In a 40-hour work week, you have 2400 minutes at your disposal to accomplish whatever it is you deem most important. If you’re like most leaders, you are pulled in multiple directions by people who all feel their projects should be at the top of your priority list. Trying to respond to all, or even most, of those competing demands would take double, or even triple, the time you have at your disposal (which quickly consumes your “non-work minutes”). So how do you decide where to spend your precious time?
1. Start with your people. Marcus Buckingham’s research has found that when leaders spend as little as 15 minutes each week meeting individually with their direct reports to talk about near-term work (what are you focusing on this week and how can I help you), employee productivity and engagement both go up. If you have eight direct reports, that’s 120 minutes — two hours — of time invested per week that will save you time and energy in the long run. Productive, engaged employees make everything else easier. Start with your people.
2. Next consider items requiring big picture thinking. To prioritize your to-do list, Daniel Goleman suggests categorizing tasks into three types of focus — on yourself, others, and the larger world. He noted, “a failure to focus inward leaves you rudderless, a failure to focus on others renders you clueless, and a failure to focus outward may leave you blindsided.” What perspectives or variables do you need to ponder that may impact a decision before you? What is happening in the larger world — in your industry or others — that you need to factor into your considerations? These aren’t items you can check off a to-do list, but they are the kind of considerations that can dramatically increase a leader’s impact. Invest time in big picture thinking.
3. Focus on those things that only you can do. Delegate, delegate, delegate. You are correct, someone else probably won’t complete a task exactly the way you would. So help them, guide them, but let them gain the skills so you can direct your energy to things that no one else can do. Whether that is working with your board . . . serving on an important external committee . . . building strategic relationships . . . don’t undermine the time and attention you can devote to these leadership tasks by doing work that can be completed by others.
4. Then and only then consider comfortable, fun and mindless. When things feel uncertain, overwhelming and hard, it is easy to “lose track of time” on tasks we feel competent at (and someone else could probably do), something we really enjoy (but isn’t really part of our current role), or endlessly clicking on some title that caught our attention on email. I’m not suggesting there isn’t a time and place for these things, but they shouldn’t be postponing items 1 – 3 on this list.
Want to increase your impact as a leader? Maximize your minutes.