“Leadership is an active role; ‘lead’ is a verb. But the leader who tries to do it all is headed for burnout, and in a powerful hurry.”
~ Bill Owens ~
Client Tony asks: We’ve had some cutbacks recently and I’ve been asked to take on a lot of additional responsibilities. I’m feeling exhausted and burned out, but I’m afraid to slow down. What should I do?
Coach Joel answers: You are definitely not alone, and in today’s business environment, many of my clients, like yourself, are having to take good old-fashioned time management to a new level. Here are four of my executive coaching tools that will help get you back on track.
- Schedule yourself first
- Set and maintain boundaries
- Monitor overload warnings
- Schedule yourself first.
Work overload combined with fear of losing your job has a powerful negative impact on your physical and mental health. This can become a vicious cycle where you feel constantly exhausted, less able to be productive, leading to even more stress, etc. You need to break this cycle now by putting your health first. Don’t start your day in overdrive. Cut the adrenaline rush and avoid burnout by spending the first half hour of the day in relaxation mode. Disconnect from technology—don’t answer emails or check your Facebook page. Spend this time reading, listening to music, staring out the window, or playing with your cat. Eat a decent breakfast rather than grabbing a cup of coffee as you head out the door. (Hint: TV news and talk radio are NOT relaxing.)
- Build boundaries.
Start by isolating your time-suckers. For many people, it’s emails or phone calls. For others, it’s meetings or drop-bys. (You know drop-bys—those colleagues who peer through your office door five times a day and ask, “Got a minute?”) Then bundle. Set a specific time (or times) each day to return emails and phone calls. Turn off the nasty little chime that rings every time “you’ve got mail.” Develop a courteous but firm response for the drop-bys, or stand up and have a brief exchange while you move them—and yourself—toward the door. By sticking to scheduled times for e-mail, meetings, and other distractions, you’ll manage your time more effectively and get more work done.
- Develop delegation strategies. You may be able to have a subordinate handle much of your email and phone communication. You may be able to combine, or even eliminate, some of those meetings. But for really effective delegation, give away an important project, something that makes your co-worker or subordinate feel important. Make it something that will bring satisfaction and recognition. By delegating important work, you will be preparing your subordinates to advance and avoiding burnout at the same time.
- Monitor overload warnings.
Your body will be the first to let you know if your job burnout is reaching the danger zone. Are you having trouble sleeping? Experiencing back pains, stomach upsets? Having accidents or mishaps at home or at work? Getting frequent colds or flu? If putting yourself first and setting boundaries is hard for you, it may take practice. If any of these job burnout warning signs occur, repeat steps 1 and 2 above until they go away. Your body and your boss will thank you.
Personal leadership coaches work with clients in challenging situations to custom design strategies for creating life balance and improving work productivity. Could this be the right move for you? Contact Joel now to find out how he can help!
Talkback: Do you see yourself in the scenario above? Have you tried some stress or time management techniques that worked for you? Leave your comments here, or ask Joel a question for a future Q & A with Joel.
Brian Asks: I’ve positioned myself into a number of opportunities which can raise my visibility with my firm’s leaders, but now I’m in the position of having to execute on that work while also maintaining my pipeline of new projects and my actual day job. How do I best handle this type of situation?
Joel Answers: As an executive coach and career coach, this question comes up often with my coaching clients. Following my advice, they seek out projects that will increase their visibility only to find that they suddenly have too much work to do! Don’t worry—the answer doesn’t involve working an extra 20 hours per week. Here are the three steps you should take to ensure that you can complete your highly visible projects without neglecting the rest of your work.
Step 1: Make the high-visibility projects your #1 priority. These are the projects that will lead to more and better opportunities in the organization. They are your keys to advancement and greater influence in the company. Put them first.
Step 2: Delegate as much as possible. Through careful delegation to your subordinates and team members, you can clear part of your workload while providing them with an increased sense of empowerment and responsibility. Don’t just dump a bunch of busy work on them. Give them real projects that they know are important. Some of them may be looking to advance to the next level as well, and they’ll jump at the chance to prove that they’re ready to handle your job once you get promoted.
Step 3: Prioritize what’s left. Once you have delegated as much as possible and blocked off the time you’ll need to complete your high-visibility projects, determine how much time you’ll have to do the rest of your work. Create a list of what’s left and prioritize it so that you’ll be able to see what you need to focus on.
