“My tasks and responsibilities have grown so much that I can’t get ahead of them. It seems like I’m barely treading water.” If you have found yourself thinking this or saying this to a trusted confidante, you are not the only one. This is a comment I frequently hear from executives, especially those in aggressive-growth companies.

For these executives, it seems like they barely get into the office before they must head into a meeting that leads to another meeting followed by a conference call. Before they realize it, it is 4:45pm, and they have not eaten lunch or been able to respond to an email. Some of these executives find their email inbox keeps getting filled up for reasons other than how well they respond to messages. Out of necessity, these leaders use their inbox as a tracking mechanism for all the tasks and projects they have in play.

If the preceding describes you or is starting to sound familiar, simply accepting that this is just the way it is for someone in your role will not help you be more productive. Instead, consider a practice that has helped executives gain more control over the amount of work they face. Specifically, it is important to decide what you are going to do each day, but it is just as important to decide what you’re not going to do. To help you make this part of your daily routine, here are some starting points:

“Time-Box” It

Despite what you may think or others tell you, not everything has to be done today. Take five minutes and assess what really needs to be addressed today and then spread the rest out over time. To ensure the items you spread out over time get addressed, set specific deadlines, milestones and expected outcomes.

Leverage Others

If you take an honest look at what should be done by you, you may find that your need to achieve is getting in your way. Once you have isolated those items that only you can or should do, delegate the remaining items to those people who have the skillset, bandwidth and motivation to complete them. Provide guidance when it is necessary, but resist the temptation to actually do them. This not only helps you, but it also provides a way to enhance the experience and knowledge base of those around you.

Trust the Process

As I have had conversations with executives to help them figure out what they should and should not do, many of these leaders realized that they spent excessive time explaining a task to others when a process existed that effectively laid out how it should be done. Let the process and the people who already understand the process be the resources (instead of you) for those individuals who are learning to complete the task.

Be Like “Ike”

If you want a simple tool to help you gauge what you should and should not do, try the Eisenhower Matrix. President Dwight (“Ike”) Eisenhower was known for his productivity which is why his methods, like the matrix that bears his name, continue to be utilized. Eisenhower’s strategy for organizing tasks and taking action entails categorizing tasks based on their urgency and importance. This categorization is then used to determine whether you should do the task immediately, schedule it for later, delegate it, or eliminate it.

What you decide not to do is just as big of a factor in your success as what you decide to do, because your productivity is based on how effectively you allocate your time. Consequently, taking a moment to figure out what you should not do will help protect this scarce resource.


Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: Concentrate, Flickr)