When I finished graduate school, I swore I would never again keep a sleeping bag in the office.
While I’ve kept that promise, there are still occasions when I worked until daybreak, or got up to work at home in the wee hours of the morning. That’s pretty typical for senior leaders, but it isn’t part of my routine anymore. A year in and out of hospitals for leukemia and a bone marrow transplant, followed by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, taught me the hard way that pushing into the redline was just digging a deeper hole to climb out of later.
This is true even if you don’t have significant health issues. You’ll acquire them if you aren’t building work/life balance into your schedule: Time to sleep, eat properly, get exercise, shed stress, be with your loved ones, and introspect. Don’t expect your boss to exercise moderation on your behalf. It doesn’t work that way.
Some key strategies for managing your commitments include:
Acknowledge it’s good for your reach to exceed your grasp. People who get everything on their list done probably aren’t setting the bar high enough. Include stretch goals and you’ll push yourself to accomplish more. If you look at your list and fall 25% short of completion, you’re overcommitted and you need a different strategy. However, if you didn’t get 10% done, you’re probably optimizing your productivity.
Evaluate whether it really needs to be done by you. If a task doesn’t require your unique talents, delegate it to someone else. This is just as important for entrepreneurs as for corporate executives. Frank Sinatra did not move his own piano.
You won’t win all of that time back; you still need to monitor and do quality control. In fact, in the short term delegating may take more time than doing it yourself. Keep your eyes on the prize. You’re not only freeing up your own time to work more strategically, you’re developing a subordinate to work at a higher level.
Decide right now that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Especially if you’re delegating, get really comfortable with the fact that others will execute their own way, which may not be yours. If they’re doing the work, let them. Also realize that they may make foolish mistakes at first. Be their safety net. Inspect their work, but resist the temptation to micromanage.
Evaluate whether it really needs to be done now. Many executives feel underwater much of the time because they constantly field emergencies created by the poor planning of others, including their boss. Beware of coming to their rescue, as it rewards bad behavior. Before taking on something new, assess the opportunity costs of the tasks that won’t get done – including sleep, exercise and family time. Is it really your emergency or just theirs? Can it wait?
Manage expectations. If your boss or client comes to you with a request beyond the existing scope of work, there is always a way to get it done even if you and your team are working at capacity.
Negotiate alternatives to help them understand the impact of their request. Can they come up with more budget to hire short-term contractors or borrow headcount from elsewhere? Are there tasks that could be pushed down to a less expensive headcount to fund more person-hours within the same budget? Can more efficient or automated systems be implemented to extract labor intensiveness? Are there existing commitments you could cut back or shift to another team? Where can you rearrange deadlines to create capacity?
The worst thing you can do is take on too much for yourself or your team. Everything will be delivered late and quality will suffer. The second worst thing you can do is take on too much for yourself or your team and use heroic measures to deliver on time. Morale will be in the toilet and before long you’ll be losing good people. The intellectual capital and historical knowledge walking around in each person’s head is your most valuable asset. Protect and nurture it.
Buckle your seatbelt. That said, there may be times when a session in the pressure cooker is inevitable. If you are an event planner, tax consultant, or product launch lead, there will be a flurry of activities bumping up against an immovable deadline. Get yourself, your staff, and your family mentally ready for it, and make sure you plan some down time on the back side.
Celebrate accomplishments. At the end of each day, you may have to-do’s left undone, yet take a moment to list all the things you accomplished. This retrains your attention. When you and your team hit a major benchmark, acknowledge it. Hold a debrief to see where you are and what you’ve learned from the journey so far, and also celebrate your success. Take everyone out for pizza and beer. Go bowling or golfing together. Then do something special for yourself.
And sleep in.
If you want to figure out how to get everything done and still be home in time for dinner, or your team is overwhelmed with too much to do in too little time, contact me to see how I can help.
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Ann Hollier provides strategic consulting and performance coaching to high achieving senior executives and management teams. She specializes in change management, strategic planning and implementation, leadership development, and building world-class collaborative teams. Learn more at http://thecogentexecutive.com/