One of the most impactful decisions you can make as a leader is how to spend your time.
Because what you do with your time gets magnified.
Should you be spending your time on “high level” stuff?
Do you need to be “down in the weeds?”
Maybe you should be in lots of meetings?
Probably none of this is ideal.
Meetings are a killer. Most of them are poorly run, with not enough people coming prepared, and have no clear outcome when the clock runs out and everyone rushes off to the next unproductive meeting.
Some meetings are good. But not many.
The devil is in the details, so the weeds are a great place to really get your arms around a particular issue.
It’s a great place to gain an appreciation of what’s going on where the rubber meets the road.
But the weeds can entangle you if you’re not careful.
High level strategy is where decisions get made. The big picture stuff is essential.
If the big picture becomes too abstract, too far removed from reality, and too simplified, danger brews.
You can lose your footing if your head is up in the clouds too long.
Time management for leaders is not a high level decision
Each potential area of focus has its pros and cons. Too much in any one area is not going to serve you well. Which means you won’t be serving your team well.
And that’s the crucial time management factor for a leader. How can you best spend your time in order to serve your team well.
But there is no secret formula. There is no “one size fits all” approach for you.
Leadership is dynamic. Instead of a secret formula, you need a strategic approach. You’ve got to know when to spend your time at what level.
Here are some guidelines.
When to get into the weeds
You’ve got to dig into the details, sometimes. And probably more often than you might think.
They key choice you need to make is where and when this is most appropriate. Your team can help.
Often, you can get a good sense of when and where to dig in. Pay attention to some obvious signs.
When a team member seems to want to explain something to you in more detail…take the time to listen.
They want your attention on something specific for a reason. Trust them. Once you hear them out, you can decide if you need to go further or not.
When you don’t understand something fundamental….take the time to educate yourself.
You don’t need to know everything. But you do need to have a handle on the fundamentals. Make sure you understand important processes. Know what challenges are typical. Know what solutions work best. Know what the key interface points are within your area and beyond.
Stay up to date on all of this as it changes and evolves.
When there is a problem…be sure to understand it in detail.
Dealing with problems from a high level is important. But that level should be informed from detailed insights, not just vague generalities or rough characterizations.
Leaders sever the team well by diving into problems. Not to place blame or look for faults. But to understand so that they may be better guided toward the best short- and long-term solutions.
When to take a high-level perspective
This one’s easier. You should *always* have a high-level perspective.
That’s the default operating mode for a leader. No matter how deep into the details you may get, you must keep perspective.
Revisit the goal
Your job as a leader is to constantly revisit and reassert the goal. This is the why of it all.
Everyone is doing everything at every level in service of the goal. You keep that aligned. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the boardroom or on the shop floor.
Helping everyone else keep an eye on the big picture is crucial. This helps to tie everything back to the why of it all.
Even better, the more you are helping to provide context, the more it invites people to ask you questions. This helps them (and you) to process the big picture in a way that can become more and more tangible and concrete over time.
Internalizing the goal is a big part of a successful process.
Which meetings should you go to
This is one is a doozy. You could spend all day every day in meetings.
That’s not the best use of your time, or the best way to serve your team.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind on this front.
Your presence has an impact
One of the most important jobs a leader has is to cultivate more leaders. That doesn’t mean showing up and running every meeting.
And it doesn’t mean sitting in on meetings while others run them either. You’ve got to let some things happen without you. That’s how other members of the the team will grow their leadership skills.
People will defer to you if you’re there. Let them go it alone as much as possible so they can know a little better what it feels like to make decisions, develop plans, and cultivate momentum on their own.
You can skip more meetings than you think
You need to protect your time. With so many meetings that just aren’t productive or useful, you should probably be skipping more.
Your time is likely better spent thinking, planning, or holding one-on-one conversations.
When you do attend meetings, make the most of them. Go in prepared. Know what you want to get out of the meeting–and make sure you get it.
You may need to be a little assertive to drive the agenda in a certain way or to get clarity on a certain point or to drive a decision. That’s ok if that’s what it takes to make the meeting a good use of your time.
Because that will also make it a good use of everyone else’s time. Don’t settle for average meeting fare. It’s just not good enough.
Spending your time
We can’t save our time. It just keeps on ticking.
But we can be thoughtful about how we spend our time. We can squander it. Or we can invest wisely.
How you spend your time day in and day out makes a difference in the long run. This is true for you as an individual, and doubly true for you as a leader.
Your team doesn’t need you in the weeds. Except when it’s crucial that you are in the weeds.
They don’t need you living in the executive suite. Except when it’s crucial that you are tackling things at a high level.
They don’t need you in meetings. Except when it’s absolutely necessary for you to be at the meeting.
Finding the right balance is key. And that balance changes all the time. So don’t worry about the magic formula. Worry about being as consistently attentive as you can as to how you spend your time.
Spend your time wisely and it will become an investment that pays big dividends in terms of impact, for you and your team..