury, gives excellent tips on how to say ‘yes’ while saying ‘no,’ while preserving a strong relationship with the other party. This book is well worth checking out.
2. Stop the multi-tasking.
There are numerous studies which actually state that multi-tasking is one of the worst things we can do to maintain brain health. The sad reality is that the trend for multi-tasking is going up not down. With the increase of smart phontes, email, texting, working mothers, and the quest for ‘work/life balance,’ the quest for balance has led to just doing more at one time, versus prioritizing and saying ‘no.’ One study has actually stated that our IQ’s can fall as much as 10 points, when we are juggling so many projects. Of course, that leads to ineffective leadership, production, and overall results. We need to make a commitment to stop the multi-tasking. We need to focus. We need to choose one project to work on at a time. Have one centered conversation at a time. Leave our phones in the car or at least turn it off when meeting or visiting with another person. Show them the respect they deserve, and that we would want, if we were in their shoes.
3. Focus and stay disciplined to the chosen priorities.
This is where it gets tough. Everyone is pulling on us to do ‘this, that, or the other’ now! I get it. What I know for sure is that if we allow everyone else’s priorities to dictate 100% how and when we spend our time, we will never get where we want to go. Period. We have to be ruthlessly determined to focus on what we believe we need to do to achieve our goals. We have to plant our flag as to where we are going, determine our plans and our goals on how we are going to get there, and then, publicly state where and how we are going to spend our time to get there. By stating the ‘what and the how’ of where we are going publicly, it makes it much easier to say ‘no’ when distractions arise.
4. Feng shui your office and your mind.
This is probably the single most effective way to help clarify where to spend your time. Recently, I spent time (yes, the asset in which we are discussing) completely clearing out my office, my outdated files, and my next month and Q4 plans for the remainder of 2014. I found myself struggling to keep up with all the projects I have underway, and my ‘piles’ and ‘folders’ were simply not working for me anymore. I was frustrated, stressed out, and was working every weekend trying to keep up. Sure, we all have our way of organizing, which is up to you. My point is to do it. Organizing papers, searching for contacts and not having a clear way to find information can simply exhaust and zap our mojo. Recently, I revisited Stephen Covey’s First Things First to develop a leadership development workshop, and it was a fabulous refresher.
At the end of the day, it takes guts to make the hard calls as to where to spend our time, and when to say ‘no.’ It is all about declaring where we want to go, what are the few key things we must do to get there, and prioritizing how we will get these things done. Then, we must continue to verbalize this to ourselves and our troops to keep us focused, committed and to avoid the distractions which are guaranteed to present themselves.