As I coach leaders throughout the country and across vast industry verticals, the one word I often hear to describe how they are doing is “busy.” “I’m so busy with this,” and “I’m so busy with that,” followed by the self-induced confidence boost, “…but it’s all good and I think I have balance now.”  

Other leaders, who may be more self-aware, realize there is no balance and are still seeking to find that “nugget of wisdom” or “magic pill” that allows them to have the work/life balance that keeps eluding them.

Here’s the hard truth: there is no such thing as balance if you want to be effective. 

Allow me to explain.

Let’s say you have five things to do today that are all extremely important and urgent. You are going to dedicate equal amount of time to each task. Using 100% as your overall unit of measure, five tasks means you would give 20% of your time to each one. 20%?! That’s not even a passing grade in school – nor is it effective.

At Solutions 21, we espouse leaders to improve upon the nine characteristics of World-Class Performers. Of these nine characteristics, “Practice Energy Management” is arguably one of the most important. World-Class Performers learn that energy is a finite resource. Where to spend that energy is a critical decision, and it is not taken lightly.

Allow me to propose a different way of exercising energy management. Instead of trying to live a balanced life at work or home – or anywhere – 21st-century leaders must exercise focus. What follows are small but effective habits and techniques to help you stop the balancing act and become focused on the best things. We’ll start at the macro level and get more detailed as we go.  

Develop Focus Areas

In the famous words of Mr. Miagi, “Your focus needs more focus!” 

Where is your focus? Do you have focus areas outlined for your life and your work? Many times, leaders lose energy because they let the day (and others) dictate their schedule versus being disciplined to plan ahead and adjust as needed. Take time and think through the most important areas of your life and how to focus on each one. From there, do the same for your work. Once your focus areas are established, everything you do should fall into one of the determined focus areas. If it doesn’t, delete it from your schedule.  

Develop SMART Goals

Now that you have focus areas, you can establish quarterly or annual SMART goals for each area. Be careful not to overdo it here. I recommend no more than 1-2 annual goals per focus area and no more than 1-3 total goals per quarter for the greatest probability of success. SMART goals must be Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time oriented. For example, instead of a goal of “grow our revenue twice as much in next quarter,” you would say “grow our product line of X by 50% ($$XX) no later than 31 May 2020”. SMART goals get you closer to a focused way of operating on the best things.

Develop a Weekly Cadence

Now that you have focus areas and have established SMART Goals, you can begin to set your calendar for energy management. As I coach leaders who are struggling with time and energy management, I ask, “What is your weekly cadence?” Another way of asking this question would be: “What are the recurring events in your life that you do week in and week out?” I usually get the responses of “I don’t have one” or “I don’t know.” To which I push back. Every leader – or every person for that matter – has recurring events on a week-to-week basis.

If you haven’t identified yours, do so now. Take 15-minutes and write out your weekly recurring events. Make sure to indicate the day and time of these events. Once you’ve defined these events, use a digital calendar of your choice and put those events as recurring calendar events. Want to achieve a pro level of energy management? Have colors for different categories of recurring events, i.e. green = family, red = boss-imposed event, yellow = subordinate-imposed time, blue = personal time, etc. Finally, create an excel spreadsheet for your ideal week and block off the recurring events to maximize your time and energy management.  

Develop Daily Start/Stop Rituals

One of my favorite focus tools is the Michael Hyatt Company Full Focus Planner. One of the exercises asks me to determine my daily start and stop rituals. These are the events – by timeframe – that I must do on a consistent basis, to stay focused and get the best things done at the start and end of every day. I’ve developed this habit to account for the first and last 90 minutes of each of my workdays. Without this habit, most leaders arrive to their office and let their email, direct reports, or other crises dictate the start and end of each day. Implement your daily start and stop rituals to stay on track and make the best use of your energy and time.

Develop Daily Top 5

Our final stop on the energy-management train is determining your Daily Top 5, or “The Five Most Important Things You Will Get Done Today.” Write them down and post them somewhere you can see them.  Anytime you have a break – or return from “putting out a fire” – there should be no question of what to do next. Take a look at your Daily Top 5, determine where you are currently, and proceed. Once all of your Daily Top 5 are completed, you have discretionary time to check emails, return phone calls, ask how you can help others in the office, etc. 

Zig Ziglar once said, “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have 24-hour days.”  What direction is your energy and focus going? Do you have disciplined daily habits for productive work in all areas of your life? If you are unsure, the habits outlined above can get you started.