Leaders, Here's How to Take Charge of Your Days
Do you feel like a Zoom zombie at the end of the day?
Does your work creep into your personal life because you just can’t keep up with everything during normal work hours?
Are you coming to one on ones with your team praying they have something to talk about because you haven’t prepared anything?
Can you feel the strategic parts of your brain atrophying because you spend your whole day putting out fires?
These problems aren’t unique to pandemic times, but for many leaders the 2020 pairing of working from home and nonstop crises has destroyed our ability to manage our working days.
I’m fortunate to spend a good amount of time training marketing leaders, so I’ve collected some of their best tips and tricks for optimizing your leadership life. Implement a few, or better yet all five, to show up as the centered, creative, agile leader that your team needs you to be.
Exercise Mindfulness in Your Leadership Role
At its most basic level mindfulness is simply being aware of your current state. It requires stillness and intention, along with deliberate efforts to acknowledge and dismiss distracting thoughts.
When we marry mindfulness with leadership, we create the opportunity to consider what frame of mind we’re bringing to our various activities. Once we understand our mental state, we’re equipped to make adjustments when that state is out of sync with what’s needed.
For instance, I like using the six emotional leadership styles articulated by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee in their 2002 book “Primal Leadership” as my mindful leadership filter. The styles laid out in the book are Authoritative, Coaching, Affiliative, Democratic, Coercive and Pacesetting. Each has its appropriate use case, and the best leaders are able to step in and out of the various styles depending on the circumstances.
If we take moments of mindful reflection throughout our day we can consider what style might work best with the interaction we’re about to have and put it on intentionally, like a hat.
I’m an action-oriented person, so I tend to default to an Authoritative style. Early in the pandemic that was appropriate as my team needed to rally around our response to lockdown. But now, as we’re finishing up quarterly planning, I need to be more Democratic to access everyone’s ideas and build consensus.
Without taking enough time for mindfulness I’ll lose the opportunity to shift my natural style and get the best out of my team.
Related Article: Your Teams Are Exhausted. Here's What Leaders Can Do
Block Time for Strategy (and Whatever Else You Need to Do)
When leaders are responsible for setting the strategic vision for a team, department or organization, one of the worst things they can do is let their calendar get filled to capacity.
Strategic thinking can’t happen in five-minute blocks while you stuff food in your mouth and brew your sixth cup of coffee. It requires time and attention.
That means you need to block time during your workday to undertake that work.
And when I say block, I mean really block. Don’t let your assistant or anyone else encroach on your strategic thinking time. As soon as you allow one exception, everyone will start to creep in.
While we’re on the subject of calendars, go ahead and block time for whatever other key leadership activities you need to work on to be successful. As co-founder of AgileSherpas one of my main jobs is thought leadership, so I block 90 mins once a week for content creation.
I know other leaders who simply mark themselves “unavailable” for big chunks of time, leaving themselves free to brainstorm, problem solve, or simply reflect. This is real, valuable work, and we shouldn’t feel guilty about creating space in our weeks to get it done. As a bonus, our taking ownership over our calendars can empower our teams to do the same, so actual work gets done instead of just a never-ending series of meetings.
Have Walking One on Ones
When I first heard this one suggested by a student I was a little skeptical, because I really like being able to see my employees’ faces while we’re all virtual. But the student’s argument was that when he’s at his desk he’s bombarded by instant messages, emails and various other “pings” that distract him from the person in front of him.
By leaving his office and disconnecting from notifications, he was able to better focus on the conversation.
This tip was shared primarily in the context of the work from home world of the pandemic, but it applies well to in-person meetings as well whenever you get back to those. Leaving the office and getting outside not only helps us all get our steps in, it may allow for more free flowing conversations during one on one sessions.
Of course, you’ll get the most benefit from this particular hack if your company’s current culture expects immediate responses to all communications, which leads us to the next life hack.
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Make it OK to Delay a Response
During a recent retrospective I heard a new mother bemoaning the need to step away from her computer for 15 minutes to nurse her baby, because when she got back she was so behind on an email chain.
The corporate culture had created, as she put it, “an arms race to reply first.” Her lack of responsiveness, even for a scant few minutes, was seen as neglect.
As leaders we need to eradicate any expectations of this kind. When people spend their days jumping to answer every email and Slack message they have no time for focused effort. They sacrifice their productivity on the altar of context switching, and then wonder why they have to work on the weekends.
We can model a better way quite easily as leaders. My absolute favorite example of this comes from a CMO of a global bank whose email signature reads, “I support flexible working and I’m sending this message now because it suits my work hours. Please do not feel obliged to reply immediately as I understand you will respond during the hours that you work.”
That’s how you set good response expectations, and let your people get actual work done.
Conduct a Meeting Purge
Last, but certainly not least, is to do a hard reset on everyone’s calendars two or three times per year. The new year can be a great excuse, but you don’t have to wait for January 1.
Simply pick a date and have an admin remove all recurring meetings from everyone’s calendars.
If the meetings are actually useful, they’ll make it back onto the calendar.
If they’re not, we just gave people multiple hours of their workday back.
Too often meetings take on a life of their own, surviving through sheer inertia long after they’ve stopped being useful (Weekly status meetings? Who really needs these?). Doing a regular purge makes sure that only the most impactful sessions stick around.
Related Article: For Marketing Success, It's Important to Zig When Others Zag
Take Charge of Your Day. Your Team Will Thank You
When we exert the effort to design our professional lives as leaders rather than be carried along by the current of what we’ve always done, we become much better resources for our teams.
We also provide permission for them to do the same, potentially unlocking far greater productivity and effectiveness when they can set up the kind of day that works best for them.
Deliberate, mindful leaders also get much greater enjoyment out of their careers. And, if they really dial things in, maybe even a full night’s sleep.
About the Author
Andrea Fryrear is the co-founder of AgileSherpas and the world's leading authority on agile marketing. She's also the author of the recently-released book "Mastering Marketing Agility."
Along with her team at AgileSherpas, she's trained thousands of marketers on how to adapt Agile frameworks for their unique contexts.