Tag Archives: delegate

This One Thing is Ruining Your Productivity

If you’re like most leaders, you spend your days rushing around dealing with emergencies, challenges, meetings and emails. Your days seem like a blur, and you struggle to articulate what you accomplished in your 10+ hours at the office. This may be the norm for most leaders, but it doesn’t have to be.

One of the biggest challenges leaders face at work are interruptions. Whether it’s phone calls and texts, emails pinging all day, or employees dropping in for “a quick question”, these interruptions take a serious toll on your productivity. Experts say the typical office worker wastes 40 to 60 percent of their day on interruptions.

And even if your interruptions don’t involve people, there are a plethora of distractions that impede getting real work done. As an entrepreneur, my office is in my house. There are no people there during the work day, but there are dishes in the sink, toys on the floor, and papers to be filed. Even looking at these distractions hinders my focus and concentration. When I have a big project or an article to write (like this one) that requires me to focus, I often go to a coffee shop so I can get in the zone and not get distracted by non-urgent things pulling at my attention. Ironically, the buzz of the coffee shop also helps my concentration and focus. I get more done in two hours there than I do all day in my office.

I believe your office is one of the worst places to work, because everyone knows where to find you!

Below are four strategies for reducing interruptions so you can get real work done.

Close your door. In the age of the “open door policy,” closing your door may seem bold. But let me assure you, you cannot be productive with your door open all day. Most organizations have taken the open door policy to the extreme, thinking that having your door open all day sends the message to your employees that you are a great leader. Employees want leaders who are approachable and supportive. They don’t need you to be available every second of the day. Frankly, most employees would welcome you to close your door once in a while so they can focus on their work without their leader watching every move. I’m not suggesting you close your door all day, every day. But blocking out two hours a day to close your door and focus will increase your productivity dramatically.

One of my clients created signs for their team members that says “Brilliance at Work”. When an employee needs some quiet time to focus, they put this sign on their door or cubicle to signal that they are in the zone, so don’t interrupt.

Silence your electronics. It’s not a novel idea (or is it?), yet so few leaders practice it. Part of what drains productivity is the time it takes to recover after an interruption. Even that email notification that you glance at for a few seconds breaks your concentration. Studies show it can take up to 25 minutes to the return to the original task after an interruption. It’s a wonder how leaders get anything done at the office. Multi-tasking has been proven to not be effective and actually hurt productivity, so the best way to get real work done is to sequester yourself and turn off your electronic devices. Even if you do this once a day for an hour, you will see a dramatic increase in your productivity.

Start your meetings by articulating the purpose. How many meetings do you attend each day that are a waste of time? Usually it’s because you are trying to do too many things in one meeting. A best practice is to identify the purpose of that specific meeting, and announce it at the beginning of the meeting so everyone is on the same page. This keeps the meeting focused and on track. An example might be: “The goal of this meeting is to review the three proposals we received and decide which company we will partner with”. That’s much different than just starting the meeting and going off on several tangents that just wastes time.

You can cut out useless follow up meetings by making the first meeting productive in the first place. Less meetings equals more time for real work!

Reduce upward delegation. Many of the interruptions leaders face is from employees. While at times you need to provide guidance and support to your staff members, many interruptions are avoidable. Some employees “upward delegate” to their leaders—they look to their manager to make a decision for them. A way to reduce these interruptions is to coach your employee through the challenge. If an employee approaches you to ask how to handle a situation or project, ask her one of these questions:

  • What do you think?
  • What are your options?
  • What might your next step be?

These questions put the ownership back on the employee and require her to think about how to approach the situation herself. If you continue to coach employees around tasks they can handle themselves, you’ll start to see a reduction in the interruptions as they learn to think for themselves.

Effective leadership requires that you get results. To get results, you need time to focus on real work, not just the typical office “emergencies”. To be a successful leader, you have to take charge of your productivity, because no one else will.

I’d love to hear from you. What are some ways you reduce interruptions so you can get real work done?

How to Succeed When You’re Overcommitted and Overwhelmed

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed that you want to crawl back under the covers, eat a pint of ice cream, and watch Friends on TV all day? I had a moment like this last month when I overextended myself and felt swamped with all my commitments.

