Until I don’t.
Can you relate?
If you can, you’re probably what the Myers-Briggs people call Perceiving. If you can’t, and the very idea of leaving stuff out in case you need it a month from now is deeply disturbing, you’re Judging (not judgmental – that’s a different animal).
The problem with being a clutterbug “P” like me is that the items on my schedule or the stuff on my desk start to accumulate until productivity-wise, it feels as though I’m in quicksand. And then I just want it all gone.
Not organized. Not streamlined. Not prioritized. O.U.T.
What’s true in life is true also in leadership. If you could imagine the whole sphere of your leadership activity – relationships, meetings, communication, conflict resolution, vision, more meetings, planning, etc. – as items on a desktop, what would your “desk” look like? And if you could compare your “desk” with the “desks” of others in your team or organization, how full is theirs? And not to stretch the metaphor too much, let me add that wishing for a bigger “desk” is probably not going to solve the problem.
In leadership as in life, things have a way of accumulating. But you don’t have to surrender to clutter creep. Here are seven ways to redirect your leadership T.R.A.F.F.I.C. and in the process free up more time to focus on those areas where you are indispensable:
Let me go ahead and risk running you off now. The number one reason for clutter creep in the lives of leaders is that they remain convinced they’re the only one who can handle certain things. That’s true to a point. But sooner or later you’re going to have to train somebody else to do some of that stuff, or you’re severely limiting your effectiveness.
That’s my translation of your saying, “It’s a whole lot quicker just to do it myself.”
In the immediate, that’s true. But since when do leaders limit themselves to the immediate? If your time is consumed with the immediate, you’ve gone from leader to practitioner and you’re just spinning your wheels. Training is a leader’s way of focusing on the future by empowering someone else to handle the immediate things.
Then, once trained, you have to let go of some of those things that consume your time and energy. This is where you refer to others.
No, they may not do it as perfectly as you – at least at first. But if they can do it adequately so that you can focus on what you do brilliantly, you’ve just invested in your leadership future.
One side note here: In delegating responsibilities and opportunities to others, check your perfectionism at the door. Feel free to remain the coach or consultant, or even the boss. But let your constituents run with the ball and live with the results.
One of the biggest sources of clutter in a leader’s life can be procrastination. Sometimes we avoid the less pleasant tasks or the most challenging. It’s also easy to put off dealing with problem issues because lives and relationships and feelings are involved. Sadly, those problems or decisions aren’t going anywhere, and they often loom even larger as time goes on.
Nothing cures clutter quite like a healthy round of decisive action. Stop waiting for the perfect opportunity or holding your breath for the next wave of information that isn’t going to change what you already know. Decide! Yes, you may need to adjust as you go, but it’s always easy to steer a moving vehicle than one that’s sitting still. Get moving by taking action. What is one action you can take today that would free up your time and leadership for more effectiveness tomorrow?
Another major source of clutter are projects, issues, ideas, and initiatives that get generated in some of those meetings and then sit on your “leadership desk” for weeks and months after that because you didn’t finish them out or follow up on them.
This is one of my biggest weaknesses. I’m a great starter. I can start any number of things on any given day, and do so with enthusiasm. Then tomorrow I’ll start something else without going back to what I launched into today.
If that describes you, then do yourself and your organization a massive favor. Hire follow-up people and pay them very well. Get an assistant who is also a project manager and empower them to execute on your behalf.
Otherwise, if you can’t hire to your weaknesses, find ways to track progress – a white board, a notebook you revisit daily, an app on your smart phone, whatever. Turn your ideas into projects, and move them along to completion.
More and more we are learning that the idea of multi-tasking is a myth. The latest evidence is coming from brain science. Your brain simply cannot focus on two things at once. It literally goes back and forth from one issue to the other.
But if you are proactive enough with the previous ideas, you should be able to lock in on the one thing you need to be doing right now. That may involve removing other distractions like closing your computer or putting your phone in GO AWAY mode.
Some of those “J”-types I mentioned earlier are experts at this. I have a dear friend who, when I meet with her, starts by taking 15 seconds (that’s all it takes) to clean off her desk. That simple act frees her to focus on our conversation. I have another friend who spends most of his time at his “second office,” which happens to be Burger King. He has all his meetings there. What can you do to focus your energy and attention on the one thing that has to be done?
Stop waiting for somebody else to take the initiative. In basketball, when the ball is in somebody else’s court, there’s this thing called a shot clock. I suggest you get one, too. If you’re waiting for someone else to finish a task and they’re holding your productivity hostage, it’s time to blow the whistle and initiate some action.
One of my leadership mentors is excellent at this. When we are working on project together, if he has passed the baton to me and I haven’t responded in a timely manner, he sends me an email that says something like, “Since I haven’t heard from you, I’m assuming you’re OK with moving forward, so I’m going ahead to the next step.”
Think that may spring me into action? Uh huh. He knows I’m really busy, but he also knows that a little focus from me can clear the clutter for both of us. I suggest you go and do likewise.
Your leadership clutter falls or rises based on your ability to communicate. Do a poor job here, and constituents will continue to put monkeys on your back, force you to answer dozens of unnecessary questions, or leave undone what could easily be checked off and forgotten.
Communication starts with listening. What are your customers, employees, team members, or partners really telling you? What is the market telling you? Listen with your head and your heart, and a good dose of the Serenity Prayer in your spirit.
Beyond that, tell people clearly what your vision is, what your expectations are, and what you need to help you and the organization move forward. Never assume people know what you mean. Markus Buckingham reminds us that the primary job of the leader is to provide clarity. And that takes excellent communication.
You may be able to keep several leadership plates spinning at one time. But without a strategy for de-cluttering your leadership, sooner or later one or more of them will come crashing down. And what’s sad is that it’s so unnecessary. Spend some time re-routing your leadership T.R.A.F.F.I.C. You’ll be amazed how free you become to capture the future for yourself and your organization.
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