My Rules of Three for Busy Executives

…how do we keep a balance to accomplish what needs to be done while protecting the time we have in the office?

Several years ago, I suddenly found myself extremely, insanely busy: I’d taken over the management of a second enterprise sales team, one that needed to be evaluated, partially dismantled, re-shaped and re-inspired; one that took me on the road to the west coast seemingly every other week. Simultaneously, I oversaw our entire go-to-market sales and marketing strategy for a vertical and ran two global programs that impacted the onboarding and general health of our sales team. On top of that, there were all the standard executive meetings – weighing in on new messaging from marketing, planning for next FY, re-evaluating our product suite – you name it.

The demands for my time were endless, leading to 14 hour days and working weekends, and all this to say: I was busy. And so are you.

Busy is the new chic…

– it’s the new status symbol, the must-have-bag of the fall, the “I winter in Palm Beach”– apparently, if you’re not busy, you’re irrelevant. And we are seemingly all in this busy state – it’s the top complaint I hear from anyone in my life, clients and friends alike.

But with all the demands for our attention, how do we keep a balance to accomplish what needs to be done while protecting the time we do have in the office? Here are three tricks I use to keep it all (somewhat) in line.

Three Hours

I commit to giving three hours of my week to projects/asks that support someone other than the goals of my team or my direct reports.

When I think through all the things that are asked of us – 15 minutes to strategize on a deal, an hour to interview a candidate for one of your peers, 45 minutes to weigh in on a better method to do xyz, an hour to mentor a new hire in a different office, another hour to interview a candidate for another peer – there are limitless ways for us to support our organization.

The trouble is, if we see an opening on our calendar and we have a genuine eagerness to be of help, it’s far too easy to say yes. And, I am one of those people. So, I set boundaries for myself.

I shifted to giving three hours of my week to any such activity. Once those three hours are scheduled, I’m simply out of time for the week, but offer a slot for the following week.

I do this even if I don’t have a single meeting planned on a given day (ha!). Saying “no” to someone else once those three hours are gone means I’m saying “yes” back to myself and my team’s immediate goals. This boundary became one of my key survival mechanisms and has proved to be critical to my success (and sanity).

Three People

As a leader, I thrive when I connect with my team. I love talking to them, jumping on quick calls, working deals as a team, sharing stories from the previous day or weekend, or running a million miles a minute during our 1:1s.

One thing that’s unique to my scenario, and always has been, is that I’m a remote leader. Some of my team resides in NYC, some farther north, some farther south. This brings a unique set of benefits but also presents one specific challenge – how to stay connected?

Regardless of where I am – home or on the road – I make a point to speak to at least three of my team members every single day.

Even if those touch points are 90 seconds and exchange a quick sentiment, I make them happen.  I know so many that struggle with how to stay meaningful connected in spite of being remote or being habitual travelers, and this practice has always paid off well.

Three Minutes

You know those days where you’re booked back to back to back, and wonder how you’re ever going to handle the work that’s coming in while you’re in meetings? Well, this might help you.

I’ve picked up a pattern in a lot of my meetings – many of them end just short of the time allotted and many of them start just a few minutes late. My 10am runs until 10:52, which leaves me just enough time to hit the ladies, grab a clementine (fine, fine, a wheel of cheese) and head back to my desk by…10:57am. I polled a variety of friends and asked, “What do you do during the few minutes before a meeting or conference call starts?” Almost unanimously the answer was “I look at Instagram” (or anything mindless) and, frankly, that was my answer, too. So, I shifted.

Every time I realized I had a few minutes before my next meeting, I tackled as many emails as I could. These are my “one dollar activities,” as we say in sales. They’re quick and don’t require an inordinate amount of focus, preparation or attention.

I can say yes to someone and set them off on a task. I can approve a request or an expense or a deal, and keep things moving. I can send a calendar invite that I wrote down earlier to get sent. I can book my hotel for an upcoming trip.

Here’s the thing I noticed – it also energized me. Instead of disengaging my brain a bit and mindlessly scrolling through social media, I tackled tasks and felt productive, which made me that much more engaged during my next meeting.

In Conclusion

These three things have paid off extensively in my connectivity to my teams, my ability to be productive, and in feeling like I am supporting my wider organization while not over-extending myself to the detriment of my top priorities. I hope they give you a little more structure in your chaotic schedule and maybe even a few more productive minutes to every day.

Pictured above: onstage at LMA2019, Atlanta, Georgia, as I introduced my three esteemed co-panelists in a discussion about LinkedIn Sales Navigator for the enterprise.