As an executive in a growing company, it’s difficult to disconnect from the constant activity that surrounds you.
Everyone on your team has questions, needs, and concerns, and your attention is appreciated in a hundred different places. For some co-founders, this is an exhilarating experience. For others it can be oppressive and make it difficult to focus on the areas in which they can have the biggest impact.
For both types of CEO, it’s important to take a step back and carve out meaningful amounts of uninterrupted alone time – time in which to focus on the big picture elements that will chart the future of your business. Here are some tips for ensuring you have this time and not letting routine fire drills devour it.
The average person sends and receives 124 work emails per day and as much as 28% of their work week reading, writing, and replying to email. That number is likely even higher for an executive. When you spend 2-3 hours a day in your inbox, a lot of other things fall by the wayside, especially silent, alone-time for you to be with your thoughts.
There are several ways to address this. First, set specific times each day during which you will check email. Some CEOs go as far as only checking email once a day, while others take a beginning, middle and end of the day approach. Regardless of frequency, avoid replying instantly to messages that may not need it.
Immediate replies encourage the same in return, and the chain can go on throughout the day. Not only will you find people solving problems on their own if they know you won’t get to your email for several hours, meaning fewer emails overall, but you’ll find yourself sending fewer yourself. Encourage people to call or text if something needs an urgent reply.
Managing Your Calendar
Meetings are another time sink if you’re not careful, but it’s a fine balancing act. You need facetime with your team and you need to communicate with direct reports as often as possible. But a calendar completely blocked up by meetings can be exhausting and sap productivity. If you spend that much time talking about everything, when will you actually do it?
The solution is simple – block off chunks of time on your calendar every day and share your availability with your team. If they can see you are busy, they are much less likely to book or request a meeting. Over time, people will learn that this 1-3 hour block of time is off limits.
Know When You’ll Work Best
One of the biggest obstacles to alone time is…time. When you’re working long hours every day of the week, when exactly are you going to carve out yet more time for yourself? Simple. You improve your efficiency.
Everyone has a time each day when they work best. A 2-4 hour chunk during which they work at 300% and can get their best work done. The problem is that many people don’t recognize when this is and instead fill it with busy work, meetings and other “easy” work that doesn’t always generate results.
If you’re the sharpest at 7:30 in the morning, but you spend that time checking email, showering, and getting to the office, you’re seriously missing out!
Spend some time thinking about when you work best and adjust your schedule accordingly. If that means waking up earlier, moving your email time to the afternoon, or blocking out all meeting slots in the morning, then do it – you’ll be amazed how much more you can get done when you leverage those hours to their greatest effect.
Listen to Your Body
Co-founders and senior managers tend to be high-performers. They work long and hard and get a LOT done every day. But they also push up against a potentially dangerous line in their work-life balance that, when crossed, can lead to burnout.
Not only will your efforts to improve efficiency be for naught, you might find your productivity and ambition drop sharply if you ignore the warning signs that you’re overworking yourself. Listen to your body, get enough sleep every night, manage your caffeine intake with only 2-3 cups of coffee each day, and regular exercise every week to stay sharp and avoid falling off the proverbial cliff.
Create a Morning Ritual
This goes hand in hand with the “best work” tip above. While not universal, most people find that mornings are incredibly valuable, and yet many waste large portions of them. They stay up too late and are therefore tired in the morning and unproductive. They don’t eat a solid breakfast. They check their phones even before getting out of bed, going into reactive mode before even fully awake.
To take back your mornings and what could be your most productive hours of the day, build a ritual that you can stick to.
This will be different for everyone, but some common morning tasks include meditation and/or prayer, drinking a bottle of water to hydrate, stretching or doing some light exercise, writing for a few minutes in a journal, or reading a book to get your creative juices flowing.
Don’t dive right into work the moment you roll out of bed. Spend time just “being” and let the day come to you.
The Value of Truly Uninterrupted Time to Your Business
Your time is the most valuable resource you have. When your company first launched, you used it to write code, meet with investors, and read resumes. Today, you use it in a very different way to manage, lead, and grow your business.
But those hours alone to focus on the big picture are still important. When balanced against hands-on time with your team, the daily responsibilities of a co-founder and executive, and your mental and physical health, you can be better prepared for the next steps you and your business will face.
Leverage the time you have alone as a leader to build a better, open environment for your employees. Learn what it takes to establish a feedback culture that encourages active dialogue and maintains a healthy culture.