Whether you are juggling organizational pressure and projects or managing a team, a classroom or a household, keeping up with it all can be an endless tug of time that leaves little margin for leaders to lead themselves.
words + photographs CARRIE RICHARDSON
Too much focus on day-to-day management or tasks means distraction from big picture strategic vision or working on long-term planning. Being buried in projects or meetings means your team or your family can feel neglected or unsupported. When stuck in this cycle, days can become a hurried pendulum swinging too far to the outsides with not enough time in any one spot.
Learning some tools to manage time can help leaders focus, preserve their mental health and feel confident in keeping their people satisfied, their projects moving forward, and their organizations or families thriving.
BLOCK YOUR TIME
An impactful change any leader can make today is to start blocking time. This is practical and so powerful. Calendar blocks of time specifically to do something that has been difficult to make happen.
Having a hard time tackling the project you aren’t thrilled about? Block time. Struggling to balance the crisis of the day with big picture planning and goals? Block time. Dealing with a lot of management challenges and finding difficulty knocking out deliverables on your plate? Block time. Need to spend some quality time with those under your care but constantly getting pulled away? Block time.
Not every leader is wired to make lists and be constrained to a schedule, but blocking pieces of time for a specific purpose allows focus. This simple time technique can be transformative.
KNOW YOUR CAPACITY
Avoid burnout by doing a gut-level assessment of your own capacity. Do you need a certain amount of sleep to function at optimal level? Maybe it’s physical activity for you. Time outdoors? Perhaps you work best in the early hours of the day or you are in your prime at 3 p.m.
Whatever it is for you individually, know it. Know your work flow and capacity and do your best to align your schedule and maximize your energy. It is likely more things and more people are pulling at your time and mental space than you have the capacity to handle. Once you know your capacity, identify what areas of your life most threaten that capacity and take small steps to lessen the load in those areas. That may mean declining an opportunity, delegating a task or hiring help.
One way to think about practicing this concept is asking the question, “How can I partner for performance to make this manageable?” This is a good way to reframe the more common way leaders ask themselves, “How am I going to get this done?” That may mean using a tool or resource or system to help with efficiency or capacity. That may mean asking for assistance. Ultimately, it may mean saying, “No.” Getting a better handle on capacity all starts with some self-reflection and an honest look at where you are overloaded.
STOP TRYING TO FIND BALANCE
Ouch! Virtually every leader on earth seems to be in pursuit of this elusive concept of balance, but have you ever met someone who had arrived at balance and stayed there? The striving for balance can feel defeating, and the failure to achieve balance can contribute even more to burnout.
One way to think differently about balance is to instead try to make sure you have built a life that allows you to be present where you are. If you cannot be present with your non-work life (including family, friends and, you know, all the things you enjoy that are not work), that may be a red flag. Similarly, if you can’t be present at work, that’s a problem for your efficiency and effectiveness. Focusing on being present allows you to be intentional in each interaction and also helps you see burnout coming before it becomes unbearable.
How can you implement the concept of being present? This may look like shutting a laptop or putting a phone away when in a one-on-one conversation. It may mean implementing a system with your team, class or family where you alert them when you are in focused time or are flexible on being interrupted. Perhaps this means instilling a no-phones-at-the-table guideline at home or putting down the work at a certain time each night. Maybe you have a lunch meeting with yourself each week or month and tackle the random life responsibilities, errands and nagging thoughts preventing you from being fully present.
Regardless of industry or title, all leaders can find themselves leading everyone else and not taking the time to lead ourselves better. Implementing some of these mindful and intentional leadership and time management tools can help even the most seasoned leader reduce frustration and find more satisfaction in the daily grind. CR
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