Habits. Good ones got you to where you are as a leader, and bad ones may be keeping you from going further.
From the time we get up in the morning to the way we treat people, each of us has the choice – on a daily basis – to practice bad habits or to practice effective and thriving habits.
Good leaders practice effective and thriving habits. This requires actively managing the use of their time for those habits. This comes down to being proactive versus being reactive. When we do not proactively plan our schedule, we find ourselves in reactive mode, reacting to circumstances, issues, and the plans of others.
If you adopt the proactive habits outlined in this article, you will find yourself:
- Eliminating procrastination
- Making quicker decisions
- Experiencing higher productivity for yourself and your team
- Increasing your free time (remember what that was?)
- Getting better results
What are these proactive habits?
1. Make “to-do” lists, and complete the tasks on the list, by priority.
Rate each item on the list by giving it a priority number. If you mix business and personal items, code them and prioritize them separately. If you’re doing the right things, you’re being more effective. You know this as a leader…but do you actively practice the habit? Do you have a centralized “to-do” list? Is it prioritized?
2. Make “not to-do” lists, and don’t do anything on the list.
I call these things clutter. This is all the “stuff” that we have the habit of doing that does absolutely nothing for anyone. Watching TV is one of my favorite “not-to-do’s.” As an executive, there is merit to keeping up with the news of the day and sports, for example, in order to be informed and relatable. But if you are wasting your entire weekend watching TV while your personal relationships are neglected, this is an indicator that TV may need to be on your “not-to-do” list – or at least curtailed to certain shows and timeframes. Some meetings should be on your “not-to-do” list. If you have a certain meeting just for the sake of meeting, you should add that to your list. If you are involved in outside organizations that no longer fit your scope and mission, add them to your “not-to-do” list.
3. Use downtime for planning, and you can save time in the long run.
Some people say, “Always be selling.”
I say, “Always be planning.”
Work on your game plan whenever you have downtime. Those who know me know I move fast. I get things done, and I don’t waste time. But a perusal of my social media pages would show that I do have intentional downtime. It is during these times that I re-charge and plan. This helps me get more done during the actively engaged times. Never underestimate the power of a plan.
In the corporate world, planning saves time, costs, and even lawsuits. Think it through, then act. But think it through first.
4. Reward yourself when you really deserve it.
This is not about rewarding yourself just because you worked a long day. This is about setting goals that stretch you, and then celebrating when you have reached each one.
This is a powerful motivator and energizer for a team as well. As leaders, we are often guilty of moving from major initiative to major initiative without taking a brief time to enjoy the victories along the way. You need this. Your team needs this. Risk and reward. Goals and reward. Rewards recharge us for the next goal. Not taking the time to celebrate completion of goals can result in burnout for you and your team, and burnout will have a negative impact on results. If you want great results, make room for rewards between goal sets.
5. Concentrate on one task at a time, and chances are, you’ll complete more of your tasks.
Today, we brag about multi-tasking like it is really effective. This is especially true amongst executives, who conduct teleconferences while checking email, drive while texting, and read the news when they are supposed to be having a conversation with their family and friends. Most of the time, multi-tasking is inefficient and not effective, not to mention rude. While we may feel like we’re getting more accomplished, what message are we sending to our customers, team members, friends, and family…and what important details are we missing by dividing our attention?
Get really good at one thing before you pile on something else. Focus on one thing at a time. You can do more than one thing if one is an automatic physical action and the other is a thinking matter. For instance, you can read or listen to podcasts while running on a treadmill. But you cannot reasonably accommodate two thinking-type tasks at once without each of them suffering to some degree from divided focus.
As a leader, be very careful not to overload your team with too many goals at a time. As they set out to reach them all at once, they will reach none due to lack of laser focus. Work together on one major goal at a time. You will likely be amazed at the results you receive with that kind of focus.
6. Avoid procrastination at all costs.
This is a tough one, I know. We have all heard the saying, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”
If it is a task based on priorities and goals, it needs to be done. (If not, it should not be on your list). If it is something you don’t enjoy doing, either do it first to get it done or delegate it to someone who does enjoy doing it. But keep it moving. And that’s the key. Avoiding procrastination is really just a matter of keeping things moving. This creates progress toward your goals.
7. Set personal deadlines that hold you accountable.
Deadlines are essential. If you are playing golf with fellow business leaders and you say, “We need to get together sometime to discuss that initiative,” I can assure you, it is not likely to happen.
But if you say, “Let’s make an appointment for next Thursday at 10:30 a.m. to talk about that initiative,” you are almost guaranteed to get it done.
This is accountability in action.
It is about defining a goal, setting a deadline, marking it on your calendar, and making yourself accountable to yourself, your calendar, and the other person to make it happen.
8. Delegate, delegate, delegate.
Trying to do everything yourself is, number one, impossible; and number two, unnecessary. As a leader, you know this. But you may often find yourself neglecting to practice it. You may think, “I’ll just do this one thing myself. It won’t take long.” And you may find yourself four hours later still struggling with formatting in a Word document that your assistant could have completed in 15 minutes.
Always keep your eye on the big goals and ensure that your time is used to the highest level for you and that the work is being done by each team member at the highest level for them. The greater your responsibilities as a leader, the more you need to practice delegation. You have created a trusted team – trust them to do what they do best.
9. Use a “time-blocking” system to create greater efficiencies and effectiveness.
Block out time in your schedule for specific projects, and don’t let anything get in the way during those times. Turn off notifications for your phone and email, and close your office door. Protect those time blocks for the projects noted. Remove any distractions and focus. And – this is important – give your team members the same privilege.
According to Fast Company, “82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here’s the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”
If you and your team are not getting things done during the day, check your interruption rate.
10. Be a team player and win!
As noted, these habits apply to you as a leader, but they also apply to your team members. Work together to establish these good habits that result in high achievements. Work with your family to create good habits together at home as well.
11. Use long-term planning for long-term success.
“If you’re failing to plan, you’re planning to fail.”
The most effective leaders think in extended timelines. While they are effective each day, they are planning far into the future. This planning ahead determines the direction you take each day. If you take each day as it comes, there is no guarantee of where you will be in the long-term. But if you actively plan where you want to be as an individual and as an organization in five years and ten years, you are exponentially more likely to be successful.
12. Avoid burnout.
Executive and business leader burnout is an issue for many who contact me for coaching. Leadership takes energy. To be at your best in your work, you must be at your best mentally and physically. The greater your responsibilities, the more important this becomes.
Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger said it well:
“Over the years, I made many deposits into my accounts of knowledge and experience. Because of those many deposits, I was able to make a substantial withdrawal on January 15, 2009.”
Are you making daily deposits into your energy account so that you are prepared for substantial withdrawals?
Create a recharge list of activities that give you energy. Proper sleep, eating right, exercise, vacations, long weekends, walks in nature, volunteer work, reading, spending time with family and friends, and hobbies. List those activities now before you need them.
Then tap into that list on a regular basis. You spend long periods of time giving your energy to your work, your team, and others. You need to intentionally make time to restore your energy.
Having balance in your life is critical. If you don’t have it, sooner or later, you will be in critical (burnout) condition. For a leader, that is a dangerous and vulnerable point.
If you are intentional about planning and using your time well, you stand to get better results in business and gain more from everyday life.
Dave Ferguson is “The Leaders’ Coach”, an internationally recognized executive leadership coach, speaker, facilitator, and author. For help in recovering from executive burnout, “ASK COACH DAVE” at 704-907-0171 or at Dave@AskCoachDave.com.