Our team spends a lot of our time facilitating leadership development programmes. Companies around the world send their top people on training courses to help them step up, be more productive and become better leaders. One of the biggest complaints that delegates on these courses have is that they just don’t know where they are going to find the time to do all the things we recommend to them.

Finding time to be a good leader seems to be a big issue.

We know this all too well. One of the biggest concerns I have about senior leaders is that most of them are too busy. They’re “stuck in the weeds” as the Americans would say, answering emails, attending meetings, managing details, and working long, long hours. You might think that this is what senior leaders are supposed to do: that’s their job. But actually, senior leaders are meant to be the thinkers in the organisation. Like a good sports coach/manager, they’re not supposed to be IN the game as much they are meant to be observing, planning, strategising and coaching. Obviously, this analogy is not perfect: senior leaders in business do have tasks they’re responsible for, and jobs to do. But almost all the world’s senior executives spend too much IN their businesses, and not enough time working ON their businesses.

And it’s because they’re too busy. Each time they’ve been promoted, they’ve simply added more responsibilities and activities, often without really removing much. And let’s be honest for a moment: we do tend to glorify busy people.

This is not just a senior leadership problem. In fact, we all face it. There are things you will do today that you didn’t need to do, that you actually shouldn’t do, and that will therefore hold you back from being the best you can be in your job. You have become a slave to the urgent, to the mundane, to the repeat appointment, to your team’s habits, and it will wear you down sooner than later.

So, what should we do about it?

There’s a simple starting point: create a NOT to do list.

Look at your diary for the week ahead, and pick one activity each day that you’re NOT going to do. Send your apologies if it affects other people. I’m just suggesting you try this once. If it’s a team meeting, just skip it for this week. If it’s the constant checking of your inbox, schedule a particular daily time slot to answer emails, and ignore them the rest of the day. Whatever it is, choose to NOT do something each day this week. I’m not suggesting you never attend a team meeting again, or ignore emails forever (wouldn’t that be nice, though). I’m not suggesting you stop one of your job critical key performance activities.

Well, maybe I am. Because the second step will be on Friday afternoon. Hopefully you can free up some time then to evaluate the things you didn’t do. What have you lost by not doing them? What did you miss? Was it really that important? Did you catch it up again, easily and in much less time than the original activity?  And more importantly, what did you do with the time you gained? How do you feel at the end of the week: energised, engaged, connected? Take the time to do this self-analysis (trust me, just do it).

In our busy and hectic worlds, the real difference between the good leaders and the great ones is that the best people know what NOT to do as much as they know what they should be doing. They are just as good at choosing what to say NO to as they are at saying yes. And they are deliberate, conscious and intentional about removing items from their diaries, in order to make space for the more important issues they need to handle. They make time to think, to connect and to strategise.

Go on. Try it. You can thank me for the extra time you have later.


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