My first boss always said, “great leaders are usually the first ones at work and the last ones to leave.” That phrase always stuck with me for two main reasons. First, it carries a great deal of merit. Putting in the extra hours proves to your team that you are dedicated and sets the example. The second reason that phrase has always stuck with me: it was my dad who said it and I continue to hear it from him to this day.
But as leaders, at what point do we cross the line between dedicated and workaholic? Millennials tend to throw around the concept of Work/Life Balance like it’s a right of passage. But maybe, instead of mocking them we should start listening a little. Like most of you out there, I am not a stranger to early mornings and late nights at the office. My company laptop comes home with me every weekend and it’s not for security reasons. As a matter of fact, I am writing this very blog on a Sunday morning. (I guarantee Grandmammy Chambliss is looking down in disapproval right now.)
So how do we know when we’re working too much? Sometimes heavy “overtime” is seasonal. Accountants in the spring; retail in December; lawyers during the NFL offseason. We can all agree those are reasonable. But what about when it’s not seasonal? What about when you’re going on three years of 55 hour work weeks? Some people say it’s all about what you can handle. I tend to disagree. Even if you can handle the hours, it doesn’t mean you should. Think of it this way: if we were spending 40-50% more money than we budgeted to get the same value/results that we originally expected, wouldn’t we have a big problem with that and make a change? Well time is money and overspending is exactly what leaders are doing.
The first step in solving a problem is admitting you have a problem. If you’ve made it this far into my post, you’re either with me or a member of my family and hoping your name gets mentioned next. I’d like to lay out what is causing us to work so many hours. And, in the spirit of being Solutions Oriented, offer some ways to solve these time sinks.
- Wasting time – No chance that’s you, right? Every minute you ever spend working is spent on high level, MBA style strategic decision making. Or is it? I implemented a best practice earlier this year that was eye opening. Most of us in leadership positions live by our calendars. It sets the stage for what we want to do this week/month/etc. I have begun taking 5 minutes around lunch and 5 minutes at the end of every day to look back and what I did as opposed to what I planned on doing. I update my calendar to show how I actually spent my time instead of just what was on the calendar. I was ashamed at what I found. Too much time is/was being spent on items that really are not that important. Solution: keep your three to five biggest priorities/initiatives in front of you at all times. Every time you begin a new task, project, etc.; ask yourself how crucial it is to those few priorities. You’ll be surprised how often you can let those fruitless tasks go.
- Too many responsibilities for one person – this is a problem most leaders feel but are afraid to say to anyone other than close friends. We worry that admitting this is admitting we are insufficient at our jobs. In reality, we may be feeling overwhelmed because it really is too much work for one person. Solution (1): learn to say no. We are so afraid of letting people down or being seen as incapable. In most cases, if you simply tell a person that you cannot handle something they will find someone else and not think much else about it. They keep coming to us because we seem to have more capacity than others because we keep saying “yes”. Solution (2): delegate. A Vice President I worked with a few years ago told me the difference between a middle manager and a senior executive is knowing when to delegate. We can be such control freaks sometimes, that we don’t realize how much harm we are doing. Letting someone else handle a responsibility can free you up and help them develop. That’s a win/win. Solution (3): hire someone else. This terrifies us. If someone else is hired to take some of our responsibilities, we are less valuable and closer to expendable. No, hiring someone else to specialize in one area of your responsibilities lets you be even more impactful in others. If you think it’s necessary, sit down and put a business case together for your boss. If he/she is a reasonable person, they’ll hear you out. If they’re not, I can’t help you
- Overall inefficiency – I was born in the 80’s, but sometimes it feels like the 1880’s. Many of the tools I once mastered and put on my resume are no longer the best way to accomplish objectives. I had someone compliment me last week on my handwriting. After smiling for a moment with pride, it hit me: why am I still writing so many important items in notebooks? We’re planning in Excel, Word and on paper. We task people out through email and hold them accountable by chasing them down in the halls or calling them on the (gasp!) telephone. Newsflash gang: these aren’t the most efficient ways to work anymore. Solution: embrace technology. Chances are, if you’ve ever uttered the phrase “there has to be a better way to do this,” there definitely is. Take the time to research what is out there. I bet there are several tools that could change the way you work for the better. Calend.ly is great for coordinating calendars. CRM systems like Salesforce and Sugar are a must for salespeople. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention AchieveIt. Our homegrown Results Management software is essential for leaders who’d like to take their objectives all the way through to results within the same ecosystem.
To all the leaders out there, I challenge us to stop overspending our time. Set budgets and look for ways to allocate it in the right places. Because much like money, there is a limited supply of time and it will definitely be gone one day. Are you spending it wisely?