Being busy does not mean you are effective. The higher you are in an organization, the more demand exists for your time. If not disciplined, schedules expand like that “great-stuff” expanding foam to fill each day. A full calendar is not a sign of efficacy but rather a lack of decision-making and effective delegation. Temporary activities and conditions may create periods that require more time. However, a chronic full calendar is a severe problem for most aspiring leaders. Sadly, too many people equate activity with success.
Tim Ferriss, the author of the 4 Hour Workweek, has a thesis about work that is nearly impossible for most of us to comprehend, much less implement. But let’s be honest, are you genuinely effective in your job all day, every day? Or is it more likely that you spend large amounts of time on tasks that merely soak the time from your schedule? Do you spend time doing work because you enjoy the activity and feel comfortable in that space? As a leader, you have a choice. As a CEO or business owner, you have the power to choose how you spend your time.
The first step toward normalcy and success as leaders is a stop doing list. Most people use a “to-do” list daily. This tool is a paper or electronic list of things you check off as completed. The problem is that these lists become so large that you never get them all done, and you resign yourself to never feeling like the work never gets completed. I advocate having a list of things to do in a given period. I recommend that this list be limited to more than today and the next day. My ADD and poor memory need such a list. “Stop doing” lists are powerful because you honestly look at activities that you can or should stop doing. For example, stop doing work that you already pay someone else to do. Stop getting involved in a position that others on your team are responsible for completing in your absence. Stop writing a report that no one reads. Stop filing a paper copy of documents backed up to the cloud on your computer every night. You get the point. We are all guilty of doing work that adds no value to our business.
The second step toward doing nothing is slack time. If you are in a leadership position as a front-line supervisor or seasoned CEO, I recommend 2 hours per day of nothing on your calendar. One hour is in the morning and one hour in the afternoon. This activity may sound counterintuitive, but it allows you to get more work done. Sound crazy? Stay with me; I promise it will make sense.
Planned slack time makes you more productive as a leader by requiring you to reexamine your to-do list. You can think about what you should and should not be doing. Slack time gets used for many things. Most importantly, it allows you to walk around and have spontaneous conversations with your team. These unplanned interactions will enable you to lead the organization indeed. Call it a daily journey of discovery; this is your time to guide others. You will discover problems at infancy, find out a co-worker is dealing with a health issue, and truly invest in the relationships of the people around you. You can think strategically about a problem, call a valued customer, or read a blog. The time is open, and it is yours to use as you choose. Slack time does not mean inactive, and it merely means you have time to be a leader. You are choosing to keep space on your precious calendar to do the actual work that matters most. Slack time reduces stress by saving time on the calendar to deal with an acute emergency.
The third tool for doing nothing is delegation. In theory, we should delegate all routine activities to spend time being a leader. The most significant hurdle is often our ego. We desire to be involved and needed. And sadly, as the boss, it is our choice to get involved or not. No one will usually stop us. Delegate and let the team succeed or fail. You may have to let go of the bicycle seat more than once, but the child will never learn balance while you are holding on. Organizationally, “letting go” of work will force you to hold people accountable. It would be best if you stopped back-filling inadequacy because you are afraid or unwilling to "dehire" the wrong person for the job. It keeps you from doing more meaningful work.
Being a true leader is about communicating a vision or a goal. It is about accountability and feedback in the form of coaching or termination. It is about building trust with the people that will follow you into their discomfort zones. Sadly, the ability to lead effectively gets sacrificed on the altar of your overburdened schedule. Twelve and fourteen-hour workdays punish those you love. You become over-stressed and overwhelmed. You become exhausted to the point that others fear your presence or crave your genuine interest in the little things that matter most. Likewise, you miss essential life activities that never get recaptured.
A full schedule lacks leadership discipline and reflects your inability to control your day and say no to activities. It represents your lack of control. Remember, you get what you tolerate. You train what you tolerate. You deserve what you tolerate.
If you want to do more, start doing less. Conduct a value-added audit of your daily activities. If you are honest, you will find activities that you can stop. Build two hours of slack time in your day to be a leader. People will appreciate your genuine interest, and you will have time to react in an emergency. Delegate half the work you are currently performing. You may discover someone on your team can do the work better. Your ego tells you that you are the only one who can do the job well. You will become a happier and more productive leader. You will get more done!