We hear a lot about the problem with productivity in North America. The implicit (and often explicit) message is that we are simply not producing enough widgets for the given amount of time and investment compared to workers in other countries.
In other words, work smarter, faster or more efficiently. Do more with less. Less is more.
All too often, especially for leaders, the result can lead to work-aholism and frustration. People putting in 50, 60, 70 or more hours each week simply to produce more widgets and improve productivity.
Slavish devotion to widget production, however, leaves precious little time for leaders to do their most important work: thinking.
Leadership thinker John C. Maxwell argues that we need to set aside regular time to simply sit and think. Quiet time without the smartphone, Twitter or other distractions. Our best work will emerge when we can think, ponder, reflect and ruminate on the issues at hand and begin to devise strategies to address them. And this will only occur when we can clear our minds and focus.
Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talks about Quadrant 2 time: time that we need to set aside for things that are important, but not urgent. This is time for planning and preparation. Think about how much more effective you can be at that next important meeting if you could take :30 or more minutes to prepare for it. Quadrant 2 is also time when you pick up the phone, or head down the hallway, to connect with colleagues and members of your team. Quadrant 2 is where you, as a leader, add the most value.
We have to value this downtime – and ensure that those we work with also value it. I have blocked time in my calendar for planning and preparation and label it “Q2″. My staff know that this is protected time. You have to resist attempts to book meetings into this downtime. It’s tough at first – but soon you will look forward to this block of time to do some of your best thinking. But if you must interrupt your Q2 time, simply find an equal, offsetting section of time later in the day or that week. It’s not as important when you do this kind of thinking – rather, that you are doing it at all.
It’s been said that many of us are too busy driving to stop for gas. Schedule and jealously protect your time for planning, preparing and reflecting. It will make you a more effective leader. Moreover, by removing yourself from the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day, you can take the necessary time to think. Just think. Sounds good already!