It’s obviously not unusual for leaders to be busy at work. There are often lots of meetings, competing demands, too many emails and then you need to be supporting your team at the same time.
Unless we frequently review the way we spend our time, we can find ourselves overly busy at work. If you’re feeling like you’re often out of control, it might be time to take a step back and think about the way you spend your time.
To help you do this, here are 5 ways I’ve used to try to stop the madness and prevent myself from becoming too busy at work.
1. Start Pushing Back
Pushing back is a critical skill for leaders, and it’s one I have written about often. Workplaces are complex and full of people with different priorities, so being able to push back is mandatory for leaders to stop them and their teams from being overwhelmed.
So what should you push back on? In my experience, there are a few good places to start.
Push Back on Team Members Who Demand Too Much
You can push back on team members who ask you for support too often, when they don’t really need it. Part of building the confidence of your team members is to let them fight their own battles, make their own decisions and overcome their own challenges.
If you find yourself in a repeating pattern of supporting your team members for the same issues over and over again, then it could be that they are relying on you as a crutch. It may be worthwhile pushing back and letting them take accountability for their situation a little more.
Obviously the side-effect of this is that you’ll have more free time!
Push Back on Poorly Structured or Vague Meetings
Pushing back on meetings with no agenda or when you have no idea why you have been invited can be a great idea if this is happening in your workplace.
Over time if you apply this consistently, people will begin to understand when to invite you, and that you need structured meetings so they accomplish their objectives. Soon enough, you may find that many meetings drop out of your calendar altogether, giving you precious time back.
Push Back On Unreasonable Workloads and Deadlines
Just because somebody sets a ridiculous deadline for you, doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Part of leadership is knowing your boundaries, as well as those of your team.
Instead of just taking on anything that is thrown at you, you need to balance the needs of your stakeholders with the wellbeing and morale of your team.
Part of your role is to be able to have the difficult discussions when you need to.
2. Review Your Meetings
Meetings are a well-known source of frustration in the workplace. Common complaints are that they are boring, pointless or take too long.
What often happens over time is that we accumulate many recurring meetings. Every week or month, they come up again and again.
If you’re not careful, they might just stay in the calendar forever. It’s useful to take the time to review your meetings and trying to make a few adjustments.
Limit Your Meeting Time
Firstly, you can try limiting one-hour meetings to 45 minutes. Remember Parkinson’s Law, which states that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”?
Well, it’s likely that you will spend one hour in your one-hour meeting, because that’s the time limit.
However, I find that cutting meetings to 45 minutes often doesn’t reduce their effectiveness. Instead, it can give you 15 precious minutes back to do other things, or simply take a short break.
Cut Down the Meeting Attendees
Next, try cutting down your meeting attendees. Many times we find people in meetings “just to listen”. Ok, that’s their problem. However, if this happens often, people will start to invite you for the same reason.
Identify the minimum number of people who need to attend, and limit it just to those people. Take minutes so that others can learn what happened, without being there. Before you know it, some people will be able to delete meeting invites from their calendar, including yourself.
One way to cut down attendees is to have rotating membership, where delegates carry back the meeting outcomes to their colleagues. This means not all of the colleagues need to be in the meeting at once, and can attend every two or three weeks instead.
Review the Meeting Objectives
Take the time to think about whether your meetings are achieving the objectives that you originally had for them. If they have descended into pointlessness, then it’s time to make a change.
Either cut the meetings, or change them to clarify their objectives, and set an agenda and membership that will achieve those outcomes.
Ask For Agenda Items Early
Another way to help reduce your meetings is to ask attendees for their agenda items before a regular meeting takes place. If there are not enough items, then you can postpone the meeting until there is more to discuss.
This way, you’ll know ahead of time if the meeting is needed. That’s a good way to be able to cancel it early, giving everyone back some valuable time in their day.
3. Reduce Your Emails
Sounds hard? Not necessarily.
There are a few ways to reduce the amount of emails coming into your inbox. One way is to push back on people (see point 1) who use email inappropriately, or email you for trivial issues they could solve for themselves.
Second, you can reduce the mailing distribution lists that you are a part of. This is especially useful if many emails you receive from these lists are largely informational and not entirely necessary.
Third, you can set up automated mail rules to send informational emails such as reports to a specific folder. Then, you can use these special folders as a reference when you need to, rather than having the messages sit in your inbox.
Having a huge inbox can make you feel like your work is out of control, which can reduce your confidence and increase your feelings of insecurity.
4. Delegate More
Delegation is a great way to get work off your plate, but don’t forget that it can also be used to improve the skills and capabilities of your team members.
Look for opportunities to delegate your work to others in your team. This may involve standing in for you at meetings, or working on special projects. This type of delegation can engage team members to contribute more, learn new skills and take on more responsibility.
This can also have the added bonus of improving their confidence, which can lead to them solving their own problems independently in the future, rather than coming to you!
5. Structure Your Day With Intention
Many leaders seem to let the structure of their day be dictated by the needs of others. As meetings and other work comes in, they reactively attend to them.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t set you up for success. The way you use your time will be set by other people, which may not suit your needs.
Good Ways to Add Structure to Your Day
To try to fix this, you can try blocking time in your calendar to perform your work instead of attending meetings. You can also schedule meetings intelligently, in such a way that they don’t ruin your productivity.
For example, if you have a two-hour block of time that you could use for work, it’s a bad idea to have a 30 minute meeting right in the middle of it.
This would mean that instead of two consecutive hours to spend on a substantial task or project, you now have two 45-minute segments and a meeting. You aren’t likely to be able to focus as effectively on a large piece of work when you have 45 minute periods, broken by a meeting.
Lastly, you can try batching your work. For example, instead of answering your emails reactively during the day, schedule blocks of time to do it. Batching has been shown to be far more productive than constantly switching between tasks.
It’s time to stop being too busy at work and to take control of your day! Managing your time effectively is a great way to make sure you’re giving your team what they deserve.