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  • Writer's pictureWanda Wallace

Taking Control of Your Time: Understanding Your Unique Value-Add

Case study: Alecia has been working on the launch of her company’s new product with two peers for almost a year. The workload is high but manageable between the three of them. Both Alecia’s boss and the product sponsors are happy with the progress. But right as the product launches, her two colleagues leave the company and are not replaced. Alecia, now the sole product manager, worries she will drown in the work she and her peers used to do. When she comes to me for help, she is ready to quit: “I can’t do three jobs at once. I will miss deadlines, tarnish my reputation and be set back in my career. I might as well leave now.”

I helped her re-frame, “what if this situation weren’t a burden, but a chance for you to show that you can take responsibility, manage at a higher level, have a greater impact and make the product a long-lasting success?”

Alecia decides to persevere. But how can she get the work done without spending 24 hours a day in the office? She will need to learn what every good leader must master: how to delegate effectively, how to organize her calendar, and how to reduce the hours she is spending on tasks that aren’t the best use of her time. First, she needs to realign her priorities and understand what is adding value.

Importance vs. Urgency

If you have ever read a book or taken a class about productivity, you have probably heard of the Eisenhower matrix. The model is named after former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower and built on a quote attributed to him:

"I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."

The Eisenhower matrix evaluates everything you do based on these two qualities: importance and urgency.

Most leaders are consumed by the urgent tasks whether they are important or not. Many also spend far too much time on tasks in Quadrant 4 (not important and not urgent). Rather than being controlled by the task list, a high impact leader must learn to manage the available time by focusing on what adds the greatest value.

Start by listing your existing work and the tasks on your to-do list in this matrix.

· How can you cut back on the time spent in Q1? Where can you delegate, automate or set new procedures so that you reduce the number of ‘fires’?

· For Q3 tasks (urgent but not important), spend the least amount of time and brain power on these until they become important. Babysit them doing just enough to keep them ticking along.

· For Q4 tasks, stop doing them until someone can give a compelling reason why they are important. If no one asks for these in a few weeks, then take them off your task list.

That brings us to real magic of Q2 tasks (important but not yet urgent). These are the long-term projects that will have the biggest impact, because they are investments into the future. Here are the complex measures that will make current workflows easier, faster, or less expensive. The crucial things that only you can do, but that have no immediate deadline.

That brings us to real magic of Q2 tasks (important but not yet urgent). These are the long-term projects that will have the biggest impact, because they are investments into the future. Here are the complex measures that will make current workflows easier, faster, or less expensive. The crucial things that only you can do, but that have no immediate deadline.

Making the Future Today’s Priority

How can you identify your own Q2 projects, and actually get them done? This is what I have been working on for the last thirty years with my clients. Let me show you what has proven to be most effective for them.

First, list all the important tasks you are currently doing. Which of the items on your list do you deem the most impactful? What’s not on this week’s list that you would have done had you had the time? Determine 3-5 duties that you think should take priority and think of arguments that support that assessment.

Then take that shortlist to your line manager. If you were to ask them what tasks you should leave undone, they will either not give you a helpful answer or view you as overworked, overwhelmed, or unwilling. Instead, present a well-thought-out list of priorities and say: “I think my resources are best spent doing this, would you agree? Have I missed anything?” This will show that you are prepared, that you understand your job, and that you have the company’s best interests in mind. You will get a much clearer understanding of what your boss values and where your time is best spent, while also showing initiative and being proactive.

Two crucial questions should become a non-negotiable part of your workflow. Ask yourself every day: “What’s the one thing I can do today that will make everything else easier or unnecessary?” This item should be your top priority of the day – either complete it first thing, or set a time during the day when you are most productive and least likely to be interrupted. Then ask yourself: “What’s something I can do this month that will make next month better?” Get this longer-term project in motion by deciding on impactful first steps and scheduling several two-hour blocks of uninterrupted time to get them done.

Leveraging your time

I’m sure the first thing that comes to mind is; “I don’t have any two-hour gaps in my calendar to get this done. I simply don’t have the time.”

Trust me, I have seen thousands of leaders with great potential struggle to complete Quadrant Two work because their days are filled to the brim with endless meetings, emails, phone calls, and paperwork. Their daily fight against a mountain of items is what for many ultimately leads to stress, burn-out, dissatisfaction and poor performance. That is why I have made it my mission to combat this problem by teaching people how to create leverage and free up their time for the work that really matters.

In my career as a leadership coach, I have identified key measures to create leverage and help you take control of your time. The good news is: By evaluating your own Quadrant Two, and understanding what work is really rewarding, productive, future-oriented, and thus necessary for you to do, you have already taken the first and most important step. Now you can take charge of your calendar and reduce the time you spend in the other three quadrants by learning six more crucial skills. Ultimately, you’ll need to:

· Reduce ‘Hassle’ items that don’t bring significant value

· Master the art of delegating well

· Organize yourself

· Find focus and center your attention

· Add Joy

· Combat micro-stress through meaningful connections

Over the coming months, this blog series will teach you these important facets of creating leverage so you can make the most of your time – both within and outside of your work hours. For each skill, I will provide practical exercises to help you implement small changes that have a big impact on your daily routine. You will be surprised at how much meaningful work you can achieve by creating leverage and focusing on what matters most, and how many of the things you were previously doing are not missed at all.

As for Alecia, she has recently been on this journey with me. She has made great progress on her own Quadrant Two project – a system to automate some key features of her product’s online presence that her team had previously spent hours on every week. Now, Alicia can delegate other responsibilities to others in the organization, which allows her to spend even more time on what her company values: ideas that future-proof the product, and thus the business. She has earned the trust and respect of her boss and when the next big project is assigned, she will once again be at the top of his list.

If you want to see more short videos, updates on articles and quick tips from Wanda herself, why not connect with her on Instagram?

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