Peter Drucker once said, “If you cannot manage yourself for effectiveness, you cannot expect to manage others”.
Drucker also taught me the most important time-management lesson of all. He said, “Two hours a day working in isolation is usually enough time to get the important things done”, and, “The problem is, most leaders don’t have the discipline to set aside 2 hours, and they let ‘busywork’ take over”.
Carve out and fiercely protect 2 hours of uninterrupted time every day to do “The One Thing” (the most important thing you need to get done today/this week).
I call them my “Magic 2 Hours”, and ideally, they happen first thing in the morning. It might be 2 hours at home, in a café, in a meeting room, wherever I will not be disturbed. This time-management lesson has been responsible for most of the progress I have made in my career.
Block out your “Magic 2 hours” in your calendar every day so it is carved in stone.
Here is a collection of other tips I have learned over the years to improve leadership productivity:
Avoid wasting time at meetings.
- Hell yeah? or No? If you are not saying “Hell Yeah” about your attendance at a meeting, say “No”
- If you are invited to a meeting, ask yourself, “Do I need to attend that meeting?” Or is it a better use of your time to review the meeting notes and decisions after the meeting? This decision can be a catalyst to train your team to dramatically upgrade the quality of note-taking and decision making in your absence
- If you are running a meeting, ask yourself, do you really need to have this meeting at all, or can the agenda be dealt with asynchronously via email/instant message platform?
- Only invite those who absolutely must be at a meeting to discuss and make decisions on the topics on the agenda. No passengers!
- Use my 5 P’s of Productive Meetings. Create an agenda to define the purpose of the meeting, and the specific topics to be discussed, and send the agenda out with a reasonable notice period so people can come prepared and ready to contribute. Prioritize the agenda so the most important issues are dealt with first
- Make a clear decision as to what the next action step is for each agenda item. Even if you only solve 1 issue on the agenda, assign a task to move all the other items forward in some way
- Capture each task in your software tool of choice and follow up to make sure it gets done by the due date. You get what you inspect. I have a saying: “Successful Business Execution is 20% giving people clarity about what needs to be done, and 80% following up to make sure it actually gets done”
Avoid being interrupted by phone calls, email, instant messages.
- Turn off alerts on your email and instant message platform (on both your laptop and mobile device) during your “Magic 2 hours” while you take action on “The One Thing”
- Schedule designated times of the day to read and reply to emails/messages.
- Turn off phone calls during your “Magic 2 hours”. If you have an Executive Assistant, ask for all phone calls to be held during this time
- Batch all your phone messages and return your calls at designated times every day
- If you must answer a phone call when you are in the middle of a task, let the caller know you are busy, and schedule a return call later that day
Avoid being interrupted by staff dropping by your desk.
- Close your door if you have an office, or if you work in an open-plan environment wear headphones and post a “do-not-disturb” sign at your desk for the duration of your “Magic 2 hours”
- An “open-door policy” can severely reduce productivity if not well managed. Let people know your “office hours” – the dedicated block of time during the day when you are available for anyone to drop in (I usually schedule “office hours” at the end of the day)
- If people come up to you outside of office hours, ask for a brief overview of what they want to discuss. If it is going to take more than 5 minutes, book a time for it on your calendar. Booking time in your calendar lets people know that, while you are busy right now, you view their issue as important (and it increases the likelihood they will come prepared with solutions when you do meet to discuss it). Chances are they will learn to solve the issue themselves in the meantime.
Bite your tongue! Put a stop to “reverse delegation”.
- Beware the phenomena known as “reverse delegation.” This is where a team member gets in the habit of coming to you with every problem or opportunity and asks, “What do you think?” Your subconscious urge will be to provide your recommendation, or even make the decision for them. Your ego gets stroked because you get to play “the expert”. It feels good. I call it “chasing the bone”. Someone throws you the bone, and you go galloping off to fetch it like a good dog. You bring it back with your tail wagging. You get to feel like a hero. Mission accomplished.
- But if you are their manager or team leader, I suggest you are making a big mistake without realizing it. You unwittingly make the person dependent on you for problem-solving and decision-making. You are missing a valuable coaching opportunity to grow the capabilities of the person.
- You have become the victim of “reverse delegation.” Your people won’t learn how to think through the issues and make decisions because it’s easier to come to you. And when people become dependent on you for decision-making, this makes you a bottleneck to company growth.
- Here are my recommendations for how to “throw the bone” back to them, by using the GROW method to coach the person to think through the issues and solve the problem themselves
Which of these actions above are you going to take (and discuss with your team) this week to increase your leadership productivity?
Until next time…
Stephen Lynch is the author of the award-winning book; “Business Execution for RESULTS: A practical guide for leaders of small to mid-sized firms” winner in the “Management” category of the 2014 Small Business Book Awards in the USA.
He’s also written articles on strategy and management for The Economist magazine.
Need a Strategic Plan Facilitator for your next planning session? A Business Coach to help you scale your business? Management Training to upskill your team? Contact Stephen to discuss your needs.