3 Major Time Wasters for Leaders — and How to Overcome Them

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You’ve made it to the end of yet another 12-hour day, and as you think about all the scrambling, hustling and fire-fighting you did, you wonder — what exactly did I accomplish?

You’re not alone, many of us hustle all day, every day. We run from meeting to meeting, fire to fire, only to get to the end of the day feeling like a hamster on a wheel, exhausted and wondering where the time went.

There is a better way, and it starts by understanding how you’re spending your time and why you’re spending it that way. Here are the three greatest time killers for leaders and how to overcome them.

Related: 101 Time Management Tips to Boost Productivity Every Day

How are you adding value?

Chris is the CEO of a successful company. Chris’s vision, ingenuity and tireless work are the heart of the company’s success.

As the company celebrates 10 years in business, there’s just one problem. Somewhere in the mix, Chris has moved away from focusing on the vision and has been swept up in the day-to-day, task-level minutia. Instead of focusing on strategy, planning or building the right relationships, he’s wrapped up in hiring the receptionist, weighing in on trivial decisions and attending every. single. meeting.

This is not the highest and best use of Chris’s time. In focusing on task-level work instead of vision, Chris is no longer maximizing his value to the company. In fact, his desire to be actively involved in everything has become a detriment in the form of bottlenecks and dropped balls.

Letting go of task-level work isn’t easy. It feels good because it’s familiar and because it’s easy to see progress. When you busy yourself with easily accomplished tasks, you get that dopamine hit.

But being busy isn’t the same as adding value.

If you are the visionary for the company, your value is in strategy, planning and relationship building, so that’s where you should be spending your time.

So the question is, how are you adding value? Here are some things to consider:

  • Does the way you spend your time align with your role? Are you spending your time doing $17/hour work or $200/hour work?

  • Does the way you spend your time play to your strengths and allow your team to play to theirs?

  • Are you doing the work that is expected of you (from your team, your company, your board, investors, etc.) in your position?

  • How are you moving the needle?

Once you recognize where you’re spending your time and the value you’re adding (or not), you can make the necessary adjustments.

Chances are, your team is comprised of smart, capable people. Trust in them to get the work done. Evaluate any task-level things on your plate. Is there an opportunity to delegate or cut back on your involvement? This allows you to offload meetings and projects in which your value isn’t maximized.

Revisit how your day is structured so that you’re working on the things that move the needle first and doing the things that suck the life out of your day later.

Related: 4 Time Wasters That Kill Your Productivity

Delayed gratification and the to-do list

I love to-do lists. More importantly, I love crossing things off my to-do list. Before starting my consultancy company, I lived and breathed that list, and I craved that feeling of accomplishment and pride when I could cross something off.

As a leader, crossing 100 things off your list every day doesn’t matter if they’re not the right things. And I’ve learned the hard way that the things I’m responsible for simply cannot be successfully accomplished in a single day, a week, a month or longer.

Most of a leader’s work is not task-level. Projects, planning and managing people are nuanced, continuous activities — not tasks to be crossed off a list.

However, many leaders, as a means of showing their value and chasing the satisfaction of immediate accomplishment, hold on to task-level things way longer than they should. And those task-level things clog up the calendar and draw attention away from your most important work.

It’s time to rethink the to-do list. This requires a shift in mindset, from chasing the dopamine hit of crossing menial tasks off a list to embracing delayed gratification.

Revisit how you make your to-do list. Make sure you’re capturing the tasks or milestones that move projects forward. Break your projects down into weekly bites — that way you can see the incremental progress you’re making and you get the dopamine hit of crossing things off. Play with the time frame of your task list. Instead of a daily to-do list, make a weekly, monthly and quarterly list.

Stop including never-ending, time-sucking tasks like “catch up on email” on your to-do list. You will never get caught up on email, Slack or team messages. Instead, be intentional about how and when you check messages. Designate specific times during the day when you will review emails, and set a timer for 30-45 minutes so you don’t accidentally fall down the rabbit hole.

Embrace the delayed gratification of completing bigger, more strategic projects. Make sure you celebrate those wins!

Related: Need More Hours Every Day to Grow Your Business? Then Quit These 7 Time Wasters

Problem solver to the rescue

Leaders tend to be great problem solvers. We love to swoop in with our creativity and vision to fix things or add perspective. Sounds great on paper, but in doing the swoop, leaders can miss details or context, delay decision-making, take on more than they can manage or make a bigger mess of things — all of which wastes precious time for you and your team.

Avoid jumping in to fix problems, especially those things you just don’t have the bandwidth or expertise to see through. Remember those smart, capable people on your team? They’re probably good problem solvers, too. Support and coach them when needed, and empower them to make decisions in their areas of expertise.

Leaders who are clear on their value and understand the importance of maximizing their time and effectiveness as well as the effectiveness of their teams, drive efficiency and team engagement. Just as importantly, leaders with an eye on leveraging their value are able to get off the 12-hour-a-day hamster wheel and do the strategic, needle-moving work that matters.

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