You might also want to consider executive coaching to help you advance in your career. A coach can help you look at things from a different perspective so you can see exactly what steps you need to take to stand out, get noticed, and get ahead at work.
Find out how an executive coach can help you get ahead in your career by taking Joel’s free coaching assessments. You’ll get a personalized response with tips and suggestions specific to your situation.
Talkback: Have you had to balance your current responsibilities with additional projects that could get you noticed by company leaders? How did you do manage it? Leave your feedback in the comments, or ask a question for a future Q&A with Joel.
“If you manage your multitasking, you’ll be much more effective than if you simply hop from project to project without driving them to completion.”
~ Mitch Thrower ~
Chris Asks: My question has to do with a specific skill: multitasking. I am horrible at it. Can anyone in management still be a great leader without multitasking skills?
Joel Answers: The value of multitasking is overrated. In fact, several recent studies indicate that it is better to focus on one task at a time. Multitasking has been shown to negatively impact memory and IQ, make it harder for you to learn new things, and even cause accidents, resulting in several states making it illegal to do two seemingly simple things at the same time: drive and talk on the phone.
Here are some of the disadvantages of multitasking:
- Attention and memory loss. People who frequently juggle various types of electronic communications and media have trouble focusing their attention, take longer to switch between tasks, and don’t perform as well on memory tests as those who don’t, according to a study by Professor Clifford Nass that was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
- Poor cognitive performance. Zheng Wang, a professor at Ohio State University, recently released a study showing that multitasking made students feel more productive, while actually reducing their ability to perform well on cognitive tasks such as studying.
- Lost productivity. Contrary to what was previously believed, switching between tasks actually makes you less productive. Every time you switch from one task to another, you lose a little bit of time while your brain shifts gears, and all of this lost time adds up.
Instead of rapidly switching your attention between multiple tasks, as an executive, you need to be able to prioritize your tasks. By focusing on the things that are really important, you’ll be much more productive than your multitasking co-workers.
Learn how to manage your time instead of letting time manage you: Buy Joel’s book, Time Management Mastery, and learn how to budget your time and energy to accomplish the things that are most important to you.
Talkback: Do you multitask at work? Do you feel that the advantages of multitasking outweigh the disadvantages? Is there anything you’d like to ask Joel—about multitasking or anything else—for a future column?
Did you know that there are over 11 million formal meetings held every day in America? According to a study conducted by the University of Arizona, that comes to more than 3 billion meetings per year. Most managers spend an estimated 20% of their working hours in formal meetings of five or more people. A meeting between several executive leaders may run a firm over $1000 per hour or more in salary costs alone. Ineffective or unproductive meetings could cost Fortune 50 companies losses of more than $75 million per year.
A New York consulting firm, Communispond, Inc., conducted a survey of 471 management leaders and found that well over one-half of the managers surveyed considered most meetings to be a “waste of time.” Almost 90% recognized the failure of most meetings to be due to a “lack of advanced planning and organization,” and over 75% of those polled pointed out that they received no proper training on how to conduct a meeting in the first place.
If you’re looking for answers on how to make executive meetings more productive, it’s important to understand the top seven reasons why executive meetings fail:
- Lack of a goal or objective. If you’re unclear on what you need to achieve in the meeting, the end results of the meeting will also be loose-ended. Establish a purpose or objective for the meeting. This way you know what to expect as a proposed outcome. Clearly identify the issues you want to resolve or discuss and what you want to achieve.
- Not preparing an agenda beforehand. Not preparing a meeting agenda in advance can lead to a meeting that lacks focus. With your goal in mind, prepare and distribute an agenda with the objectives outlined to the participants of the meeting. Request them to read this in advance. This makes the most efficient use of time as they don’t have to skim through the agenda in the meeting itself and it also gives them a chance to think through and make their own individual preparations ahead of time.
- No facilitator and mote taker roles assigned. Without someone to lead the meeting and someone to take notes, the meeting can go in any direction and waste precious time. Learn how to delegate effectively and determine who’s going to be in charge of facilitating the meeting and who’s going to be taking notes prior to the meeting. Both of these individuals will be responsible for issuing the minutes of the meeting. Different participants can take on these roles in future meetings.
