When I first started my career in the late-1990s, I remember being really impressed by people who said they were “slammed”, “buried” or “completely maxed out”. “They must be so important,” I thought, as I chugged my third Diet Coke of the morning and tapped away on my PalmPilot. But now I know better, and you should, too.
Being busy is not a badge of honor.
Yes, the world moves much faster today, and yes, leaders have a lot to deal with. But managing it all is part of the job. I’ve had the opportunity to know some very successful people and, as busy as I know they all are, they rarely show it and they certainly don’t complain about it.
I’m not saying you won’t ever feel too busy; the trick is learning how to manage a very full schedule without losing your cool. Here are a few of my favorite busy-busting strategies, adapted from my latest book, Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders.
An Ounce of Planning is Worth a Pound of Work
This may sound counter-intuitive, but on your truly crazy days — when you have back-to-back meetings, a huge deadline, staff members knocking down your door, and five urgent fires to put out — the most important action you can take is to stop in your tracks and make a plan. Those dedicated minutes of triage will save you countless minutes or hours of wheel-spinning later.
Create an ‘Only I’ List
This tip is from millennial business owner Jess Lively. She uses this strategy herself and recommends it to her coaching clients: Write down on a piece of paper what you personally have to do for your business, your organization or your team to succeed. Delegate absolutely everything that is not on that list.
This will clarify your daily duties as the boss and also will help you avoid the common mistake of throwing all different kinds of work at your staff members whenever you feel overwhelmed. The more time you put into planning what you yourself need to do and what others need to accomplish, the more smoothly everyone’s work will flow — including your own.
Don’t Apologize for How You Spend Your Time
An admirable attribute I’ve observed in many successful leaders is that they don’t feel the need to explain their schedules and their boundaries. Too many people give too much detail about where and how they spend their hours, which can harm their professional credibility. Or, they use “I’m too busy” as an excuse for everything, which runs the risk of making them appear unable to handle their role.
It is absolutely your right to schedule “me time” in your calendar so you can catch up on work, or think, or even take a nap. Simply say, “I’m not available at that time,” with no apology or excuse.
Buy Every Tool You Can Afford to Save Precious Time
I don’t like advising you to spend a lot of money, but I believe it’s always worth the expense to acquire any tool that will help you better manage the various elements of your life as a leader. Don’t cheap out and then become stressed because you don’t have a fast enough computer or access to the Internet when you need it.
If you work for someone else you can ask your employer to foot the bill by making a case that you need the best equipment to do the best job. If you are self-employed or run your own business, most of these items can be claimed as business expenses on your taxes.
No matter how you acquire these time- and energy-saving items, I recommend shelling out for:
- A lightning fast and totally reliable smartphone, tablet and/or laptop and the biggest data plan you can afford.
- An extra charger so your devices never die (Mophie makes my favorites).
- Paying for a day pass to an airline lounge during a long layover or flight delay so you are guaranteed a desk, a power outlet, and Wi-Fi (and, not for nothing, a free cocktail).
- Taking a cab or car service instead of driving to a far-away meeting or event so you can work while you ride.
- Buying the extra legroom and Wi-Fi on airplanes so you can get real work done while you fly.
In fact, I’m off to the airport as we speak, writing this post using my zippy laptop and personal hotspot while I charge everything in the back of a cab. Would some people describe me as busy right now? Maybe. But I prefer to think of myself as working hard, doing what I love.
p.s. Am I the only Gen Xer who kind of misses my PalmPilot?
For more advice on planning your time and becoming a successful leader, check out my latest book Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders.