FIRST LEAD YOURSELF – 20 Tips to Take Back Control of your Time

Stacey Ashley Blog

FIRST LEAD YOURSELF – 20 Tips to Take Back Control of your Time

‘I’m too busy.’

‘I’m swamped.’

‘There is just so much going on.’

‘We’re right in the middle of a change.’

‘My to-do list keeps growing.’

‘I don’t have time for this right now.’


Sound familiar?

Well, it’s time for some tough love. ‘I’m too busy’ is not an excuse for a lack of leadership.

You need to make the most impact in the time you have. So take back control and start making clear decisions about how you invest your valuable self.


Here are 20 principles to help you do just that.

Set clear boundaries for yourself, your people and your family about your work time and space.

For example:
  • What hours and days you will and won’t work
  • Where you will and won’t work
  • When you are available for your team and/or your family. And when you are not available.


Have a clear voicemail message on your office and mobile phones. One which confirms your availability and what options the caller has.

For example, send an email, contact your colleague. The objective here is to reduce the number of voicemails you receive, and also to reduce your follow up activity because you have offered your caller a next step to take without you.


Determine what you will focus on.

The things that will add value and have impact. Make clear decisions and choices about where you will spend your time, energy and focus, and don’t get caught in busy work. Now follow through on your chosen areas of focus.


Use your calendar.

  • For meetings with yourself to do your important work. Self-discipline is key- so show up to these meetings with yourself.
  • Allow reactive time in your day and week…things always come up that do require your attention, so keep some space available for them.
  • Overestimate how long things take…typically we underestimate and find ourselves running behind schedule which creates pressure and stress…so give yourself some contingency time.


Have clear start and finish times for the workday - don’t create a precedent of always working late.

If you already have that precedent, begin to finish your day a little earlier to bring it back to a more reasonable time.


Set windows of opportunity for people to speak with you.

For example, it is easiest to catch me between 10:00 and 11:30 am.


Educate people about not interrupting you for minor/inconsequential matters.

On average an interruption takes about 25 minutes for you to return to the same place in what you were working on when you were interrupted.


Only stay late as an exception for you – this is about self-discipline.


Take control of your email. Do not let email rule your day.

a. Set specific times for email batch processing eg. twice each day
b. Use the four D‘s for your batch processing
  • Do it
  • Dump it
  • Delegate it
  • Diarise it
c. Educate others about your responsiveness. If they want something more quickly, then email is not the channel to use to get your attention focused.

Turn off your alerts on everything that is not critical

Alerts are wasting your time and distracting you from your value-adding work.

Meeting invitations – only say yes if there is a clear agenda and you have a clear role in the meeting.

  • To share information
  • To receive key information
  • To make a decision
  • To get work done in collaboration

Audit your own meetings – often they can be shorter - 15, 25 and 45 minute meetings work well.

Revisit their frequency and the attendees as well, based on having a clear purpose for each meeting.

Get organised so you can find the things you need to do your work.

This means use a consistent filing system across all your devices and physical information and have a home (folder) for everything.
On average white collar workers spend 6 weeks a year looking for things. Time you could be using for important things.

Create the space to work – physical, calendar, mental.

Declutter each of these 3 spaces so you create the space to focus.

Learn to say ‘No’ to things that are not important.

Delegate clearly, early and often, and with expectation of receiving Completed Staff Work.

That means you could pass it on without reviewing it yourself… knowing that it has been completed to the proper standard.

Agree which channels of communication you will use with your team and family

…so you do not need to monitor everything all the time.

Decide on your primary device.

Avoid repeating effort for the same activity on multiple devices eg. processing email on your laptop and your mobile phone.

Create ‘me time’ on a regular basis so you can keep yourself in top leadership shape.

Regularly review where you are spending your time and effort and how that is working.

Adjust as needed.

I suggest you pick one or more of these principles to help you take back control of your time, become more self-directed, and increase your leadership impact.

I’d love to know your thoughts.

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