One of the areas that I frequently help my CEOs and senior executive clients to focus on, is making sure they are doing the right things and investing their time and energy wisely. This means getting the foundations in place so they can have high impact and add the most value in their roles. And often it comes down to creating the space to lead, clearing the clutter, making sure the physical, calendar, and mental space is available and set up to support those executives to do the things they do best.
With one week to go until I fly to the US for two weeks, I have had to drink some of my own Kool-Aid. I have been feeling like I have a lot on my plate in order to be ready to go away. It is no small thing to take two weeks away from the office when you run your own business, particularly a client facing business.
So, I have been feeling unusually busy in this lead up to going overseas.
There is a lot happening because we are in the final calendar quarter of the year, and this is a time when many business leaders make decisions about their learning and development for their people and growing their leadership. These clients are active now either because they want to get something done before the Christmas break or because they want to set something up for the new calendar year. So on top of the regular business, there is this extra layer of activity being driven by clients. I’m certainly not complaining about that!
In addition, I have kicked off a couple of major strategic projects ready to launch them in 2024. More about this another time.
There is all the planning that goes into making sure that my team know exactly what to focus on while I am out of the office. I want them to be feeling equipped and in control so they can respond to and support all of our clients.
There is the small task of writing a few blogs so they can be published each week I am travelling.
And then, of course, there is planning the trip itself. All of the administration that goes with travelling to the US. I have also been setting up business meetings in the two different states that I’ll be visiting, Florida and New York. And then because I am attending a conference, there has been some pre-networking and connecting so that I can make the most of the time while I am there.
Then importantly, there is the big question of what to pack in my suitcase. Well, let’s be honest, my suitcases.
Last week I was feeling like I was going to just about squeeze everything into the available time. I was feeling under control. And for those of you who know me, that is my normal state. I am fairly strategic in terms of my planning and how I choose to spend my time. I always allow space for contingency.
But I had a few hiccups this week and that changed my dynamic a bit.
So here is what happened. My son’s car needs to go to the mechanic to be checked out because there is a warning light on the dash. Now, he still attends school, which means he is not able to take his car to the mechanic. This is an extra task for me, and I will be there for whatever period of time it takes to diagnose and then correct the potential issue.
Then my husband, without warning, needs emergency eye surgery. Unexpected, yet must take priority. Now he is fine, he is back home from the hospital and recovering well. Then I started to get what seemed suspiciously like a toothache, something that I have never experienced before. So I needed to fit in a dentist appointment. It turns out I am a little bit stressed, and so I am grinding my teeth which is making them a bit achy. And I now have a plan to address that.
All of these things have impacted on my very tight schedule in the lead-up to my trip.
Yesterday, I was feeling very overwhelmed and not certain that I was going to get everything done because I had all of these unexpected things happen. Sound familiar?
As I said, today I have taken my own Kool-Aid. I have gone back to one of my own frameworks to make sure that I am focused on the right things and to get my plan in place so that I have the space to lead.
In this case, to lead myself and also to make sure that my team and my family are in a good position to manage everything in my absence. The first thing I did was set aside some time to plan. I had that opportunity because I always keep a contingency of reactive time available in my calendar.
Even though I was fully booked, I wasn’t fully booked because I had some contingency time. I have been using this ‘reactive’ time this morning to reshape my planned activity for the next seven days before I fly out.
I also did this thinking in a space that was free of clutter. So I have been sitting somewhere that has a really nice outlook. I can see the sun. I can see the outdoors. And it is quiet, so I can think. And I find for me this is what works. I not only need to carve out the time, but I need to have the right kind of location to allow me to think and work with intensity without interruptions or high levels of noise or visual distraction.
So I have cleared the physical and calendar space for myself to reshape my plan for the next week. The thing that was really overwhelming me was my brain was continuously churning ideas and thoughts and ‘don’t forget this’ and ‘remember to do that’.
My challenge was mental clutter. This is how I tackled it.
I needed to download everything out of my brain. I brainstormed it out. I wrote it down on my iPad so that I had it all captured. The first thing is to get it down.
So that I do not need to keep remembering everything, I needed to do something with each of the listed items. This basically comes down to decision making. I move each item to the next step and know that I will not forget them because there is some kind of automated process or trigger to make sure the things that need attention will get attention.
I used the 4Ds process that I would typically use for email to make these decisions.
So the first thing I did on my list of brainstormed items from my brain dump was to delete all of the things that really did not matter. That in a couple of weeks’ time would be of no significance. And so I got rid of a portion of my list.
Next, I did some further delegation both in my business and also at home. Delegating some of the things that other people can do, who are not as time constrained as I am right now.
The third decision was to look at some of the things that can possibly wait until later. Either until I return or until I have some time available during my trip to action them. For example, the flight home or the flight between Florida and New York. I have delayed a few things, not a lot, but a couple of things that really did not need to happen in this next 7 days.
Finally, I am left with the things that I need to do. Things that need to happen before I leave.
Things like following up any critical client conversations, preparing and delivering a client event, and packing my suitcase. Then allocating time to complete these things, ensuring that the time allocated allows for completion in this next week. For example, I had a few things that I need to get dry-cleaned, so they are ready to pack. There is no value in me waiting until the day before I fly to drop them at the dry cleaners, because they will not be ready to pack. So the sequencing of some of these activities is important as well.
Once I had things back under control and I had moved out of reactiveness, and back into being in control and more strategic, I decided to take a mental break. I created some space to have a bit of downtime before I get into this next surge of activity. This allows me to settle back into being strategic and in control before I get back into being productive.
I believe it is important that when you are really under the pump, when you are feeling the pressures and the stresses and the deadlines, that you give yourself space to make sure that your focus is on the right things, in the right way, in the right order. Give yourself the opportunity to create the space and make the most difference and progress to support you yourself, your team, and your organisation.
If this is you, if you are feeling a little overwhelmed, hyper busy, or not as productive as you would like to be, I encourage you to examine your space and see what clutter you can clear. Is it the physical space so that you be effective? Is it the calendar space so you have time? Or is it the mental space so that you can think and create?
Once you know which of these three spaces needs some attention, what is the action you need to take to get back in control, be more strategic, and feel like you are leading?
I’d love to know your thoughts.
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