You know the situation well. You’re rushing to work in the morning after having knocked off a few urgent emails over breakfast. Traffic irritates you for being slow (even although it’s likely to be as slow as it normally is). When you arrive at the office you immediately turn on your computer to see if there are any more urgent emails since you walked from the car park. You check voicemail. You meet your boss in the corridor who shares with you the latest issue of the day. You then grab a coffee, run back to your office ready to have a fun, productive and stimulating day. Then you realize you forgot to breathe - phew! Sound familiar?
Then the fun really begins. You read a few more emails and maybe check social media (just in case), quickly review your calendar for the day (which is mostly filled with meetings) and realize that you’ve finished your coffee. Hhhmn - time for another quick coffee - absolutely! You run to the cafeteria, have a few impromptu meetings along the way, head to your scheduled meetings, grab a sandwich for lunch so you can eat at your desk or another at meeting, of course another coffee and a ‘little chocolate treat’ mid-afternoon to keep your energy up. Then its 5pm and you haven’t even looked at email. Damn - better do that tonight after dinner. Oh the life of a busy Executive.
What amazes me is how so many really smart people never take a few minutes just to stop and ask themselves, “What am I doing?” and “Is there a better, more productive and more efficient approach?” For many years as a busy VP of Sales for a publicly-traded company I would be so busy during the day, that on the drive home in the evening I seriously could not remember what I did that day - but I knew I was super busy and had to be effective since I never had a minute free! Sound familiar?
Actually it’s incredibly common amongst Executives and senior managers. Somehow ‘the system’ seems to pull you in and of course expectations somehow have to be managed by saying yes to everyone. Days come and go, then weeks, and then months and years. But what have you really achieved? What will people remember as YOUR contribution?
The normal modus operandi when I start to coach Executives, CEO’s or senior managers goes like this: we meet every two weeks for two hours for the coaching sessions. We discuss some cool topics, and then the coachee takes a few actions to be completed over the coming two weeks. We meet again, but unfortunately the actions are not completed. This cycle goes on for two or three sessions until the coachee realizes they don’t have time for the actions since they are so busy. Bingo! They realize they are so busy they don’t have time to improve themselves, allow essential strategic thinking time, or even just take a 10-min break for themselves during the day. No wonder they always appear stressed! So here are some of the tips that seem to get these highly stressed leaders right-sized quickly, with some much needed “free time”, and the start of helping them to put a genuine smile on their face during work hours.
1. “Only do what only you can do”- this is the best piece of coaching advice I ever received and one that changed my approach to leadership. Simply put, if there is someone else in your organization or team who can do what is on your plate right now, then get them to do it. Delegate, empower, action - whatever it takes. This will free you up considerably to concentrate on the things that ONLY YOU CAN DO!
2. Apply time-bucket methodology - imagine that you have pre-determined chunks of time for work, hobbies, family, relaxation, etc. Now as with most people the hungry monster called work often requires more time. To be a master time-balancer, and respect your time-bucket decisions, if you use up more time for work and (say) take that time from family time (most common), then commit to rebalancing over the coming weeks by reducing work time in favour of family time to equalize the buckets again. Sounds a bit crazy, but your life will take some big strides forward if you do!
3. Only book up 80% of your time - work life will always supply opportunities and challenges seemingly “at the last minute”. This is actually quite normal and when you realize this, you can come to expect, and actually welcome, it. To ensure that these ‘unexpected’ events don’t completely throw out your calendar and cause lots of schedule-shuffling, consider only booking your time up to 80% of available, and leaving the 20% for the inevitable last minute requests. You’ll feel better you did!
4. Measure and reflect - by taking time periodically to review where and how you have spent your time, you will quickly uncover patterns. Now apply this time analysis to output achieved - this can be quite illuminating, and will surely alert you to even more time saving options.
5. Implement the 80/20 Rule - simply put my best business rule. Through a little analysis you can identify the 20% of your time that drives 80% of your results. Once you know this, see how you can immediately reduce some of the 80% activities, and instead increase the high-leverage 20% activities. Its a surefire way of increasing performance. Trust me when I say this works for every level in a company right up to the CEO!
6. Know what defines your role and over-deliver - as a VP of Sales I was responsible for the company revenue attainment. At the end of the day this was (literally) the only thing that really mattered. Its what the investors, Board, CEO, Executive management team, and in fact all the employees cared about. Once you identify what your key metric is, then ensure you are spending at least 80% of your time delivering it. Anything less is not acceptable!
7. Conquer email - if you get a large number of emails per day (most people do) then develop a world-class, robust way of quickly processing them. There’s lots of tricks out there (maybe for a future article), that when diligently applied, will save you vast amounts of time. If in doubt just Google it!
8. Say “No!” - its only a 2-letter word but the most powerful one to manage and control your time. Focus on what’s important and learn to say “No” confidently and often. Think of “Yes” and “No” as two sides of the same coin and consider saying one as often as the other.
The benefits of doing the above are plentiful. They include regaining life balance once more and putting work in its proper perspective. It’s about focusing on the work opportunities that really make a difference to your company. It’s about regaining your personality again, and being able to genuinely and authentically lead your team. It’s about bringing the fun and exciting elements back to your career again. It’s about feeling good about saying “No!” It’s about achieving a lot more in a lot less time!