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Leading Off
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Time, the clichés tell us and the pandemic has again proven, is fleeting, precious, elusive, and tight. Managing it is a constant and ever-more challenging test for leaders as they move up the ranks. So this week, while the days are long in the Northern Hemisphere and short in the Southern Hemisphere, let’s gather the experts to help you get a better handle on your time and how you should use it to lead more effectively. We’ll try to be brief.
Person walking
That pressure you’re feeling is more than just a ticking clock
These days most everyone considers life more hectic than ever before. But, writes Joe Pinsker in the Atlantic, certain groups are feeling it more than others. These include working moms, married people, parents, and college grads. One reason is that the busyness itself is compounded by what one expert says is a feeling that you must be “the best you can be” in all endeavors or you’ve failed. One place to parse these forces and improve your understanding of ways to trim time-gobbling tasks is your “to-do” list. Parlay those time-savers with some tips on being more productive.
That’s the number of hours in each week. “That is a lot of time,” argues time-management expert Laura Vanderkam in this TED Talk from 2016. To “build the lives we want in the time we’ve got,” she suggests looking ahead—for example, to the end of next year—to declare the career and personal goals that you would like to check off as achieved by then and setting those as priorities around which to organize your time and life in the interim.
“It takes all the running you can do just to keep in the same place.”
So wrote Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass. Of course, that was 1872 when, it appears, effective time management was also elusive. Today, science offers supportive advice. At the personal level, check yourself on your proclivity for procrastination. People might take your approach of putting off even little tasks until the last moment as a sign of a carefree and cool operator. But procrastination might instead signal your self-doubt and insecurity and, perhaps, contribute to stress and even depression. At the enterprise level, research suggests that leaders who are serious about addressing the perennial problem of time management must stop thinking about it primarily as an individual problem and start treating it institutionally as a problem whose root causes are deeply embedded in corporate structures and cultures, as this McKinsey article from 2013 explores.
bookshelf shaped like a human head
As you pursue a learning agenda for yourself, your teams, and your organization, guidelines can help make the most of your time investment and returns. In this podcast, “Building a learning culture that drives business forward,” McKinsey’s Matt Smith and alumna Elizabeth Young McNally explore the traits of “intentional” learners and the practical steps to develop effective learning mindsets. The key: defining a clear and immediate number of goals, a time period in which to achieve them, and a group of people who can support and monitor progress toward a good outcome.
Department of free time
“Don’t you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn’t just an hour—but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands—and who knows what to do with it?” asks Blanche DuBois, the tragic protagonist of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire. Here’s one suggestion: do nothing. In today’s caffeinated business environment, in which the pandemic has further blurred the boundaries between work and home, even meditation and yoga breaks can feel like a forced march. Maybe more moments should be left empty and mindless for our well-being and development, suggests “How being more productive starts with doing nothing” in the Wall Street Journal. Neuroscience research shows that even brief time-outs in which you do nothing more than gaze out the window or simply breathe give your brain a chance to perform important cleanup work and reinforce long-term learning—without depending on the kindness of strangers.
Speaking of time, let’s free up some of yours and ours. Leading Off will take a break for the week of July 4 to celebrate Independence Day in the US. We’ll be back at it July 12. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.
Lead well.
— Edited by Bill Javetski, an executive editor in McKinsey’s New Jersey office
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