Are you feeling overwhelmed with a to-do list as long as your arm? Are you feeling pressured by lack of time and looming deadlines? If you are, you are not alone. Leadership roles, while rewarding, bring a host of challenges and stresses, but there are proven methods the most effective leaders implement to handle these pressures.
Effective leaders master priorities and concentration
In the minds of many, the keys to effective leadership are priorities and concentration. Effective leaders set priorities for themselves based on their personal and organizational goals. Then they plan work and keep these priorities front and center. John Maxwell says, “A leader who knows his priorities but lacks concentration knows what to do, but never gets it done. A leader with concentration but no priorities has excellence without progress. But when leaders harness both, they gain the potential to achieve great things.”
People prioritize based on a variety of things: first things first; fun things first; difficult things first. How do you determine your priorities? To get back on track with your focus, work on spending more time in your “strength zone.” That’s the area where you are most successful. It allows you to reach your potential. It is also helpful to engage colleagues when trying to get back on track with your focus. Remember, none of us can be effective by ourselves.
Doing the right thing or doing things right?
Management guru Peter Drucker said, “Doing the right thing is more important than doing things right.” Doing the right thing determines effectiveness; doing things right determines efficiency. Effective leaders focus on identifying the right thing to do, and then concentrate on how to do it right.
How do we determine the “right thing?”
Many have heard the phrase, “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.” Ineffective leaders experiment with too many goals, never achieving a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. Goal setting is essential to time management. Goals give life purpose and direction. Goals also help you choose between priorities and distractions. When you know where you want to go, you can manage your time and resources.
Tips for Mastering Time Management
- Find out where you are wasting time
Several years ago when the Wallace Foundation worked with school districts as part of the School Administrative Manager (SAM) project, part of the training was to document how SAMs used their day. For one week, each SAM carried a clipboard and wrote down what they were doing every fifteen minutes during the day. At the end of the week, the results were surprising. Most were amazed to find out how they were really spending time during their week. Changes in daily patterns usually result in saving several hours each week.
- End your “open door” policy
Instead, adopt a “variable door” policy. Close your office door when you need to eliminate distraction and focus on work, or when you have an important conversation with someone in your office or on the phone. An open door invites others to “pop-in” for casual conversation. Be sure to let your team know that a closed door does not mean “stay away,” but instead means, “I need to focus. If you need me, please knock.”
- Learn to say “no”
Knowing the realistic amount of work that you can complete in a given timeframe is useful. When planning on paper, it is easy to overestimate and think you can accomplish more than is realistic. Setting unrealistic goals will create a sense of being overwhelmed. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver.
- Use small blocks of time effectively
Always take something with you to work on while you are waiting. Occasionally we wait for someone to show for a meeting, or we arrive early for a workshop. These small blocks of time are perfect to catch up on reading articles, sending quick emails, and returning phone calls.
- Eliminate distractions
You may not have much control over your working environment but do what you can to reduce distractions. Identify the things that are distracting you at work. Phone ringing? Text and email messages keep popping in? Twitter? Facebook? Can’t find that important piece of paper? You can eliminate many of these distractions with a few simple steps. Turn your phone(s) off, and have the calls sent directly to voicemail. Schedule time each day to check email and phone messages. Keep a clean desktop, having only the material on which you are currently working on your desk. This eliminates wasted time shuffling through papers and moving between tasks before finishing what you start.
The keys to effective leadership are setting priorities and concentrating on the right things. The most effective leaders focus on their priorities and get more done with the same amount of time. Your time is a valuable resource. You can work to earn more money, but you cannot get more time. When you waste time, you are giving away part of your life that you will never get back.
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About the Author
Dr. Kevin F. Hub serves as Executive-in-Residence for Eastern Kentucky University. Dr. Hub recently retired as the Superintendent of Scott County Schools in Georgetown, Kentucky, a position he held for almost 6 years. Previously, Dr. Hub served as Superintendent for Logan County Schools and was a teacher, Assistant Principal, and Assistant Superintendent for Madison County Schools.
Dr. Hub is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point. He served with distinction on the front lines in Desert Storm earning the Bronze Star Medal and the Army Commendation Medal with “V” device for Valor.
Dr. Hub is married to Nanette and has three children Keaton, Kasey, and Luke.