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One Powerful Question
Leadership takes time – and here's how to find it!
I have shelves full of books on leadership and management. Yes, a lot of the information is simply different ways of approaching the same general things but there are tons of other great and extremely useful ideas. But as with most things, I barely have time to read about them, much less implement them all!
As I thought about what to cover in today’s Workbench, I assumed that I’m not alone in my struggle to find time for everything I value. I’m guessing that you, dear reader, would really like to be a Relaxed Leader but aren’t sure how to squeeze it in with all your other commitments. So I’ve decided to share a strategy to free up time that you can then use to focus on becoming a better leader!
Why it matters:
Anything worth doing is worth doing well, which generally requires a significant time commitment. As with any new skill, more time, energy, and focus is required up front when the learning curve is steep, so freeing up enough time is necessary to get you over the initial hump.
We all have the same number of hours in a week and you can’t “make” more time – nor will you “find” time just lying around somewhere. Time is a fixed commodity. That means you need to “free up” time you’re currently spending doing something else. And since I don’t recommend that Relaxed Leaders cut their sleep time too short, we need to take a healthier approach.
One way is to simply limit or stop an activity. Spending a couple hours a day playing games on your phone? You can certainly repurpose those hours more productively! But if you’ve already cut your leisure time back to a reasonable amount, does that mean you need to cut out other activities you care about? Not necessarily.
You could definitely cut out certain things – not because they aren’t valuable but because they’re not a high enough priority right now – OR you can look at a complicated activity you perform and ask yourself one simple question…
What would this look like if it were EASY?
This is a question that Tim Ferriss uses, as discussed in his book “Tools of Titans,” and it’s a nice, straight-forward approach to process improvement. Especially if you’re trying to free up time to do more important things – like learning to be a Relaxed Leader – then you certainly don’t have time to do a full blown Lean Six Sigma improvement project! (And unless you’re already certified in Lean or are a Six Sigma Black Belt, then you’d have to learn all of those tools before putting them to use anyway.)
The reason this question is so effective is because it forces us to approach our work or daily tasks from a different perspective. We’re human, so we love patterns, routines, and habits. We love doing things the way we’ve always done them because it’s comfortable and known to us. And because it’s so familiar, it feels efficient, even if it’s a horribly inefficient process. Besides, if we know how to get work done using a complex, cumbersome system, then we feel competent, knowledgeable, AND hard-working.
Comfort breeds complacency, so we rarely even notice the fact that a familiar process is cumbersome and inefficient.
How to practice:
Step 1: Look for something where you know how to complete the task but where you have to work hard to get it done. I would start with those tasks that take up the bulk of your time because it’s likely the work has been over-complicated and can be streamlined.
Step 2: Answer this question: “What would this look like if it were EASY?” Let your mind have fun with it and be as creative or outlandish as you want. You never know when a crazy idea will be the stepping stone to an amazing idea! During this step, it’s hard not to get stuck on the minutiae and focus on all the reasons why something can’t be changed or some idea won’t work. Don’t do that. You’re not coming up with solutions at this point, you’re coming up with a vision for the end state!
Step 3: Do a quick “gap analysis” to determine what’s required to turn your EASY vision into a reality. Compare your new process to your current process. What’s different? Are there steps that can be streamlined, consolidated, or flat out eliminated? For each difference between the current state and the future state, figure out what needs to be changed and write it down.
Step 4: Take the results of your gap analysis, turn it into an action plan, and start executing! You’ll need to decide if your changes should be made sequentially, concurrently, or a combination of the two – but don’t get bogged down in the planning. You need to execute! Relaxed Leaders don’t just think about change – they take action to make the changes that are needed.
Use this simple process improvement tool and you’ll be able to free up time to focus on leadership activities without sacrificing too much else in your life.
What to watch out for:
Like any tool or tactic, you can end up feeling a sense of accomplishment by simply doing the exercise... and not implementing the changes you’ve identified. Yes, it’s great to go through this and come up with a plan. But then it becomes NOT great – and actually a complete waste of time – if you don’t execute the plan you’ve created.
Daydreaming isn’t a bad thing... unless it’s the only thing!
The bottom line:
I can write and talk about leadership for hours and hours but none of it will matter if I can’t help you create the time and space you need to focus on becoming a Relaxed Leader. In the weeks and months to come, I’ll share more ideas on how to be a very effective leader; but for now, you can start freeing up the time you’ll need to join me on this journey. And it begins with one question:
What would this look like if it were EASY?