How do you flip the switch from being busy to being effective when you are overwhelmed and anxious with way too many things to do?
I want to take you through a process that has helped me and many of the leaders we work with here at Development & Leadership Coaching.
But first, you need to take a breath! This is something I struggle with in my own life. I think every leader does. If we aren’t careful, we can get caught up just going from one thing to the next every day. I want you to STOP and BREATHE. Then, ask yourself this important question: “Am I really doing the things that are critically important for me to do that are going to move our organization forward towards the vision we have for impacting people’s lives, or am I just busy?”
The process I am going to share with you is one we walk leaders through when they are getting to that place of feeling stuck, overwhelmed, anxious, and constantly busy but are beginning to wonder if they are as effective as they should be.
I have found there are a couple of reasons why we can often get stuck and feel this sense of doubt about whether or not we are as effective as we should be. It doesn’t always mean you are doing something wrong. In fact, you may be doing something right!
Now, one of those reasons could be that you have a gazillion things to do and you are feeling stressed and anxious, you are not organized, you aren’t on top of anything, and you haven’t got a clear sense of what you are supposed to be doing. That is a very real scenario we can face, and there are ways we can help people move through that, but oftentimes this is not the case.
A common scenario looks more like this... You’ve become better as a leader in planning and looking ahead. You’ve grown a clearer sense of where you want to head. You have some strategies in place you are trying to consistently work out, and as you’ve improved in that aspect of your leadership, what comes along with that is this greater sense of feeling overwhelmed, busy, or wondering if you are focused on the things you should be.
So, that feeling of being overwhelmed is a byproduct of good planning. Often, the better we get at planning and clarity in our role, the more overwhelmed and anxious we can become about all there is to do. Why? Because you are clarifying your vision and the steps to move forward!
The following process can be helpful in both those scenarios but particularly when you are doing better in planning.
First, you have to clarify and refocus on key areas.
Clarify or recommit to the primary areas of contribution you have as a leader. Answer the question, “What are your key areas of contribution as a leader?” There are probably only a handful of things that only you can do or that you’re ultimately the most responsible for in your organization. Refocus yourself on these things.
For most leaders, these are the things YOU are ultimately responsible for:
Vision, mission, and values Ask yourself, “Where are we going and what is the impact we are trying to have on life?” This is your vision. Your mission is who you serve and how you serve them. Identify your values in terms of your organization at its best and what the leader of that organization needs to embody.
Financial health While there are many people involved in finances in terms of growing giving, revenue, or the program, you as the leader of this organization must know that you are ultimately responsible for the financial health of the organization.
Shepherding staff Shepherding staff and your board take time. This is people-oriented work and usually a huge area of focus for leaders.
Self-leadership Self-leadership is one we often forget, but it’s incredibly important because before we can lead others well, we have to lead ourselves well. This is the time to ask yourself some tough questions: Am I healthy? Am I focused on the right things? How am I doing spiritually? How am I doing with my time? How am I doing with my areas of strength and weakness? Now, I don’t know about you, but this usually feels selfish to me. So, step back for a moment, and look at it from the perspective that you, as the leader of this organization, need to be strong, ready, and healthy to be able to do for others what you’re called to do.
Thinking and planning Thinking and planning is time intensive work that no one else in the organization is going to do for you. Very few people in your organization are going to go to bed tonight thinking and planning about where your organization is going to go. So, this is a key area of contribution for you.
Now, you take all of these responsibilities and FILTER them.
There are several things we tell our leaders to do to filter the things they are responsible for, and these are also things I do myself.
Create a 6×6 Now that you’ve got the primary things you’re responsible for clarified, you’re going to filter all of this by creating a six by six. Write down the six key projects you need to get accomplished within the next six weeks. These are things that if you don’t get them done, you are not going to be moving forward in the next six weeks like you hope to.
Budget the time on your calendar So now you have your six by six, but just creating it is not enough. Now you have to budget the time to work on those things. These are not your daily things. These are the six big projects you want to move forward on, contribute to, and see happen. To do this, you’ve got to budget the time. I find it works best when you chunk the time. I recommend chunking ninety minutes of focused attention on these things. Chunk the time, and hold to it to be able to know that in the next six weeks you have allotted the time to work on this.
Automate, delegate, eliminate This is where most people stop if they are doing this at all. I’m going to take it further. Next, we are going to take the long list of things you are doing, not on your six by six, but all the stuff that is making you feel busy and overwhelmed. Create three different lists: What can be automated? What can be delegated? What can be eliminated? Automating is something I would think nowadays people would be quick to try to do, but it involves technology, working with other people, and making checklists. So, we decide that is too much work, but if you are doing something more than once on a regular basis, it is a candidate for automation. I promise you the work up front is worth it! Delegation is not about taking your job and giving it to someone else. It is about identifying three key things: What is it that I’m trying to equip other people to do? What is it that I, and only I, need to be doing? What is it that others can be doing maybe even better than I can do? Then, you need to eliminate. This is the one most people want to skip over. I guarantee you, if you look over the past six weeks, you will find things you have already decided not to do. They are still on your list causing you stress, but they haven’t been done. They may not have been done in months. We need to go ahead and own that reality. Let’s either get it done or let’s eliminate it. I’ve got things like that on my list every time I look at it. Eliminate! The other aspect of elimination is taking it one step further to the point of pain. There are some things on your list you would like to get done, and you feel like would be positive, but the reality is we need to eliminate them from our lives because it is good, but it’s not the best. When you eliminate to the point of pain, you know you are eliminating at the right level.
Scheduling time windows Take the tasks you have, the things coming your way, and the requests for meetings, and break these into three simple groups: things I have to get done in the next two weeks; things I have to get done in the next six weeks; and things I have to get done in the next six months. This will free up the way you emotionally work through each day. The more you can help other people understand the way you are doing things, the better you will be at this as well.
It’s a simple process. It starts at the highest levels of contribution, filters all the way down to the details of automating, delegating, and eliminating, and then to the tasks we are actually going to do. This process is proven. I know it will make a huge difference for you!
If you want more great resources and tools to further help you shift from busy to effective, visit developmentandleadership.org.
Zach Clark is the founder of Development & Leadership Coaching, a non-traditional service approach helping leaders grow and build a culture of generosity. Beginning at twenty years of age, Zach’s expertise and skills were honed as a development and leadership consultant serving hundreds of Christian schools, churches, and non-profit ministry organizations around the country. Zach has a dynamic and energetic teaching style that makes him a much sought-after public speaker. He is a member of the John Maxwell Team, the world’s leading leadership development organization, and is a John Maxwell Certified Coach, Trainer, and Speaker.
Reprinted here by permission of Development & Leadership Coaching. For more information regarding Development & Leadership Coaching, visit developmentandleadership.org.