The #1 Tactic that Will Make You A More Productive Leader

December 30, 2019

The #1 Tactic that Will Make You A More Productive Leader

The average worker in the U.S. is interrupted every 11 minutes by some form of communication. Every 11 minutes! That kind of distraction takes an unseen toll on us as leaders.

Expecting leaders to succeed in the context of a constant, act-more, think-more, produce-more world is self-defeating, at best. At worst, it could be disastrous for our projects, for our teams, and for our health. 

So, how do great leaders keep pace with the demands of the role?

We pause. It may seem counterintuitive to those who default to taking action when organizational needs pile up, but implementing structured pauses into the day can make you significantly more productive as a leader.  

How can you ensure you create these moments of pause amidst the chaos? Try these four tactics. 

1. Make an unbreakable appointment with yourself

Set time aside every day (or at least every week) to step away from the chaos and let yourself reflect and plan: to connect the dots between information in different ways and to look at challenges from a fresh angle. This can help you gain remarkable clarity and give you the mental space to finally execute on ideas you’ve been sidelining.  

Yes, I know that will feel awkward at first. Your calendar is probably jam-packed with meetings and commitments, so it might seem unnecessarily selfish to mark off some “me time.” Don’t let that stop you. Consider this an unbreakable appointment with yourself. 

2. Make everything you do earn its rightful place on your calendar

Why? Leaders often feel trapped by an endless treadmill of meetings and tedious paperwork and that level of chaos has likely become their new normal—even strangely comfortable. In fact, not doing all of those things would somehow feel wrong. If you want to free up time to let all that you have consumed percolate, you need to take a fresh look at everything you do. Ask yourself:

  • Does this meeting or task move me or my team forward? 
  • Does this support department or company objectives?
  • Am I doing this to drive results or to make someone else comfortable?

Taking a fresh look at everything inevitably uncovers opportunities to free up time for big-picture thinking.

3.  Make a “Stop Doing List” 

Ironically, some leaders approach downsizing their to-do lists by…creating another list: a “Stop Doing List.” This is actually an excellent mental exercise and an important step in making room for a “mental time-in” or pause.  

Your “Stop Doing List” might include things such as:

    I will stop saying “yes” to every request without first considering its worth.

    I will stop letting other people control my day and my time.

    I will stop allowing interruptions that hijack my schedule.

Through the process of letting go, you can find time you never knew you had.  

4.  Encourage your team to pause

As a leader, you have the power and influence to help your team members develop new habits that can make them more productive. Make sure they also have time in their schedules to stop and think. That’s tricky when deadlines are tight, but the long-term benefits will be worth it. Give them the calendar space that encourages them to give it a try.

As hard as it is for us doers to believe, all the evidence says that maximum effectiveness and innovation start with…STOPPING. 

Yes, it’s tough to do. I admit it. We’ve been taught to move forward, to finish, to be relentless. We have even been handsomely rewarded for it.

But if you want your organization and your team to grow, take a strategic pause. Give yourself time and space. You, your team, and all your stakeholders will be glad you did.

Watch Strategies for Leadership Success for more advice from Sara Canaday on leadership.

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