“There are not enough hours in the day!”
We’ve all, at some point, have exclaimed that in exasperation. But guess what: it doesn’t have to be true. Time is one of the most significant professional considerations leaders have as they look to do more and amplify their impact. Cracking the code on time is especially relevant to professionals at a crossroads, those ready for their next promotion, looking to join the C-suite, or scale up their leadership or business.
A Stanford study found that productivity per hour declines when we work too much. People who work 70 or more hours a week get the same amount of work done as those who work 55 hours. We all have the same 24 hours in the day, yet some individuals can accomplish much more. But how?
Prioritization is not just about what needs to be done but whether you are focusing your time and attention to work on the most important goals you need to achieve. And this is a daily choice. A Harvard study found that people who spent as little as 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting on lessons they learned and planning performed 23% better than those who didn’t. Having a mental picture of what you want to achieve and what are the most important projects and their impact will help you prioritize and manage your focus and attention.
Ensure to allocate the time and resources to do things that matter most to you. You can think of these as your “anchor tenants.” Think of the big retailers at a shopping mall that take the largest space, capture the highest foot traffic, and generate the biggest returns. Identify and name your anchor tenants (aka critical projects or initiatives); when you do, you will know what to focus on first. This also means that you will need to say no more often and know what’s a yes—the things that really require your attention.
Trust, delegate, and empower
Jack Dorsey, the former CEO of Twitter, has a fascinating analogy. Leaders need to be editors, not writers. So, to get more done in the same amount of hours, leaders need to shift mentally from being doers to enablers. This means trusting your team, whether direct reports or those you influence and removing yourself as the bottleneck. Of course, there are some decisions that only you must take, but if you feel you need to weigh in on every decision your team makes, then you are slowing the process and creating a dependency that makes it even harder for you to disconnect.
Alex Husted, the cofounder of Helpsy, suggest delegating the urgent work. As leaders, we decide how to spend our time between what is urgent and important. Often, we choose to work on what is urgent as it needs to be done, but the reality is that everything is urgent these days. However, it’s the important work that is critical to thriving in the long-term, Strategic planning, breakthrough innovation, and building partner relationships, don’ qualify as urgent. So, don’t get distracted and spend your time focusing on putting out the fire of the day. The biggest return is working on what is important. A “time suck” is a fire that needs to be put out, so don’t. To do more, delegate the urgent matters, empower your team to make decisions, and take action. Be relentless, focus your attention on what’s important, and do only that.
To create this new team dynamic effectively, begin by assessing your current team and resources. Start by asking the following questions:
- How can I set clear roles and responsibilities to ensure transparency and accountability?
- How can I empower my team with the right skills and capabilities to step up as I look to shift my focus? How can I set them up for success?
- What processes, resources, or support systems do they need?
- How can I enable my team to be resilient to address mistakes and setbacks?
This assessment will help you identify gaps you need to address first. These should be part of your priorities. The goal is to surround yourself with a team you trust and are capable of getting the work done. Then, empower them with the tools they need and get out of the way.
Let go of control
The idea that working longer hours is a way to demonstrate value has two unintended negative outcomes. First, if you don’t succeed, you build the narrative in your mind that perhaps you didn’t work hard enough. And you may associate how busy you are with how much impact you are making. So letting go of the idea that working more makes you more valuable and productive is the first step on your journey to change your relationship with time.
Stop thinking, “Only I can do it.” If you need to know or direct what everyone is doing, you are not effectively delegating. You are micromanaging. These tendencies create a toxic work culture and make your teams feel disengaged and undervalued. Job autonomy is one of the key drivers of workplace happiness.
Have a clear understanding of what success looks like. Getting it perfect is not the ideal outcome; getting it done is. We are not suggesting accepting sloppy work but rather letting go of the idea that only you know what is best. Also, see this opportunity as a teaching moment. How can you develop your team if you don’t give them room to try?
Always ask yourself, what is the objective? Is it for me to have total control or be an enabler to get more done? Look to create an Omni-connected culture where your employees feel seen, connected, and empowered to solve problems. As you advance in your career, your goal is not to “do more” but to do more through others. At the end of the day, as you scale your leadership and reframe your relationship with time, you will realize that your impact is multiplied by how many people you can enable and empower. It is not what you do but how you do it. When you make that mental shift, you will be on your way to managing your focus and attention to what truly matters.
Jenny Fernandez is a marketing executive, start-up advisor, leadership coach and adjunct lecturer at Columbia University. Luis Velasquez is an executive coach to tech leaders in Silicon Valley and a leadership facilitator at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.