Moving up

Laura Stack — №15 with Mårten Mickos

The modern business environment demands exceptional leadership. When you reach the C-Suite level, the requirements become especially acute: You often have to juggle multiple large projects, while balancing competing stakeholder demands. This requires a high level of intelligence, energy, and discipline.

Clearly, you’ll need time management techniques superior to the everyday methods you mastered before your promotion. If you can develop them, you’ll maintain solid control over your own destiny; otherwise, you’ll find yourself swept aside as further success eludes you. Let’s look at ways you can avoid that fate.

1. Don’t overdo it

It bears repeating something you already know: Working longer hours isn’t always the answer. You wouldn’t have your current position if you weren’t dedicated to the organization, so don’t try to outwork everyone in the office now. Get a handle on the strategic priorities in your organization and focus your efforts on those.

Working too many hours is counterproductive. Studies reveal that a 60-hour workweek results, on average, in a 25% decrease in productivity. That’s because long hours lead to physical and mental fatigue, which results in slower work, more mistakes, and wasted time. The productivity numbers just get worse as the workweek lengthens. To add injury to insult, overwork may also lead to ill health: not only can you find yourself on a descending spiral of depression, those who work 11+ hours a day suffer two-thirds more heart attacks and strokes than their less-stressed colleagues.

Most salaried professionals find it difficult to complete their work in just 40 hours nowadays, but you will find it easier to manage your time if you feel well. So exercise regularly, eat right, get enough sleep, take breaks, and give yourself time off to recharge. Remember, life consists of more than work. Enjoy yourself and your loved ones while you can.

2. Tighten it up

One of the top reasons executives cite for plummeting productivity is constant interruptions. The phone never stops ringing, emails roll in like the tide, and people constantly knock on the door. By the time they get around to the big responsibilities, they’re fatigued and distracted.

In order to be a strategic enabler of business, you have to find time to be strategic! So, tighten up your personal availability in order to ensure you can accomplish your important tasks with regularity and precision. Put at least one experienced administrative assistant between yourself and the world. Use that person to screen interruptions, so the flood slows to a trickle by the time it gets to you. Optimally, your AA screens all your email for you as well, so the ones remaining truly require a personal response. Keep your in-person communications short and sweet after a bit of chit-chat, and ask direct questions such as, “How can I help you today?”

Be vigilant with your time, so others won’t steal it away piecemeal. Otherwise, you’ll have none left for what truly matters.

3. Get your priorities straight

Next, establish priorities for yourself and your organization. This may require you to sit back and reflect on both your day-to-day activities and your organization’s long-term goals.

Approach your tasks from the standpoint of triage, the medical decision-making process used to prioritization battlefield casualties. Most NATO armies divide the wounded into four groups by priority (P):

P1: Not breathing (life or death)

P2: Bleeding (can become a crisis as time passes)

P3: Broken bones (can become problematic if left untreated)

P4: Burns (painful, requires long-term reconstruction)

P1 items require immediate attention; the rest are more flexible. Now, consider the equivalents for an executive:

P1: Strategic goals

P2: Operations/Tactical Items

P3: “Gotta Minute?” issues

P4: Trivial items

P1 and P2 require most of your attention. P1, focus first on planning and implementing items that profit the organization the most over the long run. P2 represents things you should oversee but don’t have to be involved with day-to-day. Your delegates should handle all P3 issues. As for P4s, jettison them altogether.

4. Delegate!

Never do tasks that someone at a lower pay scale can do better; work only on the high-value tasks you do best. This is one reason decent support personnel become so critical; not just to bar people from wasting your time, but also to help you stay organized and prioritized.

When you do assign someone a task, remember to delegate, not abdicate! Don’t just dump work on them and walk away. Monitor their progress, but give them room to work, and avoid micromanagement. Empower people within their positions, and trust them to do their jobs with minimal oversight. If they don’t perform, then make changes.

You accomplish this level of efficiency by building systems and organizational structures that can function with or without your input. Once you’ve done this, you can start focusing on matters that require your attention exclusively while everyone else handles the infrastructure. Give your employees the power and privilege to make decisions, so you don’t hold up the work.

In conclusion…

The topics outlined here provide a general framework to help you adapt to the time management challenges you’ll encounter as you move up to the top ranks. It all boils down to taking care of yourself, limiting access to your time, re-organizing your priorities, and shedding tasks other people can do better and more cheaply.

You’re already an expert at managing your time. Just adapt these concepts to your new circumstances, and after the initial transition phase, you’ll have smooth sailing.

Photo: Flickr / USAJFKSWCS CC BY-ND 2.0

Laura stack

Laura Stack

Laura Stack is America’s Premier Expert in Productivity. For over 20 years, her speeches have helped entrepreneurs, leaders, teams, and organizations improve output, lower stress, and save time at work and in life. Her company, The Productivity Pro®, Inc., provides time management workshops around the globe to help attendees achieve Maximum Results in Minimum Time®.

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