Mary Chapin Carpenter says, “sometimes you’re the windshield, sometimes you’re the bug.”
You wake up well rested, eat a healthy breakfast, put on your superhero cape, and hit your office ready to conquer the world. And then you open your calendar. Splat.
The most frequent questions we get asked in our Courageous Leadership programs invariably revolve around how to manage overwrought calendars, and actually get deep work done. The truth is, controlling our calendars isn’t that hard. We just need to reach out and grab the handle.
The most courageous leaders I know have a few techniques they use to control the flow of their time. Consciously adhering to these simple techniques enables these powerhouses to be crystal-clear about their priorities and own their days and weeks.
And the first calendar control technique is a shocker.
Start the work week on Sunday
Let’s be honest. Even when we’re steadfastly focused on making this supposed day-off a fun day, the upcoming week’s obligations start creeping in. Someone at the BBQ asks if we want another glass of wine. And we have to pause for a second because we were lost in thought about the deluge of tasks waiting to pounce Monday morning.
Look, I don’t want to ruin your day off. I do want to make your Sunday more enjoyable … and productive.
Instead of fighting this natural inclination to prepare for the upcoming week, I say we lean into it, but with strategic resolve. The simple way to do this is to set aside 15 minutes each Sunday to ask ourselves three questions:
- What are my broad-stroke strategic goals for the upcoming week, which, if completed, will push my goals forward most quickly?
- What three (or more) tasks can I assign as a development opportunity to my employees?
- What strategic employee development activity could I create utilizing some of the tasks on my to-do list
These three questions zero in on what will move us most effectively and efficiently toward our goals. It’s all about planning ahead rather than letting Sunday afternoon ruminations catch us when our leadership defenses are down.
Revamp that messy meeting culture
In my Courageous Leadership programs, I put enormous emphasis on improving meeting management skills and techniques. Why? Because, even before 2020, excessive and unruly meetings had started to control our lives in unhealthy ways.
The leaders I see shimmying up the corporate ladder today are the ones who saw this trend and decided to take back control. Here are a few ways we can do the same:
- Be biased toward decisive action. If a meeting can’t be titled with an action verb (decide, create, confirm, etc.) then it’s not worthy of a get-together.
- Embrace quick calls. If it’s a single “one-off” question, we should go old-school and simply pick up the phone. That way, we can get the answer we need quickly and move on.
- Avoid remedial reading meetings. “Reviewing” written materials is a huge time suck. Instead, send the deck out in advance and schedule a 15-minute meeting to discuss it. This gives skimmers and slackers a social incentive to review the deck prior to the meeting 😉
- Be honest about who really needs to be there. Ask: Am I personally critical to the outcome of the meeting? Really? Could I send someone else as a development opportunity?
Declining an invitation can be as simple as, “I wish I could be there, but I’ve got another priority.”
Take 5 minutes a day to rule the world
If we want to be proactive rather than reactive, we need to take time to set our focus. One way to do this is to set aside 5 minutes each evening, before we leave our workspaces for the day, to consider what is truly important to accomplish the following day.
Populating that “to do” list with easy wins so we can cross them off quickly is self-defeating. So is allowing the list to be so big that it feels overwhelming before we’ve even started.
The trick is to decide on just three key actions that will most effectively move us toward achieving our strategic goals. Once we’ve narrowed the list to the top three, we need to guess at a rough time frame for each.
The next day, those three things get blocked out on the calendar. If something higher priority comes up during the day, we can replace one or more of the activities. But we can never add. Each of us gets just three clear priorities a day. And that’s how we rule the world.
Make every moment with others count
Requests for our time are just that … requests. We have the right, the duty actually, to say no to requests that don’t move our teams, our customers, our goals forward.
Having said that, we need to know when to say yes, as well. There is no better use of our time than helping others improve their skills. In short, we need to remember to lead, not simply manage.
If I’m executing tasks on a list instead of actively helping people around me become better team members, colleagues, or partners … I make sure to stop and reset. Even people whose title is manager should be leading. Titles don’t really matter, leading and empowering others does.
So let’s start saying “No” to time wasters and meetings that don’t benefit us.
Instead, let’s spend quality time building our team members’ skills. Lifting up our partners. And never leaving a conversation, meeting, or group without having had a positive impact on everyone involved.
Cindy Solomon is CEO of the Courageous Leadership Institute, a global leadership and customer experience training organization with access to up-to-the-minute insights on how today’s most innovative corporations are defining the future of leadership. Learn more at www.CourageousLeadershipInstitute.com . To download Cindys “How to Say No to Meetings” guide from her recent WIRL workshop, just text WIRL2021 to 1-855-910-8055.’