leadership, tips

One SIMPLE way to improve your effectiveness

Image Source: https://www.pexels.com/@monoar-rahman-22660I’ve seen a lot of leaders struggling to wrangle everything that’s thrown at them and regain a bit of sanity in their weeks. Time and time again, I’ve seen one change have a huge impact on their ability to break the cycle. So what is it?

Block one hour each day for planning/thinking time. 

Seems simple, right? And yet, you’re probably already forming a list of reasons you can’t do it. Or you might be game now, but at the end of the week you’ll find that all your intended thinking time got gobbled up by fire drills. Am I right?

I said it was SIMPLE – not EASY. There is more to do than hours in each day, so the idea of taking an hour to simply THINK probably feels like a luxury you can’t afford. And yet, if you want to be effective, I’d argue that you must. Here’s why…

When you blindly allow your pace to match your environment, it’s like throwing gasoline on a fire. Sure, you’re getting a lot done, but how do you know it’s the RIGHT stuff? After all, as Laura Vanderkam notes in her Ted Talk, How to Gain Control of Your Free Time, “We cannot make more time, but time will stretch to accommodate what we choose to put into it.”

There’s a difference between being busy and being effective. Being effective comes back to doing the RIGHT things, not ALL the things. And unless you create time to sift through all your options and be deliberate with your choices, you’re likely to blow through your task list from top to bottom (or easiest to hardest) with a sense that you’re getting things done, but at the end of the week, you won’t have much to show for your efforts other than exhaustion.

Even worse? As a leader, part of your job is to help the people on your team focus closest to the dollar or (in the case of non-profits: the impact). If you’re not creating the space to think strategically about where that is, you’ll bury your staff in an avalanche of requests (many of them urgent) and they’ll either lose sight of the goal or burn themselves out trying to stay on top of everything that’s thrown at them. And I know you don’t want that.

So how do you maximize that hour to yourself? Here’s a STARTING place:

  • First, get clear on your priorities for the quarter, the month and the week. I would hope that the quarterly/monthly priorities are a given, but if you’ve been too busy to think about that, start there. Once you have those, each week you’ll just need to figure out your top 2-3 priorities for the week. Then check your calendar and make sure it reflects those priorities.
  • Next, think about 1-2 things you can do TODAY to advance those priorities. Set a daily goal for yourself.
  • Then, look at the meetings on your calendar (for the day or the week). Are you clear on what you need to get from or contribute to each meeting to make it a good use of time? If not, get clear or find a way to scrap or the meeting. (Think about how much you bristled at the idea of giving YOURSELF an hour each day, but how often you’re willing to give others an hour of your time without knowing there will be any ROI!)

What I’ve just outlined usually takes about 15 minutes and is critical to having days and weeks that are more intentional. If you can’t yet find an hour per day, AT LEAST commit to giving yourself 15 minutes each morning for this. I’d wager that this alone will help you reclaim other time on your calendar because it helps break the mindless cycle and maximize impact instead of just showing up.

If you decide to go whole-hog and give yourself the hour each day, that remaining 45 minutes can be used for a variety of things. My clients have found it game-changing to use that time on: strategic planning, staff development, succession planning, post-morts on recently completed projects, their own development, or reading up on industry trends, to name a few.

Try it for a week and see what you notice. Start with the gift of 15 minutes on Monday morning and see if it doesn’t change the course of your day – then stick with it and see if it doesn’t change the course of your week! It’s ironic, but the more you slow down and create space to think, the more time you’ll find you have.

Now what are you waiting for? 😉


Book Group, Resources, Review

Bite-Sized Book Review: Rework

Finally! A business book that I didn’t abandon at the 40% mark. There are three main reasons for that:

  1. It’s too short to abandon. Technically 288 pages, it’s served up as bite-sized essays with lots of illustrations and a lot of white space, so I moved through it in a breeze.
  2. It’s really well written. The authors use simple, conversational language and they don’t mince words or hide behind corporate-speak.
  3. It’s full of great advice. In challenging conventional thinking about what makes copmanies successful, the authors systematically tick through (almost) everything that has struck me as backwards about business.

Intrigued? I’m talking about Rework, by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson.

While the target audience seems to be entrepreneurs (or “starters,” as they prefer to think of them), leaders in every organization that aspires to be innovative or agile would benefit from giving this a read. It might not contain many wildly new ideas, but serves as  a kick in the pants to think about unproductive habits, beliefs and behaviors that govern most organizations, including the assumptions that bigger is always better and growth is always the goal.

This will likely join Radical Candor as a book I recommend to every leader I coach. And I can’t wait to read their next release (coming this fall), which – based on title alone – should have a pretty immediate fan base: It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work.

Nutshell: Read it. You’re welcome.

Career/Life Tips, leadership, Reflections & Questions

Guess what? It’s OK to be human.

Image source: Porapak Apichodilok

When you’re a leader – or a parent, for that matter! – the job comes with plenty of stress. And yet, every day I see people ADDING to it by holding themselves to standards that are pretty demanding. My advice to you: STOP IT!

I started to write a “Top Ten” list of bad habits that will rachet up your stress level, but I decided to take my own advice (Bad Habit #4: Overcomplicating Things) and keep it simple. Here’s the advice, as succinctly as I can make it:

No matter how hard you try, you cannot have every answer, you won’t always get it right, and your actions won’t always match your intentions. And that doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad leader. Because – and here’s the thing – YOU ARE HUMAN. Just because you’re the boss (or the parent), no one expects you to be perfect. Don’t waste precious time and emotional energy pressuring yourself to have all answers and make only the right decisions. You can’t and you won’t.

Instead, get comfortable taking criticism, be humble enough to admit your mistakes, and learn how to make a heartfelt apology. Not only will this save you a ton of angst, but it will also make you something more worthy of following: a human. 

If you’d like to see a wonderful example of this in the real world, check out this note, recently posted by the owner of a small business (Glen’s Market) that I frequent in DC. After reading it, ask yourself: would I want to shop or eat here? My guess is your answer is YES.

And your reasons (if they’re at all like mine): Because it’s obvious she cares, takes feedback seriously, and is personally connected to the business. She took something that could’ve been harmful to her business and has used it to engage with her customers and further cement their loyalty. Don’t believe me? Read the comments.

So the next time you find yourself losing sleep over work, consider the pressure you’re putting on yourself and remember: You’re human. As some wise person said, “You don’t inspire people by being perfect. You inspire them by how you deal with your imperfections.”