Through my years I’ve seen many leaders at all levels struggle with getting things done either by having to work late in the evenings and on weekends or by completely missing due dates. As I’ve talked with these leaders, they just consider it part of the job, unable or unwilling to do anything about it. I found myself early in my career doing the exact same thing; setting unrealistic expectations and killing myself to try to meet them, only to have a limited success rate of delivering on time. I hated that hamster wheel.
The good news is you don’t have to accept this as the status quo. Here are six simple principles to get better control of your work and be more deliberate about what you get done:
1. Make your to-do list a “done” list – It’s commonplace to keep a to-do list. My approach is to apply four changes to the prototypical to-do list:
2. Ensure your calendar includes everything that consumes time in your day, not just meetings – I’ve seen countless examples of people only putting meetings with others in their calendars, making their days crammed with meetings, then burning the midnight oil to get non-meeting work done. Any activity that consumes time in your day--meetings, work time, personal time, professional development, or other activities--deserve time scheduled in your calendar.
3. Schedule a recurring Friday afternoon progress and planning meeting with yourself – Near the end of your day on Friday, block out 30 minutes on your calendar to do three things:
4. Make difficult calendar choices – If there just aren’t enough hours in the week to get things done, look to see what needs to change. Perhaps it’s a change in due date or altering or deferring other items in your calendar that are taking up time. Whatever the case, be willing to make some decisions about what you do and who you meet with.
5. Find hidden time in your calendar – Are there meetings you just don’t need to be at? Are there one-hour meetings that can be done in 30 minutes? Can the frequency of recurring meetings be reduced? Can some things be done through offline communication, i.e. email? Ask yourself where time spent in meetings can be reduced or eliminated without materially adverse business impact.
6. Remember that you own your calendar, it doesn’t own you – Certainly things may happen during the week which could alter what you get done (or when you do it). Don’t beat yourself up if it does happen, just look at the frequency and reasons behind the changes. If they’re happening on an exceptional basis because of unforeseen work hitting your plate, then accept it as part of the job. If they’re happening frequently, then it could be you’re either not realistic in your planning or you’re allowing yourself to be distracted. It’s up to you to decide, just be honest with yourself.
A common thread through these principles is discipline. You can put the best-intentioned techniques in place but if you don’t follow them, you’re dooming yourself to emails at midnight. Seriously consider the principles, put your spin on them, and put them into action.
On a recent project my company was working with a frozen seafood manufacturer to help them bring a specialty frozen seafood product to market.
A huge component of getting this project done was the packaging; it had to be eye-popping and appealing while protecting the frozen seafood pieces inside. After a number of design sessions with the packaging manufacturer, we received the finished packaging. What was initially exuberance during the design session turned into disappointment when we saw the finished product. Some of the graphics were a bit blurry, a re-sealable zipper wasn't included, and a clear window to view the contents inside was missing. Our emotions went from disappointment to anger as the manufacturer told us it would be a number of weeks before a new delivery of the packaging could be done. If we took this route, a key delivery to a very important customer of ours wouldn't be met. What a pickle.
It’s Monday morning and Joe gets up at 6:00. He showers, eats breakfast and
makes his way to the train station to catch the 7:20 into Chicago. During the 40-minute train ride, Joe takes out his planner and lists out all of the things that he wants to get done for the week. He writes down all of the people that he needs to call, meetings that he needs to schedule, and reports that he needs to write. By the time the train pulls into Union Station, he has his entire week planned out and is feeling very good about his plan. His 20-minute walk from the train station to his office is pleasant and energizing, and Joe arrives at his office ready to get going on his plan.
Within a few months of my open door policy, I saw my own productivity drop and my frustration level rise because I kept getting interrupted by people taking me up on my open-door policy. My open-door policy soon turned into a series of random interruptions that caused me to not get my stuff done. I came to recognize that I needed to be accessible to people but that I could control the accessibility through scheduled time. Open-door means be accessible, not come in whenever you want.
Talk about your character-building experience...
I was a young hot-shot project manager on an engagement that I had sold to a client. I had it all planned out and had delusions of completely delighting my client with an issue-free project. It all seemed so simple, then the project started...and never finished.
I'll spare you the gory details of my harrowing experience but what I can tell you is that I put more focus on selling and planning the project than I did on its execution. I took a naive attitude of the project being able to pretty much run itself with some junior analysts running the day-to-day aspects of the work. It blew up in my face and I got booted from the client never to return again. It was my inaugural visit to the project management guillotine.
Some time back I was responsible for a portfolio of projects being done within the finance organization of my company. One of the projects was outsourced to a large consulting firm who supplied the project management, analysis, and development resources to the project. I would hold weekly meetings with the project manager who consistently gave me a "thumbs up" on the project up to the first key milestone being hit. When the week of the first milestone approached, he announced that the milestone was going to have to slip by a week to ensure successful delivery. The next week came along and again the project slipped a week. This went on for two more weeks with the promise of "we'll for sure nail it next week." I decided to do some crawling around the project to assess where the project was really at. Turns out we were at least a month away from delivering to the milestone which was already a month late.
So let’s talk about over-used terms for a minute.
If you’ve been in the business world for any length of time you’ve likely heard your management espouse the desire for employees to achieve greater work/life balance. Many U.S. companies have adopted programs to help employees strike a better life balance by providing health club benefits, entertainment discount programs, and additional time off for events such as the birth of a child. Despite all this, Americans are of the most overworked and flat-out busy people on earth, recently surpassing the Japanese and long surpassing the Europeans. With all this discussion of work/life balance, how can we in the U.S. also be of the most overworked people in the world? The answer is pretty simple; many of us talk work/life balance, but don’t live work/life balance primarily because we don’t know how to do it.
We all know a procrastinator . . . the person who does Christmas shopping on December 24th, pulls an all-nighter to get a report done, or avoids making even the simplest decisions. Many times the procrastinator puts forth a defense of, "Well, I do get it done, don't I?" Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Even if things do get done, though, the stress put on the procrastinator (and those around him or her) is greater than it needs to be. If you know of a procrastinator (or are one yourself), use these tips to help make life a bit easier for not only the procrastinator but for those around him or her as well.
Pride. Envy. Gluttony. Lust. Anger. Greed. Sloth. You either recognize these as the seven deadly sins or as themes for prime-time television. Nonetheless, you were probably taught as a child that these are bad and you shouldn’t do them. For purposes of this article, do as you were taught and think bad when you commit these similar sins in the workplace.
As leaders, we are continually being introduced to new techniques and theories. Hammer & Champy’s Business Process Re-engineering Model, McKinsey’s 7-S Framework, and Kenichi Ohmae’s 3C’s Strategic Triangle are all examples of strategic models designed to help leaders think about their business in different and innovative ways. What sits on top of all of the models and frameworks, though, are a series of foundational attributes that every leader should possess if he or she is going to have demonstrated, sustained success as a leader.
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