And smart leaders do.
My guess is that whenever you read this, you’re already feeling pinched for time and a bit overwhelmed.
Welcome to leadership. Welcome to life.
If you study the differences between great leaders and poor leaders, many of them center around pro-activity, refusing to make excuses and abundance thinking.
Another key difference is that great leaders refuse to let their days get sucked up by meeting after useless meeting, email and being pulled into other people’s urgent priorities.
If you’ve ever made it to Friday and had a hard time answering the question, “What did I accomplish this week?” it might be because you failed to make time for these seven things for which great leaders always make time.
So, if you really want to edge up your leadership and begin accomplishing something significant, start making time for these seven things.
1. Investing in your best people
Guess who will monopolize your time if you’re not proactive? Your most problematic people. Problem people will occupy your calendar unless you decide they won’t.
When volunteer X didn’t show up for the fifth time, most leaders would spend incredible time and effort trying to fix that. Or you get yet another meeting request from person Y, who always seems to have some irresolvable crisis going on in his life.
And in the process, your best leaders will be ignored.
Your best people—the ones who show up on time, every time, prepared and ready to do an exceptional job—rarely ask to meet with you. They never call you. They never bother you.
A great leadership practice is to spend the majority of your one-on-one time with your best people.
It makes them better.
It makes you better.
It moves your mission forward faster.
And let’s be honest, it’s not like the problem people really get better as a result of you meeting with them anyway. They continue to be problematic.
So, cut your losses and spend the bulk of your time with your best people.
2. Planning for the future
There’s never enough time to do an awesome job planning for the future. But if you study top performers, you realize they do something many other leaders don’t: they spend significant amounts of time working on plans for the future.
Naturally, they execute as well, but having a carefully crafted and shared mission, vision, strategy and even a set of values can guide your organization beautifully into the future.
If you don’t plan for the future, the future will simply happen to you.
If you plan for it, you’ll shape it.
When was the last time you took a full day—or even a full week—to work on the future?
No one will ever ask you to do it; they’ll just criticize you if you don’t. So do it.
3. Your Highest Value Projects
If you broke down what you do into categories from lowest to highest value, you’d learn something interesting.
You will naturally spend most of your time doing the things that provide the least value: answering email, going to meetings that went too long, didn’t need to happen or that you shouldn’t have attended, and answering questions that really didn’t move your mission forward.
Think about it this way: if you didn’t engage in any of the above for a week, what would truly be lost (other than having a full inbox to empty)?
But you also do things that provide exceptionally high value. While it will vary from leader to leader, for me those things would be creating great sermon series, setting objectives for the months and years ahead and ensuring our senior leaders are healthy and on mission. I know when I do those things well our church does best.
If you consistently spend time on high value projects, you will have a far greater legacy as a leader than leaders who don’t.
So what’s the greatest value you bring to your organization? Budget significant time for that.
I avoided this for too long in my leadership. For the first decade in my time in leadership, I hardly exercised.
Ironically, I worked more hours and got less done.
While I’m not perfect in my exercise routine, exercise has been a bigger part of my life in the last five years than at any other point. So has proper sleep.
Perhaps not coincidentally, in the window in which I’ve exercised the most and slept the best, our church has grown to the largest it’s ever been. I’ve also written three books, launched this blog and launched a leadership podcast.
This may not be a coincidence.
You’ll make time to go to the doctor if you suffer from obesity, diabetes or heart disease. So why not make time for exercise instead?
5. Adequate sleep
In the 80s and 90s leaders used to brag about how little sleep they got. And I bought that line of thinking until it almost killed me.
Chronic lack of sleep was a major factor in the personal burnout I went through almost a decade ago.
Today, I don’t cheat sleep anymore. In fact, I believe getting a full night’s sleep and even taking naps is a secret weapon most leaders miss.
You think more clearly and are simply nicer to be around when you’re rested. Everyone is. And those are two key characteristics of effective leaders.
Everyone will ask you to stay up later to get things done. Don’t. Go to bed on time. You’ll actually get more done—refreshed and alive in the morning.
Everyone wants you to have a great family life as a leader, but then they’ll ask you to please attend their event next Saturday (which happens to be your family day). So what do you do? Too many leaders cave and say yes to the event.
Every time you say yes to an event on your day off, you’re saying no to your family.
Every time you say yes to an evening out, you’re saying no to your family.
Every time you say yes to a project you can’t adequately manage, you’re saying no to your family.
Two things can help with this. First, pre-determine what your family time will be. Then, when people ask you whether you’re free, you can simply say, “I’m sorry, I have a commitment.” If all you have is a blank space in your calendar, you’ll end up saying yes. So write “FAMILY” into your calendar as a commitment. Second, you need to learn how to say no nicely.
One day you will retire from leadership. You will never retire from your family.
Every leader needs time to think. If your life is a series of long meetings, administration and endless texts and emails, you will never take time to truly think.
Innovation never arises from leaders who just want to get it done. Innovation comes from leaders who question what “it” should be.
Again, you can carve white space out on your calendar just to think. Go for a long car ride with the windows down. Find a coffee shop to linger in. Take a walk in the woods. Or lock your office door, shut your laptop and grab a pen and paper.
You can actually develop some strategies to become a better thinker, but first you need to simply create the space and time to think.
And a bonus:
Leaders also take time to learn. There’s an opportunity coming up that I’m going to be a part of, and I’d like to extend an invitation to you. Please consider joining me at Rethink Leadership in Atlanta, April 26-28.
Come experience content, conversations and connections you can’t get anywhere else! This event is dedicated and designed for senior leaders, campus pastors and lead pastors ONLY, and features TED-style talks and interviews with world-class leaders including Reggie Joiner, Les McKeown, Kara Powell, Jeff Henderson, Brad Lomenick, Jon Acuff, myself and many more.
It’s a unique gathering of church leaders who are committed to solving the biggest challenges facing not only your church, but the Church. We’d love to have you be a part of this event! For more information and to register, please visit RethinkLeadership.com.