I frequently encounter leaders who struggle to find the time to “be strategic” – focussing on important but not urgent activities such as:
- Evolving their business model to find new revenue streams
- Understanding external technological trends, such as cloud computing, CRM and marketing automation
- Reviewing their organisation structures and processes, to ensure they’re fit for purpose
- Building their team’s capabilities, by providing development opportunities, coaching and strategic hiring
This reactive behaviour is a completely understandable, natural tendency, known as Parkinson’s Law – Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. The forces pushing this reactive work to you are huge. Your team is overloaded – you know your people are stressed. You’re think that if you delegate the work, it’ll take you longer and the quality will be lower than if you’d done it yourself. Time and money are tight. You need to maintain control, to ensure that things are done properly.
The problem is, it doesn’t work like that. Your team is overloaded because you don’t have time to review the work coming in before working out whether you’ve got the people and the funds to deliver it. Because you don’t have the time to look at the ways in which you’re working, you don’t find ways to unblock your team and make them fly, and you don’t find the tools and approaches to make them more productive. And because you haven’t been thinking about new revenue streams, you’re stuffed when a key client, channel or partnership goes away.
Making the time
It’s natural to assume that the solution is to become more efficient at the reactive work, to free up time for the strategic. Unfortunately, this is rarely effective, because more reactive work will flood in to fill the space you’ve just created. You will end up expending more energy and focus on reacting, as a result.
Instead, block out the time for the strategic work first, and then fit the reactive stuff around it. If you’re careful about picking these blocks – when your energy his high and the distractions are low, you can achieve a significant amount in that time. Start with 2x2hr blocks per week and go from there.
I can’t free up four hours per week
…the pressure on my time is too great.
Actually, you can. If you incurred an injury, and had to spend an afternoon a week in physio, the world wouldn’t end. The work, your colleagues would just adjust to fit around your absence. This is no different.
I’m an approachable manager. My door is always open.
Good. Glad to hear it. Still, there are many hours in your working week when you’re not available for other reasons, such as when you’re in meetings. Why should a meeting with yourself be any different?
The reactive work is still important, and still needs to be done
For sure. But remember the four Ds of task triage. Can you:
- Delegate it?
That task that you and only you can do? Wouldn’t that be a great development opportunity for someone in your team? Worried that it’ll take you longer than just doing it yourself? Maybe, but if that task has to be done several times, you’ll get your time paid back second time around.
- Descope it?
Can you bite off a smaller piece of the task for now, and pick up the rest later?
- Delay it?
What are the time constraints? Can you push this back a week, a month, a quarter?
- Do it
…only when you’ve answered the previous three questions.
If you want to make the time for strategic work, make it a priority. Schedule it first, before everything else, when your energy and ability to focus is at its highest. Let the rest of your reactive work flow into the space around this defended time.
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