Dropped the ball recently? Good!

Dropped the ball recently? Good!

by | Aug 9, 2019 | Work-Life Balance

Work and life are all-consuming. Or, they can be if we don’t watch out.

Many of us are doing complex and demanding jobs, running businesses with demanding shareholders, customers and employees – whilst also juggling our family and personal lives. There’s never enough time or energy to attend to everything that’s on our plate. It feels like we’re always ‘on’ and the pace can be relentless… if we let it.

We used to focus on trying to never drop the ball, but these days the best ‘players’ know that’s not possible. They’ve embraced the new rules in a game that has morphed into one with multiple balls of varying sizes, fragility and speeds… where it’s all about the judicious selection of which to drop (and when) for the least collateral damage.

It’s a game that takes composure, nerves of steel and perspective.


All about reprioritising (again)

Constant reprioritising is the name of the (new) game these days.

We’ve written before about the mad race against the clock that can be the plight of life today.

So please ‘scuse us if we’re banging on a bit too much about it, but the way we allocate not just our time but our energy, focus and presence – where and how we choose our priorities – is crucial. Not only for our own effectiveness, but also for determining the priorities and influencing the performance of our teams and businesses.

Easier said than done.

Data from 1500+ leaders’ GLWS wellbeing profiles, shows the top wellbeing detractors (if that’s not an oxymoron?) as including:

  • My work day feels like a race against the clock
  • My ability to concentrate is compromised by competing demands for my attention
  • I feel pulled in too many different directions
  • I don’t have enough time left for myself after attending to my work and family commitments
  • I feel stuck on fast-forward and would love a slower pace and more tranquillity in my life
  • Juggling my work and personal commitments takes its toll on me
  • I feel guilty or sad about not devoting more attention to my responsibilities outside of work
  • I (don’t) feel I am getting the right amount of exercise for my body
  • I (don’t) unplug from work and technology an hour before bedtime

See a theme?

Most of the leaders we work with feel that the solution to these challenges is to ‘get better at time management’.
We agree – sort of. It is so much more as well.

We’re not alone in urging you to reconsider some of the habits and patterns of responding that you might have fallen into. In fact, we’re in good company.

In the July-August 2018 issue of the Harvard Business Review, ‘The Leader’s Calendar’, the authors call out that many time allocation decisions offer a limited return, reflect legacy norms and cultures and leaders’ own habits – and that there are important areas where they could be using their time and influence better.

To get better at “managing time”, one must first identify how one would ideally be spending one’s time!

Four sustainable steps for improving time management

Looking through the wellbeing lens with fresh eyes on time management, here are our top 4 picks for improvement:


1. Make time for personal wellbeing

Right at the top of the HBR’s list of insights and recommendations was that leaders set limits so that they can preserve their health, relationships with family and friends and a ‘normal life’. The emphasis is on staying grounded and making time for renewal.

From an analysis of over 60,000 hours of how CEO live their lives, they found most average close to 7 hours of sleep and maintain a regular exercise regime of 45 minutes daily. They are equally disciplined in spending about 3 hours a day with family and in freeing up a couple of hours every day for downtime – including everything from watching television, reading for pleasure and hobbies.

It was interesting and exciting for us to see this as the first thing they called out. Hoorah! Wellbeing is coming of age at the top of organisations.


2. Focus on the most important and value adding involvement

I’d say next on our list of recommendations at GLWS is that leaders ‘start with the end in mind and keep this in mind’. Whether the timescale is 5 years, 12 months, a week or 5 minutes – surfacing a purposeful, conscious awareness of the outcomes desired and the ideal future state is key, for both work and personal life.

I often ask my coaching clients, ‘If this year is to be your best possible, what will you have achieved or experienced over the next 12 months?’ That usually stops them dead!

Only once that’s clear can we work backwards – forecasting the number of months, weeks, days or hours required, allocating it into schedules and communicating these priorities – not only to their teams and the layers under, but also socialising them with peers and other leaders from across the business.

The HBR authors make the point that a good agenda will set leaders’ priorities over the coming period, and that this is best conceived of as a matrix including both broader areas for improvement and specific matters that need to be addressed. It also needs to combine time-bound goals with more open-ended priorities. Most CEOs they talked with agreed that the more time they spent on their agendas, the better they felt about their use of time.


3. Liberate yourself from your inbox

Oh my goodness, this is a biggie.

How many of us are driven, like Pavlov’s dogs, to respond to the ‘ping’ of the email? Resist that call and the flash notifications. Better still, turn them off. See if you can join my ‘best ever’ coaching client who succeeded in cutting down his email addiction from an obsessive rate of every 3-5 minutes to 3-5 times per day.

Setting proper expectations and norms for what e-mails you need to receive—and when you will respond—is essential. And empower your EAs to filter messages and action or delegate as many as possible. Everyone’s a winner.


4. Carve out idle moments

Look at your diary each week and earmark your best bet for some uninterrupted alone time. And we mean alone – no tv, device, screen, magazine, book – nothing to fritter away these precious moments! No stimulus whatsoever. Just you and a space to reflect. Hopefully you won’t be bored with your own company.

Cordoning off meaningful amounts of solitude and having enough self-discipline to avoid the urge or temptation to do other ‘stuff’ is a common problem most of us experience. Just keep working on it. Bring awareness to what you’re doing and how you’re choosing to spend your time. Notice where you’re choosing to place your focus and reflect on whether this is part of your best possible plan. Repeat and adjust as required.


Parting thoughts

I’m off to practice a bit of what I preach – I’ve been procrastinating, and as a result I’m now racing against the clock. But I’ve re-evaluated my priorities, I’ve chosen a few balls to drop and decided which ones are most relevant to my best possible week. My sleep and exercise is staying at the top of the list, I’ve ignored some emails, I’ve pinged a few someone else’s way to ask for some help, I’ve said ‘no’ to some other opportunities and requests, I’ve negotiated some extensions, and I’m reminding myself, compassionately, that I can only do what I can do, and that most times that’s good enough ?

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