Get Ahead of Your Day; Don't Let It Chase You!

#fourpillarsofleadership deancrisp gettingaheadofyourday makingthemostofyourday Aug 17, 2022

Leading others is perhaps one of the most challenging things you will do in life and in your career. Often, as parents, managers, spouses, or coaches, we are really, really good at directing the action of others. But the truly successful leaders I’ve known are those who find the secret sauce to helping others lead themselves. This week’s theme is about helping you develop the techniques that help you get ahead of your day and your week. Often, most of us struggle with personal productivity and how to be more efficient in our workflow. When we add in the responsibility as a leader to help others get ahead of their days and weeks, it can see daunting.

Countless thought leaders and business leaders have written books, developed classes, and created complex systems that help them manage workflow and stay on task. Many that we’ve heard of include Six Sigma and Gantt Charts and Kanban boards. All of these come out of the world of manufacturing where in-time delivery of parts and supplies is the difference between a profitable and unprofitable production line. However, many of these concepts have been adopted in service organizations and serve to inform us as to what may work for our unique circumstances. I want to preface all of this by saying that just as understanding and treating each person who works for you uniquely, so too must you adopt the workflows and project management systems that work for your team.

To that end let’s look at a few that might be relevant and that have worked for many of my colleagues over the years.

Stephen Covey in his many books beginning with my favorite, The Seven Habits of Highly-Effective People brought to the mainstream the Eisenhower matrix that looks like this:

It’s self-explanatory in its concept and is particularly helpful for setting personal and team priorities. If you have a small team or are just looking for a quick way to set your own personal priorities, I highly recommend this technique. You can read more about this strategy behind this in any of Covey’s books, but the basics are fairly simple to understand:

Something is URGENT when it requires your or your team’s immediate attention. Usually this is time-sensitive, but the catch is to determine if they are also important.

Something is IMPORTANT when it contributes to your medium and long-term goals. This is where it is so important to revisit the Building Teams concepts where we talk about the importance of explaining the why and purpose of all that you do as a leader and a team. This will create synergy in all you do and make sure that the focus is on what is important. Being proactive is really key to avoid important things from creeping into the urgent. Your goal is to avoid Quadrant I as much as possible and spend most of your time in Quadrant II.

So, you say that’s great for setting the overall goals of what to do and how to determine where each priority falls, but how do I actually execute them in a structured and productive manner? And more importantly, how do I get my team to execute them consistently and without falling into the urgency addiction.

 What’s the old adage, “If it wasn’t for the last minute, nothing would get done?”

 In any event, we all want to find the magic that creates happy, productive, and intrinsically motivated workers. Recognizing that each of us works differently and has different challenges is key to determining what will work best.

 Some of your employees may need a system like David Allen’s Getting Things Done where he shows you a master list system for accomplishing tasks. The concept is simple and requires some discipline by taking the time weekly and daily to write down all of your ‘to-dos’ on a master list. He recommends focusing on the top 3 priorities first each day and then working through the rest of the list. Another is Don’t Break the Chain by Jerry Seinfeld, yes “the” Jerry Seinfeld who found this system helpful for creative types like himself.

 Other employees need help with time-blocking. One method is The Pomodoro Technique by Francesco Cirillo that teaches a system for working through a project and getting the most out of your workday. The system is straight-forward in that you breakdown your work project in 25-minute segments and take a 5-minute break following 4 sequences of this with a longer break like for lunch.

Some of your employees may need a focus on the actual habits they need to set and create to be their most productive. A popular book is Zen to Done that focuses on habits and, honestly, where I’ve had the most success is with utilizing many of these suggestions. Specifically:

1) Capture ideas, tasks, notes in one place (sounds a little like David Allen’s book). I do this with my leadership journal. I know where it is always and it’s always with me. Find what works for you and use it!

2) Managing your electronic correspondence: Decide quickly on inbox items & categorize them by priority. I truly recommend doing this only 2-3 times daily or you will get bogged down with it and it will cut into your priority. Same holds for routine texts and/or phone calls.

3) Set goals for the year; quarter; month; and week. This will set your priorities and help you determine what is really important. Write these goals down and keep them somewhere that you will see them every single day. You guessed it, mine are in my leadership journal AND we have a team KanBan board at the office for everyone to see and track each of our projects. It looks similar to this and you can implement one on your conference room white board: 

4) Do not multi-task and avoid distractions. This is hard to do, but if you can discipline yourself to do it, you will reap the rewards. I like to time block where you focus for 1 hour or 2 on a project of importance without interruption. Here’s an example of what most do and how timeblocking differs:

5) Be organized. I know, this is probably one of the hardest to do for some personalities, but the goal here is to have important and current work project files handy and in a logical place.

6) Keep everything in its proper place as it makes sense to you. In tandem with number 5, you are only organized if you stay organized. When you travel as much as I do, keeping a system that you can access anywhere becomes important. Our company utilizes the Google Drive for this purpose. I also make sure that anything I need to consistently access for classes, clients, or students is on my laptop computer.

7) Set time to review weekly. I learned this habit from Stephen Covey’s first book. Pick a day each week that allows you to do two things: 1) review the accomplishments or missteps of the preceding week and 2) gives you some time to set the priorities for the upcoming week. When you review these priorities in light of your goals talked about and set in number 3, it will help you be more productive and efficient. Does it match with my why and purpose? With our team’s goals, why and purpose?  

8) Set and keep a routine. When you do this, all of the rest becomes fairly simple. Use timers on your phone or watch as reminders to keep you on time and on task. If Sunday afternoon is your best day to do a weekly review, then set the time and keep it! Sure, it may shift here or there depending on family commitments or other priorities, but the key is to keep a block of time on that day each week. Same with daily routines. See my Monday Motivation for more tips on that. People who get up and get going to a daily routine, accomplish more and are happier with their accomplishments.

9) Find work that you are passionate about. I’m fortunate in that I get to do what I’ve always wanted to do – grow other leaders. I’m not always perfect at it and I won’t ever say I’m the best, but I have a deep desire to grow both myself and others into the best versions of ourselves. As leaders, this is the greatest gift we can give anyone – to see them for what they can be and not what they are.

10) Celebrate your success! When you accomplish goals you need to give yourself and your team the recognition and reward deserved.I hope these ideas have helped you create a system that works for you.

I hope these ideas have helped you create a system that works for you. I’d love to hear what system(s) you use and how they are helping you and your team become their best. Getting ahead of your day is one of the greatest skills you will develop as a leader. Staying ahead of your day, week, and goals, is truly the path to significant leadership

Have a great rest of your week!


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