As a leader, getting caught up in the never-ending cycle of busyness can be easy. There are always tasks to complete, meetings to attend, and emails to respond to, and there is never enough time to complete everything. The following five books helped me understand how to manage my time and avoid feeling swamped, overwhelmed, late, unreliable, or constantly busy.
Here's what I learned from each of them:
"Essentialism" by Greg McKeon
In "Essentialism," McKeon argues that we often get caught up in doing too much and trying to do it all well. This "non-essentialist" approach leads to feelings of being swamped, overwhelmed and busy. Instead, McKeon suggests that we should focus on doing only what is essential and let go of the rest. He calls this approach "essentialism."
To practice essentialism, McKeon recommends using the "80/20 rule" to prioritize the tasks that will have the greatest impact and let go of the rest. He also suggests learning to say no to tasks and commitments that don't align with our goals and values. This can be difficult, as we often feel pressure to say yes to everything that comes our way. However, by learning to say no and focusing on what is essential, we can reduce the chaos and stress in our lives and create more space for calm and clarity.
One key takeaway from "Essentialism" that has helped me as a leader is the importance of developing a sense of calmness. By focusing on what is essential and letting go of the rest, we can reduce the chaos and stress in our lives and create more space for calm and clarity. This sense of calmness can help us to be more focused and effective in our work and to identify the most important things we should be working on.
"Thinking in Bets" by Annie Duke
In "Thinking in Bets," Duke discusses the importance of thinking about uncertainty and making decisions in the face of it. She argues that we often feel overwhelmed when faced with a decision because we try to predict the outcome with certainty. However, this is often impossible, and we feel stuck or indecisive.
Instead, Duke suggests that we should think about our decisions as bets. We can consider the potential outcomes and their probabilities and then decide based on the best available information. This approach can help us feel more confident and less overwhelmed when making decisions, even when unsure of the outcome.
One takeaway from "Thinking in Bets" that has been particularly helpful for me as a leader is the realization that sometimes, making a wrong decision (and learning/iterating fast) is better than taking too long to make a decision. We can make more informed and confident decisions by considering our decisions as bets and considering the potential outcomes and probabilities in contrast to the "blast radius" of the decision. The "blast radius" is "what could go wrong" by making the wrong decision, which is often much smaller than the effort we expend to become more confident. This can help us to avoid feeling overwhelmed and swamped by our workload.
"Multipliers" by Liz Wiseman
In "Multipliers," Wiseman argues that there are two types of leaders: multipliers and diminishers. Multipliers are leaders who invest in their teams and create an environment where everyone can contribute their best work. Diminishers, on the other hand, drain their team's energy and intelligence and hinder their performance.
One key takeaway from "Multipliers" that has helped me as a leader is the importance of investing in other people. By investing in my team and creating an environment where everyone can contribute their best work, I can delegate effectively and free up my own time. This has helped me to avoid feeling overwhelmed and swamped by my workload.
To be a multiplier, Wiseman suggests focusing on a few key areas:
- Talent: Recognize and nurture the talents of your team members.
- Intelligence: Encourage and value the intelligence of your team members.
- Creativity: Foster creativity and innovation in your team.
- Energy: Create an energizing work environment that inspires and motivates your team.
"How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" by Dale Carnegie
In "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living," Carnegie discusses the concept of "day-tight compartments." This means we should focus on the present day and not let yesterday's problems or tomorrow's worries weigh us down. Carnegie argues that this approach can help us to avoid feeling overwhelmed and swamped by our workload.
One takeaway from "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" that has been particularly helpful for me as a leader is the realization that we all have bad days, and it's okay to get frustrated. However, a key to sustained high performance is keeping those bad days from spiralling out of control and becoming a recurring pattern. Sometimes, it just isn't working for you, so taking a break and coming back with a clear mind can be extremely helpful.
To practice "day-tight compartments," Carnegie suggests a few key strategies:
- Prioritize your tasks: Identify the most important tasks you need to complete each day and focus on them first.
- Set aside time for worry: Schedule a specific time each day to think about and address any worries or concerns you may have.
- Practice gratitude: Take a few minutes each day to reflect on what you are grateful for. This can help to put your worries and problems into perspective.
- Take breaks: Make sure to take regular breaks throughout the day to recharge and refocus.
"Getting Things Done" by David Allen
In "Getting Things Done," Allen discusses the importance of getting things out of our heads and captured somewhere where we won't forget them. He also provides a model for overcoming procrastination for minor tasks that we should do immediately if they only take a few minutes.
One takeaway from "Getting Things Done" that has been particularly helpful for me as a leader is the realization that we often procrastinate on tasks because we don't have a clear plan for how to complete them. By following Allen's model for getting things done, I have been able to overcome procrastination and avoid feeling overwhelmed by my workload.
To practice "getting things done," Allen suggests the following steps:
- Capture: Collect all the tasks, ideas, and commitments on your mind and put them in a trusted system.
- Clarify: Break each task down into smaller, actionable steps.
- Organize: Sort your tasks into categories and prioritize them based on importance and due date.
- Reflect: Regularly review your tasks and make any necessary updates.
- Engage: Choose the next task to work on based on your priorities and start working on it.
If you are struggling with busyness and feeling overwhelmed, I recommend reading these books. Each offers valuable insights and practical strategies for managing your time and avoiding the feelings of being swamped, overwhelmed, late, unreliable, or constantly busy. By applying the lessons from these books, you can improve your time management skills, reduce stress, and become a more effective and confident leader.