The Leadership Secret to Creating More Time

‘I just don’t have enough time’. It’s a very popular modern moan.
You will never have enough.  It’s a fact. You cannot ask God or your boss for a 12-hour extension in the day. Work expands to fit the time available. Challenges and emails breed like rabbits. You have to find ways to bend time to your will. Here’s the secret to doing that.

Stop worrying about time, start focusing on energy. To make things happen, you need energy.

If you have energy you can get things done faster and you can think clearer, you can persuade people and persevere with plans. Importantly, you can do less and achieve more in little time. Effective energy management is not something that comes automatically in today’s busy, fast-moving world. But to drive business results, it’s as important for senior leaders to work out how to manage their energy as it is to manage their people.

I’ve interviewed a ‘Fast Fifty’ of global business leaders and entrepreneurs to explore their ways of speeding up success (for my book ‘Superfast: How to Lead at Speed‘ which is out next year). Each one of them thought carefully about how to better maximise their energy. Here’s how to approach getting better at energy optimisation:

Positive energy comes from the right people

Energy often comes from whom you work with. Make a conscious decision to zap the energy vampires in your business – avoid working with them if you can. Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella uses these assessment criteria for new hires: ‘Do they create clarity and do they create energy?

One FTSE 100 CEO I spoke to recently had a very deliberate hiring policy where she prioritised finding people with the ability to ‘unblock’, to remove the speedbumps that slow down progress. So seek out the ‘unblockers’ in your team.

Spend more time with the people you know who act as a ‘tonic’ (friends, mentors and colleagues). Consider how you can have an energising impact on those around you. Positive energy is infectious.

Your personal energy is a priority

Do not neglect the nurturing of your energy. The advice they give to parents on planes applies to leaders. Put your oxygen mask on first. If you are not able to function, others will suffer.

In Paul Arden’s book ‘It’s not how good you are’ he highlights the importance of energy as a creative leader: “Energy. It’s 75% of the job. If you haven’t got it, be nice.” Perhaps this would have been good advice for Kevin Roberts who was not perceived as very nice this week.

Know thyself and respect your body. Burnout is, frankly, a bugger for everyone and a huge risk for the ambitious entrepreneur and the diligent C-Suite executive.

Exercise is a tried-and-tested energy creator

The majority of calm senior leaders have worked out a way to squeeze exercise smartly into their day. If Obama can exercise every day, you can.
Find what suits you. One entrepreneur learnt yoga so he could easily do it on hotel room balconies as he travelled so often. A tech-leader rows which gives him exercise and also group fun. A manager of a fast-growing global business makes sure he cycles to work everyday. I am an advocate of early-morning exercise as a way to drive all-day energy (and the side benefit of a shocking sense of smugness).

Schedule around your energy levels. Many smart leaders know the time of the day they work best. Plan meetings and thinking time accordingly. There are those who are religious about timekeeping in meetings and who set a limit (e.g. no meetings over two hours, normal meetings at 45 mins not an hour) and there’s one CEO who colour-codes her diary so she can see at a glance the right balance of thinking time and not too much travel time.

Work and rest. Arianna Huffington has led a sleep revolution encouraging us all to ‘Thrive’ by being smart about sleep with compelling facts. Interestingly, many people I spoke to did sleep well or were great at catnapping. Although I bemoan the fact I’m short it does help me nap well on planes which is handy for keeping energy levels up.

From time to time ‘lie fallow’

A step beyond the sleep revolution is a full recharge. Commonly known as a holiday. This is the season to remind ourselves of this. I spoke to a global agency chairman of very advanced years and asked him what he’d say to his younger self. After a pause for thought he said ‘Take more holidays’. When I laughed, he said ‘I’m totally serious. My best ideas often came when I was away and I always managed to achieve real results immediately post-holiday’. He admitted that ‘it took me years to realise this’.

For those of us who love our work and who are impatient to get things done, holidays can sometimes feel like an interruption. It’s tempting to only take a half-break. Write a list before you go on holiday about what you want to achieve when you’re back and then switch off business-as-usual (thinking time is allowed).

If you really unplug, you will find you can focus better on the long-term needs of the business without being so distracted by the short-term niggles.
It is smart and it is sensible to consciously put yourself into energy-saving mode from time to time.  Refresh, renew and come back reinvigorated.
You can’t change time but you can change energy. It’s that simple. Manage your energy not just your time, and action and faster progress will be yours.

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It’s perhaps overlooked that Kermit is a businessman – or businessfrog. He leads a team which is as about as diverse as you could imagine. What’s more, he’s constantly fighting crises on every front, to keep the business going. There’s a lot we can learn this Christmas from…

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