A common struggle for those emerging into leadership is transitioning from doing to leading while doing. Here’s the dilemma. You come into the organization with a solid work ethic and a fresh perspective. You work hard, get things done, and make the team better. This gets the attention of leadership, so you’re given opportunities to manage projects and/or people and suddenly you find yourself with more responsibility and the same work load you had before. Sound like your story? This article is for you.
Over my 20 years of leadership, I’ve had to learn how to set myself up for success and leave time in my routine to support those I lead, and for unforeseen distractions. Because the reality is no matter how well you organize your time, if you lead people, you will get sidetracked. To make sure I’m available to my team members, I need to be “on” every day. It’s a stewardship that comes with leadership, I owe it to my team.
There are a few key areas I focus on to max out my productivity, but before we get started, please hear this. You have to be intentional about this for 30-45 days until it becomes habit. Like your fitness routine or healthy diet, it’s easy to start but difficult to maintain. Train yourself to focus on these things as you start each day, and put whatever guardrails you need in place to keep your focus there. After a month or two, you’ll have it down and you’ll know quickly when you’re getting off track. Here are 4 suggestions to get you going:
- Plan my day: my first meeting every morning is a 7:15 huddle with the VPs of our company. I arrive 30 minutes before that meeting to chart out my entire day. This consists of reviewing my calendar and my task list, and prioritizing what I need to get done. If you have the ability to suggest programs for your organization, I recommend Asana. Not only can I organize and sort my tasks, but I can delegate tasks to other people while keeping those tasks in front of me in order to hold them accountable. This can be done without a fancy program, but the important thing is that you prioritize your tasks and mark them off when you complete them. There’s a psychological effect to literally checking the task off the list, and it reinforces the effort to accomplish all you need to get done.
- Eliminate unforced distractions: The number one addiction in our country is the smart phone. Texts, social media, news and sports apps, etc. The phone causes huge leaks in productivity because we typically make it quick. We check Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, then get back at it. The problem is we do that so many times a day it adds up, and we don’t even notice. Train yourself to limit these distractions to a couple of times a day, and set the expectations with your team to do the same. Turn off notifications on any apps that aren’t necessary for your work day. For younger leaders who have grown up with technology, this may be a tough habit to break, but it won’t take long to see the impact of the time you’ll gain back. Here’s a little tip to help you grow: instead of checking out social media, replace that 10 minutes by reading an article about leadership. There’s a great way to separate yourself from the pack in the eyes of your leaders.
- Avoid the email vortex: I wholeheartedly believe you train people how to communicate with you by how often you check email during the day. You pull up your inbox and check a message or two, and before long you get sucked in. Then you wonder where the last hour went. And worse, virtually none of messages you checked were urgent, were they? Three quick points here: 1) I only check email a couple of times a day. It was painful at first, but after a few weeks of doing it I trained our entire organization that email wasn’t a great way to get me if a quick response was needed. Now most of my email communication is with outside people, and it’s never urgent. 2) Set expectations within your organization on how people can best get your attention based on the situation. My teams know if it’s urgent, shoot me a text or we also use Slack. If it’s not urgent, they can email me and I’ll get to it at some point that day. 3) I think it’s Amanda Holmes that says “touch it once”. If you click on the email message, do something with it immediately to keep your promise to yourself to stay focused. Either toss it, hand it off, or handle it, but only touch it once.
- Develop a solid meeting rhythm: The higher up in leadership you get, the more meetings you’ll find yourself sitting in. People hate meetings, but some meetings really are necessary. It’s on you to find a rhythm that is efficient for you and your team, so everyone can still get work done. Here’s how I’ve used meeting rhythm to my advantage:
- Daily huddle – I have a few of these each day, one with our VPs and one each with other areas I lead. These are quick daily meetings that keep me up to speed on the main things our leaders have in front of them, where they may need my support, and how they’re doing on the tasks I’ve given them. This meeting done well will also give your team your undivided attention for the duration, and the result is fewer times they need to interrupt you during the course of the day (because they know they’ll see you in tomorrow’s huddle). Over time, you’ll see this meeting really free up your day. Yes, a meeting that actually makes you more efficient. It has to be seen to be believed, so do it!
- Weekly team meeting – This meeting is once a week, for 30 minutes to one hour. This meeting is department/team specific, and I use the time to make everyone aware of company news, hires or transition of people, upcoming vacations, etc. This is also my opportunity to pull out the scoreboard and discuss any metrics we’re tracking that the team is accountable for. You’ll find this meeting will be where you can read the vibe of the people, see what additional training you might need to arrange, and learn how well the organization is communicating across divisions or departments. Prepare an agenda and stay on point. Start and end on time, and your team will look forward to this meeting rather than dread it.
- Be attentive in meetings you aren’t leading – Because you’ve learned to limit the distraction of your phone, you’ll find you are more attentive in meetings as a participant. As one of the top leaders in our company, I’m always watching who is paying attention and who isn’t. In your very next meeting, do the same thing. You’ll be surprised how many people look down at their phone or smart watch every minute or so. Lead by example by paying attention, because as you climb the ladder, you’ll expect others to show you the same respect.
The ideas above aren’t the only good ones, but they’ve worked well for me. They take time, so put them into your daily routine and stick with them. As a new leader, you’re constantly looking for ways to stand out and make an impact. When you set up good routines and disciplines, you WILL get more done and lead others to get more done. And take it from someone who develops people every day, that’s the baseline for what executives are looking for in the next generation of leaders. Do this well and you WILL get noticed. To prove to yourself and others how effective these steps can be for you, track your time for several weeks and look back at your progress. I have no doubt you’ll be shocked at how much time you no longer waste.
Note: if you would like more information on the programs we use to help with communication and task management, let me know in the comments or by message. We’ve got no secrets so I’m happy to help point you to what works for us.