Managing Director? Overloaded? That’s good!

As a business leader, you have an infinite job. Even if you were ever on top of all your taks and responsibilities, you should be looking out for more opportunities. It cna be stressful.  The key is to use some simple approaches, trust your subconscious instincts for time management and focus on taking the first actionable step. Even if it is a small step, it is progress and will help you to feel better.

Time is your most precious resource

Business leaders like you (and me) often hear that phrase.  It can be annoying when cash and sales and leads and staff and deliveries all seem critically urgent and demanding.  It feels like finding more cash or sales or people is the biggest challenge.  And it's true.  All can be sources of a great deal of stress.

But the truth is time is the preeminent one!  For SME business leaders like you and me time is definitely our most scarce resource. If we had more time we could fix any of those other problems! And even if you are in the wonderful position of not having such problems, you could achieve so much more if only you had more time!

Most business leaders have, at some stage, come across the time management principles of keeping a ‘To Do’ list, considering what’s actually important and what’s just urgent using the Covey grid (explained here) ensuring important and urgent tasks are completed to deadlines, and making sure that strategically important tasks are scheduled appropriately. 

You've probably also encountered the stress management principles of taking time out for yourself, breathing deeply, and promoting positive mindsets. In this article I’d like to share three insights I’ve learnt that were little lightbulb moments for me, helping to focus my time while simultaneously reducing the stress I feel as a business owner.

Good managing directors have infinite ‘To Do’ lists

Recognise that as a business leader your job is infinite. If you were to wake up tomorrow and complete your entire business task list, there would always be more tasks, more responsibilities, more business development and outreach opportunities outside of the business that need your attention. Who doesn’t want to be overloaded with opportunities?

Indeed, one of the things I learnt in the middle of my career was the importance of resisting the temptation to “tidy up” things internally, and instead learnt I needed to ensure that I spent enough time getting out and about, finding and taking new opportunities.

The insight here is simple but powerful. I used to try hard to clear my ‘To Do’ list, then get frustrated and stressed when, no matter how many hours I worked, I couldn’t. The realisation that my job was infinite and therefore impossible to finish was incredibly insightful.

Trust your subconscious instincts for time management

The second major learning point is one I’m ashamed to admit I only recognised thirty years into my career. This is that our subconscious minds naturally try to help us prioritise. One day, I realised I had been worrying about a particular task for weeks, thinking about how I was going to do it and trying to find time to work on it. In summary I had been procrastinating.

On realising this, I said to myself “I’ve had enough of this stress, let’s just get started on doing it, even if I don’t know quite how I’m going to do it.” A couple of hours later, when I’d finished, I felt pretty good! I realised I’d just completed something quite important and, after weeks of stress, it had only taken me a couple of hours.

The lightbulb moment was realising that my subconscious mind had been trying to help me to prioritise, and my stress was because I’d been adhering to logic and rational processes too rigorously.

Overwhelm and the first actionable step

One of my first Chief Executive bosses had a very sikple mantra.  Whenever I, as subsidiary Managing Director was making the case for something he'd simply ask "What's the first actionable step Bob?" and once I'd answered would simply say OK just do it and then see where we are.

I was reminded this recenly when interviewing fellow speaker Hilary Briggs about her experiences as a business leader in manufacturing during the stressful 20th Century.  She talked about one of her keynote topics of Overwhelm and described how she'd learnt a similar approach.  She suggested that when you feel overwhelmed, one good strategy is to just do something - something that moves you in the right direction.  Even if it is a small step it is progress.  Slow progress is after all still progress. And that means you usually feel better too!