By Ron Price

The life of a leader continues to grow more complex, demanding and noisy.  The rise of the mobile internet, expanded markets across multiple time zones, and the extended work hours (both intentional and passive) have changed the traditional 8-hour per day job into a 16–18 hour per day job for most leaders.  If this is your experience, here are three tips to bring some order and sanity to your schedule:

Create and grow your discretionary time.  
I have been privileged to coach dozens of leaders around the world and this is one of the first conversations we have.  “How much time each day do you own 100%?”  This is time that you control without distractions or interruptions.  Time that you can use for what matters most (and hopefully, those issues that will have a long-term impact, such as your professional growth).

I discovered this back in the ’70s when I decided to take ownership of part of every day.  I started by beginning my work day 30 minutes earlier, informing everyone I interacted with that during these 30 minutes I would not be taking phone calls and should not be interrupted unless there was a life threatening situation.  Much to my surprise, I have NEVER been interrupted over the 35 plus years I have been following this practice.  In one of my executive positions, I eventually stretched this discretionary block of time to four hours every day!

I asked one business leader, “What would the impact be if every one of your employees had 45 minutes of discretionary time every day and they spent it intentionally on the things that matter most?”  The answer: “I can’t begin to understand what a tremendous impact this would have in our business.”  So why not make this part of your day and part of your organizational culture?  Over and over again, I have observed that we don’t have time that we own 100% simply because we don’t ask, we don’t inform, or we don’t practice it consistently.

Keep an electronic list of tasks to be completed.
It amazes me how few leaders have mastered the ability to build, manage and complete a large set of tasks.  We hire administrative assistants to fill the gap of our incompetence in organizing and executing around priorities.  There are dozens of task management apps available today that automatically sync between your phone, computer, tablet, (and even your watch).

Whichever app you choose to use, I have learned that two primary activities help me handle more tasks then ever before in my career.  The first is to put EVERY task in my system in separate lists that are labeled, A = Critical to Survival, B = Important to Success, C = Somewhat Important, and D = Not Important or Unknown Importance.  Each task is identified by its priority, when I should take action, and when it needs to be completed.  No slips of paper, tasks written on napkins, or various notepads.  All the tasks need to be in one place—on my digital task management system.

The second practice is to spend 15–30 minutes every day organizing, updating, and reviewing your task list.  I am constantly moving tasks around to fit the reality of my schedule.  With the right app, this is quick and easy.  Part of this 15–30 minutes each day should also be set aside to review your long-term goals and to reflect on the values by which you choose to govern yourself and relate to others.  In other words, this daily practice amounts to a personal and professional tune up.  Some folks prefer to do this at the end of each day (and there is some strong neuroscience to validate this end-of-day approach).  Personally, I am more consistent when I make this part of my early morning rituals.

Identify your necessary results.
Ask yourself, “What are the 3–5 key results that I’m responsible to create?”  Every job or role, both at home and at work, can be boiled down to 3–5 key results that will reflect superior performance.  (These should be more strategic than the often-practices KPIs – key performance indicators.)

The more clarity you have around the key results that reflect superior performance in your roles, the better decisions and choices you will make throughout the day.  In order to make sure your “busyness” throughout the day has lasting value, take some time to identify your roles and the key results that reflect superior performance in each role.  These include your job, your roles at home, and your roles in the community.  Once you have identified the key results that will reflect superior performance in your various roles, ask these questions:

  • How can I measure these key results?
  • What activities are necessary in order for me to achieve these key results?
  • What new or improved skills will help me achieve these key results?

Practicing these tips of growing your discretionary time, managing your task list consistently, and improving your focus on key results will help you to achieve more and enjoy doing it.