I was flying back from California after traveling for business, and felt a wave of panic as I thought about the week ahead.  I had a week full of clients, a speech to present that Friday, and my kids had a slew of activities. I had also volunteered to be Vice President of the Parent Association at my children’s school earlier that year, and I was in charge of the spring fair event that was to take place the next weekend. We were getting ready to have pictures taken to put our house on the market, and on top of all that, I had volunteered to lead the new website project at the school as well. I was overcommitted, overwhelmed, and completely stressed.

I’ve always prided myself on being able to balance so many projects and commitments. I’m great at managing my time and juggling multiple responsibilities. But there was a precise moment that week when I reached a breaking point. I had no balance. I stopped exercising, I was staying up late, and wasn’t eating healthy. I felt anxious all the time, and didn’t feel like I had a moment to even breathe. My mind was so overwhelmed with what I had to do, that I felt paralyzed and couldn’t think straight. I had no space in my schedule for at least three weeks, and felt depleted and exhausted.

My husband gently reminded me that perhaps I couldn’t do it all, and needed to make some choices about what I could reasonably accomplish. The answer was clear to me in that moment: I needed to resign from vice president of the Parent Association.  Saying no is hard for me, but I realized I needed to put boundaries in place to gain my time and energy back. That one decision took a huge weight off of my shoulders.

Although on some level it felt good to be a part of so many things, it was at the expense of the bigger picture. Being overtaxed was in direct conflict of my values. Particularly the time I was investing in my children’s school.  I was making a big impact for the school, but at the expense of my own personal impact. The time and energy I was spending volunteering could be channeled into my family, my business, and my health and make a bigger impact in my own life.

I’m sure you’ve had an experience like this. You say yes to so many things because you are a leader. You are a leader at work, in your life, and in your family. You want to serve; to be involved, make a contribution, and get things done. And maybe you feel a little bit obligated to contribute your best effort all the time.

It was tough for me to admit that I couldn’t do everything, and that I had overcommitted myself. At first I felt like I had failed and that I should be able to handle everything with ease and balance my life perfectly.

This experience got me reflecting: why do we feel like we have to do it all? And, is there such a thing as work life balance?

There has been a significant change in our society and how we live over the past 30 years. More women are in the workforce and contributing in broader ways. While this is a positive shift, for many women, these changes have added an additional layer of stress since most of us still have responsibilities and commitments outside of work. Even if you have a great partner who shares the responsibilities, there is still a lot to balance with raising children, running the household, getting involved in the community, and working a full time job. And that doesn’t even take into account time for yourself. Simply put: we’ve added several more roles in our lives, and we have the same amount of time to perform them. I often have to remind myself that I have two jobs: running my business, and running my home life. The responsibilities of home life don’t diminish for women who are working outside the home.

Most of us walk around each day in a state of stress, and look outside ourselves to place the blame. We blame our boss. We blame our kids. We blame our spouse. We even blame time.

But busy is a choice. Overwhelm is a choice. Stress is a choice. It was hard for me to accept that, but I realized that I have choices in how to spend my time. I don’t have to say yes to everything, and I am ultimately responsible for my life experience.

One of my mentors, Marie Forleo, so brilliantly said, “You can have it all, but you can’t do it all.”

Although we may want to do everything, and do it all well, when there is an abundance of things to do and only so much time, there has to be tradeoffs. It’s just not possible to do everything and do it well. This creates an enormous amount of stress that bleeds into our work. Leaders who value achievement and impact often have a hard time saying no. We load up on our commitments and fear we may be perceived negatively if we can’t handle it all. And if you are a leader at work, juggling the responsibilities of coaching, developing, and mentoring employees can add to the stress.

In her article, Stressed, Tired, Rushed: A Portrait of the Modern Family, Claire Cain Miller cites research from a Pew survey that indicates women still do the majority of the housework and childcare. As one woman put it, “you feel like you’re doing a horrible job at everything.”

So what ‘s the solution? I’m not sure this challenge will be solved anytime soon. Most organizations still operate in a bureaucratic manner and struggle to embrace a more modern approach of work life integration. And most women struggle to find a balance between work and home with all their competing roles.

But there are small steps that can make a difference. I am much more deliberate about how I schedule my time. I am pausing to consider opportunities and commitments before I say yes. I have hired more help with managing the home because I realize I can’t do it all. I put boundaries in place and don’t accept weeknight commitments that will keep me out past 8:30 p.m. so that I can keep to my 9:30 p.m. bedtime. I am saying no more often. No, I don’t need to accept every play date or have my children attend every birthday party. No, I choose not to volunteer any more time outside of my family. And no, I will not feel guilty for going to yoga on Saturdays.

