As a leader, you have constant demands on your time. Where there was once just an inbox and a telephone, with the advent of technology, there are now multiple inboxes, multiple phones, text messages, and more meetings – in person, by teleconference, and by video conference.
This level of demand makes it more important than ever to have a well-organized approach to your work and personal life. Taking time to organize both areas will ensure you have the energy and focus you need to lead effectively.
Here are some actions you can take to protect your time:
Take some time to review everything that currently requires your time. Cancel all unnecessary meetings and appointments, and prioritize the rest. Delegate the clutter of tasks you don’t need to complete personally, and remove those which do not need to be done at all. I recommend use of a time blocking system, whereby you block out time for certain activities. The key here is to make no exceptions during those times. I work with executives through this process often, and the results are great. Without realizing it, many have gotten caught in the practice of responding to everything immediately. A good rule to follow: If the tasks don’t point toward your personal or business vision, why complete them?
Your Physical Space
To maximize daily productivity, it is important that your workspace be organized. As a busy leader, you are well acquainted with the amount of paperwork that ends up on your desk each day. Do you have a system to keep it moving? Is your desk piled high with documents to do and review, combined with sticky notes to remind you to do them?
You are not alone.
This is where an organized support staff can help you immensely. Work with your assistant to develop a system to keep the paperwork off your desk. The first step is to clear the clutter. Random contact notes and business cards? Enter them into a database. To do lists – capture them in one place and place relevant documents in a file folder or scan them into an electronic holding file. Information for meetings – have a folder for each meeting. Books should be on bookshelves, not on your desk. Documents to be filed should not be taking up residence on your desktop. Companies spend millions of dollars each year on records storage for records that are not needed for legal or documentation purposes. Regularly ask yourself if the documents you are keeping need to be retained, or if you are just putting off making a decision on them.
For ultimate focus, the only items on your desk should be those items you use daily and those documents which pertain to what you are working on each day. Clutter is a distractor. Clearing your desk helps clear your mind.
You might even benefit from re-arranging your office so things flow better. What comes in, and where does it land? How and where do you process it? How do you move it on to the next steps (the proverbial out box)? Your desk is not an out box. And who is responsible for clearing that outbox daily?
After your physical space is arranged, it is time to clean up your electronic space. This means your e-mail, computer desktop, electronic documents, and your contact list. How you choose to store your electronic files is up to you, but it is important that your electronic space is organized in a way that is easy to use.
In the online world, cleaning up your contact list frequently is not only advisable, it is essential. There is a cost associated with the number of contacts on your mailing list – and if those emails are being bounced or otherwise not delivered, you are paying for contacts who are not getting your communications.
Cleaning up your electronic files may seem like a waste of time…until you spend hours searching for something that you could have found in seconds if your system was organized.
Your Mobile Devices
Whether you are a fan of iPhone or android, chances are, you have some type of portable communication device connected to you at all times. Take some time to organize the files, contacts, and applications on your mobile device. If you have applications you no longer need, delete them as a matter of space and security. Consult with your IT expert to optimize your device for syncing of email and contacts. Ask for recommendations on new and better apps to increase efficiency.
Also, take the time to update your phone message, and clean out your voice mailbox. If you are thinking this is not a good use of your time as a leader, consider this: a full voice mailbox often means issues are not being addressed, or important calls are being blocked by a full voice mailbox. Go through your messages, add the contact information to your database, note the actions needed for each, then delete. Make room for new opportunities.
Practicing good habits will help you rise in leadership, and sustaining good habits will protect your leadership and reputation.
Take an organizational approach to your habits, both good and bad ones. Whether or not you realize it, your habits have a big impact on your work, your personal life, and on those you lead. When coaching executives one-on-one, we work on these extensively. Making you more effective is always the goal.
If there are bad habits you’d like to break, examine them one at a time, and create a plan for how you’re going to tackle each one. If there are good habits you want to cement, take the same approach. Then, equip yourself with the tools and an accountability partner. Adopt the habits you need to have a more fulfilled, balanced life.
Your Personal Life
How many executives do you know who have it all together on the business side, but their personal lives are paying the price? Maybe this is you.
You are not alone.
Part of what we consider in executive coaching and especially in our corporate retreats is the personal side of leadership. You cannot divorce the personal and professional side of you without repercussions.
Set aside some time to examine your personal time. Is it protected? How effective are you in that area? Find someone objective (like a coach) to help you with this. Make sure your schedule allows ample time for family, friends, community involvement, and hobbies.
Clearing the physical and electronic clutter is the first step. But to sustain the organization, you must, going forward, work according to your priorities.
Consider how your priorities align with how you spend your time, at work and at home. Ask yourself the difficult questions. Realize that your life is made up of a limited amount of time. Each activity you invest time into requires a certain opportunity cost. What are the low priority items costing you? This is a powerful question, and you should ask it of yourself daily.
In today’s world, the lines between work and personal life are getting increasingly blurry. I’m happy to tell you that you can regain control of your time by taking these steps. Going through this process will not only give you peace of mind, it also will equip you with the clarity and focus your work and your team deserve.
Take a good, hard look at your priorities, and reorganize your time as needed to create and experience the best possible personal and professional life.
What are you waiting for? Get started today…and have a great week!
Dave Ferguson is “The Leaders’ Coach”, an internationally recognized executive leadership coach, speaker, facilitator, and author. For help in getting organized as a leader, “ASK COACH DAVE” at 704-907-0171 or at Dave@AskCoachDave.com.