If you’re a busy manager with constant demands on your time, it can be intensely stressful to find that you’re always fighting fires or knee deep in admin work, with no time left over for constructive work on the major team goals.
You are far from alone, yet there are some extremely effective ways to power through your to-do list and rescue wasted hours. From learning to ‘eat your frogs for breakfast’ to reducing time spent in meetings. Here’s how to cultivate outstanding productivity habits.
1. Begin with the end in mind. This tip by the author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephen Covey, is key in becoming hugely productive, particularly for leaders. There’s no leadership value in simply working through and delegating tasks as they come over your desk. You need a vision which filters all tasks through the lens of what you’re trying to achieve: the big, important goal. Only then can you use this vision as your organising principle for all work that you and the team do.
2. Communicate the vision: When you know what, your vision is, you must communicate it to your team so that they can also prioritise and filter tasks in accordance with the aims of the team. Without this step, your team is working blind and left to assume what’s important for themselves. Once you’ve communicated the vision, you can delegate with confidence and with clear deadlines and expectations.
3. Eat your frogs for breakfast. Mark Twain once said ‘Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day’, advocating that you should always approach your most dreaded task of the day first thing. This pro-active behaviour creates a sense of pride and momentum that powers you through your day, and obliterates that sense of a task hanging over you all day.
4. Prioritise your high payoff activities (HPAs). The Pareto Principle determines that 80% of our results come from 20% of our efforts. Consider the tasks you have in front of you this week:
- Which ones move your team forward in significant ways?
- Which ones are directly related to your team goals?
- Which ones are just things you must tick off at some point if you don’t want to get bogged down later, such as admin duties and non-urgent reports? (These are your low pay off activities)
Now schedule your HPAs in your high-productivity hours. For some, that’s first thing, fuelled by coffee and ‘morning person’ enthusiasm. For others, it’s late afternoon.
5. Consider your low pay off activities. Your LPA’s fall into 3 categories:
- Unnecessary time -wasters (i.e. scrolling between tasks and social media),
- Boring but necessary (i.e. admin)
- Enjoyable but not very important. (i.e. creating a shiny new template when the old one is fine.)
The first category should be cut out, while the third should be left for a time when you’ve achieved a lot already and need a breather. Number 2 certainly shouldn’t be ignored, but these tasks can be attacked in the off-peak times of day.
6. Don’t waste morning hours writing your to-do list. This should be done the day before, as the last thing you do before switching off your computer and heading home. That way when you arrive into the office, you’re ready to hit the ground running. Some people find apps that help with knocking off those to-do lists, for others, the humble pen and paper will do.
7. Exercise and stress-beating techniques. These days it’s rare to read an article on leadership that doesn’t mention the power of keeping yourself healthy in body and mind. This article’s no exception. Exercise is proven not only to reduce stress in the moment, but it’s been recently discovered that exercise stores up ‘nanny neurons’ in the brain which are released in stressful moments and you don’t have to have gone for a run that day. As a weapon in the leadership arsenal that will keep you upbeat and productive, this can’t be beaten. Yoga is also shown to be helpful in fighting stress, while 8 weeks of meditation has been proven to grow the prefrontal cortex: the part of the brain responsible for regulating our emotional responses.
8. Use your time to listen. This may seem counter-intuitive: if you’re stuck behind your desk listening to team member’s ideas and concerns all day, how will you get anything done? Yet effective listening habits by leaders actually improves productivity as it cuts out misunderstandings and task duplication, nips disengagement in the bud, and allows creative ideas to bloom. And creativity is infectious in teams!
9. Cut down on wasted meeting time. Reduce numbers of people in meetings to those that are crucial. Replace unnecessary PowerPoint presentations with pre-meeting memos that must be read before attendance, so that everyone has time to come up with ideas and can hit the ground running rather than sitting through a lengthy slideshow. Above all, consider whether the meeting is actually vital. Why is it vital? If you can answer that, go ahead and have that effective meeting.
10. Schedule time for your own creativity. Moments of inspiration rarely strike when we’re furiously busy with other everyday jobs they tend to happen in quiet moments when the brain has time to ruminate and process all the information it has received. So clear some time to think about the big picture. You might find that a change of scenery helps, so get out of your chair and take a walk around the block.
By identifying your big vision, using your time more effectively, and looking after the needs of yourself and your team, your productivity as a leader will enjoy a meteoric rise.
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