These small steps make a difference, yet I’m experienced enough in life to know that it doesn’t solve the problem. There will be times where I start to feel stressed and overcommitted. I may fall off the wagon and say yes too much. I am a work in progress. I may never manage this life perfectly.

But for now: I choose space. I choose calm. I choose to say no.

Three Tips for Becoming a Master Delegator

I worked for a credit union years ago, and when I was first promoted to HR director, I remember my boss telling me that my promotion came with a lot of changes. I would no longer be assessed just on my technical expertise. My success would be evaluated on my leadership abilities and how my team performed. This was a challenge for me, as I enjoyed being a problem solver and technical expert. When an employee had a benefit question, I could answer it off the top of my head. When there was a payroll issue, I felt accomplished when I could figure out the discrepancy. Yet this all changed when I was promoted. I was now expected to coach and train my staff to take care of these issues while I focused on more strategic, long-term projects.

Many leaders struggle to make the leap from manager to leader because they fail to realize that the value they bring to the organization changes when they are promoted. When most managers are promoted, they continue the activities they did in their previous role and take on some additional duties like performance evaluations and answering staff questions. But to be a successful leader, a big shift has to occur. You need to make sure you are not confusing your expertise with your value. As an HR generalist, the value I brought to the credit union was my human resources expertise. But as an HR director, my expertise was less important. Different competencies like influencing, coaching and delegating were required to be successful. This was a big mental shift for me, and one that didn’t happen easily.

One of the first things I needed to do was to identify the key result areas for my new role, and delegate the activities that were not in my key result areas. This exercise helped me to focus on the areas that were most important to be successful as a leader.

Defining key result areas is one of the first exercises I have participants in my leadership programs complete so they can be absolutely clear about where they need to focus their energy and time. For a copy of the exercise I use in my leadership program, click here: Key Result Areas Exercise

Once you have identified your key result areas, the next step is to determine what to delegate. This sounds easy, but in practice it can be quite challenging. The truth is, most leaders have not mastered delegation. Most of us struggle to let go of things we know we can do well in order to free up our time to focus on areas that will deliver more value. Additionally, many leaders get addicted to the feeling of checking things off their list. I am a master at list making, and checking things off gives me a rush of accomplishment. But sometimes they are small wins and not the things I should be working on. I keep myself in check by identifying my top two priorities for the day and completing those before I move on to smaller tasks.

If you ever struggle with letting things go, here are three tips to become a master delegator:

1.  Track your activities. For two weeks, make a list of every activity or task you come across that can be done by someone else. As a business owner, I used to struggle (and sometimes still do) with handing things off to my assistant. I would convince myself that this task was something only I could do. But when I had more work than time, I had to make a change. I created a list of things my assistant could do and started delegating tasks each time we met. Some activities were easy to delegate (create tabs for leadership binders) and some were more complex (manage my website). I didn’t delegate everything at once, but creating a list helped us to work toward unloading more things off my plate. Another strategy is to think about how much you make an hour, and determine if a task or activity is worth paying your hourly rate, or the rate of one of your employees. Delegate tasks that can be done by someone else effectively, but cheaper.

2. Take time to coach and delegate effectively. There is a difference between dumping and delegating. Dumping is assigning a task to someone with no guidance or direction. Delegating (particularly for more complex tasks) takes time and patience. Most people avoid delegating because they know it will take more time up front to show someone else than to complete the task themselves. But that investment of time will reap rewards down the road. The proper way to delegate is to explain the result you need, share information or expertise you have, and then provide support as your employee completes the task herself. Give the employee the authority to carry the task to completion, and don’t micromanage the process. Let your employee know you are available if he has questions.

3. Create a follow-up system. Depending on the task, you may need to create a method of follow-up with your employee. Does he need to send you a report each month? By what date? Does he need to let you know when he’s completed the task? Be clear when you are delegating about deadlines and the follow-up method. I once delegated an important task to my assistant and didn’t give her a deadline. I assumed she knew it was a priority. I assumed wrong and it was my own fault. As a leader, it is your responsibility to be clear about your expectations. Use the Why-What-When method. Why you need it, What you need, and by When.

Do you ever struggle with delegation? What are your tips for letting go of tasks that aren’t a good use of your time?