Many of the business leaders and executives I coach want to be more productive and have a greater impact on their business and their industry. But as their company grows, their workload grows, and they often find themselves feeling overwhelmed and at times ineffective.
Ironically, one of the lessons that leaders in high-growth companies must learn is that to be more productive they actually need to commit to fewer things. It sounds counterintuitive, but it works. By committing to a few things, you allow yourself to really focus and dig into issues. This allows you to understand problems better, develop more creative solutions, and guide implementation with more care. Additionally, by staying out of other issues completely, other people feel compelled to commit more fully and with more focus then you could.
To get this right, leaders need to get clear on where to focus and what to hand off. When I work with executives, we zero in on these six techniques to determine areas they can have the greatest impact.
1. Clarify your priorities.
Before you can make decisions on where to focus your energy, you need to have a clear and limited set of priorities. These priorities surface with clear role descriptions and a clear set of strategic objectives. Every member of a company should know the eight to 10 key metrics for their role and a handful of strategic goals. If something you're working on is not tied to one of these metrics, you're best off letting someone else take it on.
2. Know your limits.
If you don't know your effective capacity and how much you've already committed to, then you'll never be able to manage your time effectively. One of the first exercises I go through with executives is to have them develop an ideal week and then create a defensible calendar.
The process of creating a defensive calendar will show you how to best organize your work, how much time you need to devote to management, and how much time you have for projects. Once you've committed to this capacity, you either need to say no to new work or renegotiate previous commitments to free up space.
3. Pause before committing.
Many times, I see leaders committing to things in the heat of a meeting or an exciting discussion with a colleague, boss, or investor. One effective strategy in these situations is to develop the habit of pausing for a moment before responding to the request. Rather than jumping right to a commitment, ask for a few hours or even minutes to look at your schedule and get back to them. This pause can give you enough time to really consider your workload and priorities.
4. Learn to say no.
Great leaders are masters of saying no, and they do it a lot. In fact, they are so good at it, they actually make you feel good about being turned down. The trick they use is to invoke the higher purpose you both have and show that saying yes to a new request would mean jeopardizing the bigger priority you both have. A great resource for this is William Ury's book The Power of the Positive No.
5. Learn to delegate.
As a senior leader, you need to be hyper focused on key areas of the business. But that doesn't mean that everything else can just be pushed off or ignored. The best way to handle this is to master the art of delegation.
A good delegator does more than just hand off projects. They choose the right people based on skills and desire, and they focus on getting real commitment to the work. They also make sure that their people have the training and resources they need to set up checkpoints to ensure things are staying on track. Just because you've delegated something doesn't mean you're not still accountable for the results.
6. Renegotiate as needed.
Sometimes new things come up that you need to do. But that doesn't mean you need to overload yourself. Instead, you need to re-prioritize and renegotiate your previous commitments. If you go to people early and explain that you need to change your delivery date, push something off together, or delegate it to someone else, you give them a chance to change their commitments. Ultimately, you'll be more respected in your organization if you go to people early than if you leave them in the lurch.
Early in a company, and especially with small teams, everything is dynamic and things happen in a very fluid fashion--commitments and priorities are easy to manage and communicate. But as you move up in management and your business grows, becoming more focused on few things will be key to your success, and the success of the business.