- No start and end times established. A meeting can go on for hours if you don’t set a fixed time for it to finish. Respect those who got to the table on time and start (even if others are late). Don’t start over when others arrive, and end the meeting on time. You’ll be surprised on how much you can accomplish in shorter, speedier meetings than long meetings that seem to go on forever.
- Using technology ineffectively. Using technology for the sake of using it can lead to an unproductive outcome. There are just so many ways to conduct meetings today–everything from PowerPoint presentations to webinars and white boards to video conferencing. A flip chart, a black marker and post-it notes might be all you need to get the interactive participation you need to make the meeting a success.
- Unorganized discussions. Many meetings deviate from the agenda and focus on other issues. Although those issues might be equally important, it’s the facilitator’s job to stick to the agenda and keep the meeting on track. Remember, your aim is to make sure you maintain clear and effective communication to resolve or discuss the goal you started out with.
- Not assigning deliverables and following up. Failing to recap and assign responsibilities at the end of the meeting makes the entire goal of the meeting pointless. Follow up by sending out the minutes of the meeting with the assigned deliverables and timelines. Make participants accountable by scheduling a short follow-up meeting to track whether everyone is going in the right direction to meet the objectives.
If you really want to understand how to make executive meetings a productive success, start by finding a solid facilitator or take the lead yourself to encourage participants to be open to adhering with the organizational improvements you suggest.
Once you know how to organize and run a meeting the next step is to understand how to express yourself in meetings and how to disagree at meetings in a positive and productive way.
The simple act of paying positive attention to people has a great deal to do with productivity.
~ Thomas J. Peters ~
Although many companies lay off employees to cut costs and increase productivity, the result is often the opposite. In most cases, downsizing hurts productivity. A case study that was done on the fire department in Hampton, New Hampshire provides some insight into why this is true.
As part of the study, fire safety personnel were surveyed about their experiences with layoffs. Here are some of the results:
- The number of respondents who were very satisfied with their jobs was 72% before the layoffs and 11% after.
- The number who said they were not very satisfied was 3% before and 44% after.
- 47% of the employees who remained after the layoffs considered looking for work at another organization.
- Prior to the layoffs, 97% would have recommended their workplace to others. This dropped to 39% after the layoffs.
- 72% believed that downsizing had hurt productivity.
- 81% said that the layoffs had caused a drop in employee morale.
Of course, a single case study doesn’t prove that downsizing hurts productivity, but this is not an isolated occurrence. In 1996, the American Management Association conducted a study on companies that had downsized. They discovered that only about one-third of them had increased their productivity after downsizing.
Another study also found that downsizing hurts productivity. Some of the factors cited as reasons for the loss of productivity included the voluntary resignation of survivors, failure of those left behind to keep up the increased workload, resistance to change, and inexperience on the part of new employees who were hired to replace those who resigned.
If you are forced to cut labor costs, you should expect that there will be negative repercussions in the form of reduced productivity and morale, lowered employee trust in management, and valued employees who were not laid off leaving to work elsewhere. Although you can’t completely avoid these issues, there are ways you can reduce their impact.
7 Ways to Avoid a Loss of Productivity after Downsizing
- Avoid layoffs if possible.
Make sure your employees know that layoffs are a last resort that you will only consider when there are no other options.
- Ask for cost-saving ideas from your employees.
They may be able to help you come up with a way to cut costs without cutting their jobs.
- Tell the whole truth.
Be truthful with your employees, and don’t withhold information. Let them know what is going on.
- Treat them as you’d like to be treated.
Think about how you would feel if you were the one whose job was being cut. Try to treat your employees the way you would want to be treated.
- Keep it positive.
There are still good things going on at work. Help your employees focus on their successes.
- Think ahead.
Planning long-term projects demonstrates to your employees that you believe the future of the company is secure. Get them excited about being a part of that future.
- Share the load.
Your employees are going to be overloaded with work due to a shortage of staff and resources. Offer to help when possible and work with them to determine priorities so that they are focusing on the tasks that are most important.
Maintaining employee morale in the face of layoffs is not an easy task, but it is something every manager should strive for. By keeping employees motivated and productive during downsizing, you can increase your company’s chances of making a full recovery to its former strength.
Garfinkle Outplacement Services offers a 9-step employee outplacment process. Consider providing outplacement for workers to help your employees survive—and thrive—as they transition to new employment opportunities.