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If you’re like most leaders, you have what amounts to an infinite workload. There are always more messages to process, more people to contact and more projects to manage.
You’ve probably responded by working longer and harder, until there are no more hours in the day and you’re wearing yourself ragged.
But there’s another way. I’ve spoken with over 100 CEOs – my own clients and guests on my podcast. They’ve mastered the art of working on what matters.
Here are five common mistakes that keep good leaders stuck in the weeds, and how you can get started on a more strategic path.
1. You’re using time, not investing it
The best leaders realize that “you can’t change gear with your foot on the accelerator.”
Instead of using their time (solving this month’s issues), they invest their time to build relationships and capabilities that make future progress far simpler and easier.
Getting started: Pick a recurring low-value task and invest time to simplify, systematize or delegate it. Use the time you’ve just saved to rinse and repeat.
2. You’re trying to free yourself up from operations
Most people start by trying to free themselves up from all the lower-level tasks around them. But it’s the wrong approach. Whenever we free up a few minutes, we just find more things to do.
Instead, take a lesson from one of my clients who achieved “instant delegation mastery”. His wife admitted to hospital, seriously ill. Because it was clear that his real priority was to be with her, he abandoned his excuses and half-hearted delegation tactics and freed himself up overnight to be with his wife.
So, don’t try to free yourself up “from” operations. Instead, free yourself up “for” truly important activities.
Getting started: Set a three-minute timer and brainstorm important questions you want to answer. Pick just one and turn it into a project that you are determined to make time for.
3. You think you have a productivity problem
Most people believe that what they really need is another productivity tip. But as I explain in detail in my book, Making Time For Strategy: How to Be Less Busy and More Successful, there are four barriers that need to be addressed if you want to become more strategic.
Tactics is just one of them.
For example, a barrier that most people overlook is Influence. You may know exactly what it would take to free yourself up, but you can’t persuade your boss to let you skip the pointless team call, you’re afraid to tell your colleague you need to leave their project team, and you’re unsure how to stop your team from dragging you into low-level problem solving.
Getting started: What’s one conversation that you need to have to extract yourself from a big drain on your time? Schedule it now.
4. You feel guilty when you’re not efficient
It’s easy to feel unproductive and irresponsible when we take time out from immediate operational concerns.
As one new CEO said, “I know I need to work on strategy, but when I close my office door to strategise I feel horribly guilty that I’m not being there for my team.”
However, we have a choice — be efficient, or be creative.
Creativity isn’t efficient: It involves experimentation, struggle, and a sense of wasting time. But creativity is where breakthroughs occur. And the chances are that you’re over-rotated in the direction of efficiency.
Getting started: Start small. Block out a tiny period of time, decide on a strategic topic you want to work on, and take it from there.
5. You’re not solving for your team
You might already have created space in your own calendar for strategic work. But it’s difficult to elevate your focus if the rest of your team is drowning in busywork.
It’ll be hard for your team to take on activities that you delegate. And it’ll be even harder for them to find time to implement any new ideas you generate.
Getting started: Engage your team in conversation to raise awareness of these issues. Remember, your team members are probably making all of these mistakes too!
The big warning from speaking and working with those 100 CEOs is that it’s dangerous but all-too-easy to work on operational issues, leading to tunnel vision and incremental progress. So, ask yourself: What’s one thing you can do today to make more time for strategy and pursue your breakthrough goals?