Sarana, an Executive Director in an educational organization, complained, "All I do is put out fires all day! I can't get anything done I need to."
Does that ever happen to you? Do you feel overwhelmed because you're always in meetings? Are you always fixing "break downs" that have your team floundering, managing customer concerns, refereeing disagreements between staff, making all the decisions - even those your team could make, and juggling your schedule to make everything fit? You go in early, stay late, and at the end of the week nothing on your to-do list has gotten crossed off.
Sarana felt this way when she enlisted the help of Maximize Your Leadership. She had several large projects due and needed to find the time to work on them. Here's what we did to help Sarana put out, and prevent, daily work fires.
1. Visualize. We led Sarana through an exercise that helped her envision her perfect day at work. We explored the difference between her vision of a perfect day and what she was currently experiencing. We really got down to the nitty-gritty details that made the two scenarios different: what activities she was doing, how she scheduled her time, who she talked to and when.
2. Make a list. Sarana was keeping her list of to-dos in her head. It took a lot of energy for her to keep remembering all of those tasks, and that decreased the energy she had available to get them done. We identified apps that would help her “download” the list from her mind and have it available no matter where she was. Some that we explored were Microsoft One Note, Google Docs, Trello, and Evernote. Being able to check off completed items was a huge reward for her. A checklist feature was an important component of the system she selected.
3. Define time limits. When Sarana writes a task on her master list, she includes the amount of time she estimates it will take for her to complete that item. We worked on breaking large projects down into segments that fit into her schedule. A project that is going to take 30 hours can't all be done at once, so we broke it down into two-hour time blocks that more easily fit into her schedule.
4. Delegate appropriately. Delegating works - but only if it actually fits the skills and timeframe of the person taking over the job. We worked with Sarana to identify the things only she can or should do. We discussed the strengths of the people on her team to decide what tasks should be delegated, and to whom. If a task doesn't fit someone's strengths, look for another possibility. Something to keep in mind:
• If it takes more time to explain the task than to do it, consider keeping it on your own list.
• If it's a recurring task that the other person will regularly be completing in the future, it's probably worth the time to teach them how to do it.
5. Time block. As we worked on estimating times for each task to be completed, Sarana began to see ways to fit tasks into her schedule. We blocked out those times on her calendar. The tasks she thought she would never be able to get done could now be accomplished in a timely manner. We utilized brain research to help her schedule her peak “thinking” times for tough tasks and those requiring more focus. While this varies for the individual, a majority of people find their peak "thinking" time is during the first two hours of the workday.
6. Work the plan. All of this organizing and planning was great, but we knew it wouldn't work if Sarana didn't keep up with the system. We set up a process for her to regularly check her master to-do list and time-block items on her calendar. Sarana decided to take early Monday morning to do this. For her it was a good refresher about what needed to be accomplished throughout the week. She focused on her top three important tasks for the week, making sure she got the peak "thinking" times scheduled into her calendar.
At our most recent meeting Sarana she said she had been doing the "happy dance" lately. • She is much more productive, is going home earlier at night, and is regularly checking things off her to-do list. • She is able to think more strategically about her work and her organization. • When she accepts more tasks, she makes sure they go on her master to-do list immediately. Then, she blocks them into her calendar with enough time to get them completed - even if she gets interrupted. • She no longer lies awake at night wondering how to get everything done. • She and her husband have gone to the movies a couple of times, and she is actually able to get in a two-mile walk several times a week.
What about you? How do you prevent daily work fires? Need help coming up with a plan? Give us a call. We would love to help you maximize your time so you can Maximize Your Leadership!