“How can I manage my time better so I can actually have a healthy life outside of work?” is one of the most common frustrations I hear from leaders. It’s an extremely important question because if you don’t answer it correctly, you’re setting yourself up for mental, emotional, physical, and relational burnout.
The burden of leadership is heavy. Leading others creates tremendous demands on your time and emotional energy. In a recent Harvard Business Review article titled “The Emotional Labor of Being a Leader,” Dina Smith and Alicia Grandey assert that these demands have accelerated during the past few years, resulting in significant emotional cost.
Why is this occurring? From my perspective, key factors include operating environments that are becoming more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA); the ever-increasing volume and velocity of information that leaders need to digest on a daily basis; and a rise in the breadth and depth of human resource challenges.
So how can you manage these demands more effectively as a leader in order to find sustainable balance in your life? For starters, focus on being brilliant in the basics of prioritization, delegation, and discipline.
Prioritization flows from your purpose, so begin by thinking about your team’s mission and your purpose as a leader. Then consider four steps to improve your prioritization:
In order to close some of the gaps between your prioritization assessment and aspiration, you’ll have to take some things off your plate. One way to approach this is to filter your tasks into three categories – eliminate, delegate, or do. Eliminate from your plate things that aren’t critical to your team’s mission. Then delegate what you can to direct reports who have the capacity and capability to accomplish the tasks. Finally, ensure that what’s left on your plate to do aligns with your aspiration of how you want to spend your time.
Prioritization and delegation require discipline, and discipline starts with your mindset. To lead with a more disciplined mindset, first understand the opportunity cost associated with various activities that are competing for your time, and try to resist the temptation to feel guilty about eliminating or delegating tasks. Often, too many good things can become the enemy of the best thing if we’re not careful. Second, learn to apply a “good enough” threshold to your tasks to improve your productivity. Sometimes, perfect is the enemy of progress. Think about where you can apply the “80-20 rule” – that you can get to an 80 percent solution with 20 percent of the effort, but it takes 80 percent of the effort to get the remaining 20 percent. Admittedly, sometimes the 80 percent solution isn’t good enough. But constantly look for areas where 80 percent is good enough considering the value of your time and emotional energy.
Leadership is hard, and leading well requires tremendous time and energy. In many ways, it’s like running a marathon with an unknown finish line. To better manage demands on your time and emotional energy, concentrate on improving your prioritization, delegation, and discipline so you can maintain a healthy balance and stay in the race.
For more insights on how to find balance as a leader, check out my book, The Substance of Leadership.