Categories: Leadership, Time Management, Work Life Balance
- Anita promotes Ed to a leader of leaders position from a position leading a small team of individual contributors.
- Ed is excited about the increase in responsibility and is determined to show Anita he can handle the job.
- Ed’s calendar gets bombarded with meetings and his to-do list grows.
- Ed’s leadership team grows dismayed with Ed’s lack of responsiveness, urgent 3 a.m. email requests, and canceled one-on-ones.
- Ed’s daughter is disappointed with dad missing yet another Saturday soccer game.
- Ed misses a critical deliverable for Anita, forcing her to have an uncomfortable discussion with her boss. Anita takes the blame, not wanting to throw Ed under the bus.
- Anita’s offers to coach Ed go unheeded because Ed is too busy to be coached.
- Anita makes the difficult decision to tell Ed he will be demoted back to his old job.
- Ed decides to leave the company for another job, rather than get demoted.
- Nine months later at his new company, Ed gets promoted and repeats steps two through nine. Wash, rinse, repeat.
The Message: Unfortunately, Ed’s situation is all too common for those scaling up to a leader of leaders role. Increases in demands can’t be met simply by working longer and harder; at some point, an important commodity—time--dries up, because the leader can’t get everything done and keep balance. Just like the little pig that built the brick house the big bad wolf couldn’t blow down; the leader needs to build strong time-management skills early so he can better scale to the demands a leader of leaders faces. Waiting to become a leader of leaders (or worse, not building strong time management skills at all) means the leader won’t be sustainable as a scaled-up leader.
Want to get better at time management? Give these nine time-management habits a look:
- Express to-dos in terms of deliverables – I like to think of this as “do vs. done.” What needs to be produced for the to-do to be satisfied? It could be a presentation, email, or meeting notes. Articulating the deliverable helps you better focus on what has to happen to satisfy the deliverable and reduce distractions in getting to “done.”
- Stop at good enough – When defining your deliverable, think of the minimum requirement that needs to be met, create your deliverable to meet the requirement, then STOP. Spending extra over-achiever time on a deliverable only means you have less time to work on other things. Under-promise and over-deliver is fertile ground for wasted time. Be clear on what you need to produce, do it, then move on to the next deliverable.
- Put anything that consumes your time on your calendar – Most people I’ve worked with use their calendars pretty much exclusively for meetings and treat time to get things done as off-calendar activity. Bad move. If something consumes time in your day, it deserves to be scheduled in your calendar. I schedule everything, including work time, personal activities, socializing with friends, exercise time, and family commitments.
- Immediately schedule short-term to-dos on your calendar – Suppose you are given an action item to produce an important deliverable by end of the week, and you accept the item without any idea when you’ll get it done. As a result, you’re not only likely to work extra hours, but the deadline hangs over your head. Put it in your calendar right away with a realistic estimate of how long it will take. This may mean moving other lower-priority things around or could mean additional hours, but at least you’ve scheduled the work in.
- Block out some regular time to work on important but not urgent tasks – I’d place a wager that you’ve got a list of action items you’d like to get done but never get the time to do. Block out some time on your calendar on a recurring basis to work on the important but not urgent items.
- Put a “what I got done” meeting on your calendar at the end of your work week – On Monday mornings I plan out what I want to get done by the end of the week, then put a Friday 5 p.m. meeting on my calendar listing out those things I committed to getting done. Just remember to schedule the time during the week to get those items done.
- Be realistic about what you put on your calendar – If you schedule time for a task on your calendar thinking there’s not a snowball’s chance in a hot oven you’ll get it done, you’re setting yourself up for failure. You need to respect your calendar as credible, otherwise, you won’t follow it. Be realistic about how long something will take.
- Reward yourself with a bit of blue-sky time – I have a two-hour recurring appointment in my calendar that I call “blue-sky time.” I can use my blue-sky time however I want; maybe it’s working on an idea for a new book, going to Costco, meeting a friend for coffee, or watching a movie. Yours may be longer or shorter or a different frequency; it’s totally up to you.
- You own your calendar, it doesn’t own you – Look, stuff happens that may mean you’ve got to defer a meeting, move a deliverable or burn the midnight oil. By all means, move things around, but make sure you’re not chronically pushing things off due to poor planning.
The Consequences: By not taking intentional action to manage your time, your consequences could include:
- You’re less effective – Not managing your calendar well means you get less done, it takes longer to get things done, or you steal time from other areas of your life to get things done.
- You’re not sustainable – As you continue to scale as a leader and your problems get bigger, the importance of keeping a disciplined calendar grows. I’ve seen way too many leaders burn out when they took bigger jobs because they didn’t have good time-management skills and worked harder versus smarter.
- You’re limiting your own advancement – When a leader’s time looks out of control, his promotability can be impacted. The leader’s boss could see him as incapable of handling additional responsibility if he is already hanging on by a thread.
- You’re negatively impacting your succession plan – If a leader’s followers see the leader with a poor quality of life, difficulty keeping up with commitments, or chronically missing meetings, why would they want a job that looks miserable? Attracting the very best as a successor means making the job look sustainable.
The Next Steps:
- Commit to getting better at time management.
- Get an “as-is” picture by putting everything that consumes time in your calendar.
- Assess yourself using the nine time-management habits and decide which ones you need to work on.
- Pick the top three habits and commit to working on them, then the next three, and so on.
- Don’t slip back into old habits, particularly when things get really busy.