As we sat for lunch, the young leader of a growing organisation dumped his frustration. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I feel buried by all the stuff of leading. I thought that I’d have more time to plan, contemplate and develop people. But I am swamped by email, requests for urgent reports from the executive and all manner of other, what feels to me like time wasting activities.”

I certainly heard that he was frustrated and not fulfilled.  The constant juggle of calendar, the interruptions and greater responsibilities he was being given because he was successful.

Dividing your time among the four R’s

Every leader must learn the art of juggling, and it begins by choosing carefully what you juggle—and when. The best jugglers may toss handkerchiefs, batons, or torches, but they never juggle everything people throw their way. Likewise, healthy leaders learn to juggle selectively.

I group all my activities into four major categories. By setting aside time for each one, I can better keep my work balanced with my family, my health and my recreation time. Fewer things get dropped. I call the categories my “Four R’s”:

  1. Rest time—focusing on my emotional, spiritual and marital health.

This is about what you do on your days off. Do you invest yourself in the relationships, your own mental health and your physical health.

My last mentor used to talk to me all the time about having a sustainable rhythm of life. He believed that leaders of leaders needed to have an 8 – 10 week cycle. Work hard for that period, at the end have an activity that will recharge and reenergise you. It might be a long weekend away. It might be a 1 day bush-walk, it might be a holiday. Spacing out these reenergising events is critical to the long haul.

  1. Results time—focusing on the main things that I am responsible for in my role. This means getting quite ruthless with interrupters and interruptions that don’t help you achieve results.
  2. Response time—focusing on “stuff,” administration and follow up with others who need my input. The key is discipline. Don’t just do these things ad-hoc, in constant reactive mode. Set up mechanisms where you are available for the emergencies and critical things. Make yourself more unavailable for everything else. Do those things when they are convenient for you. I know this will take quite a bit of work and retraining of others around you, but mainly ourselves.
  3. Refocus time—focusing on evaluating what my priorities should be.

When a juggler gets in the rhythm, he stays there for a while, concentrating on his routine until it flows naturally. He would never think of taking a phone call or checking his e-mail while flipping knives over his head. Likewise, I focus on one objective at a time and allow enough time to do it well.

I plan my week in large chunks of time, full or half-day units, each devoted to one of the four R’s. When I try to fit more than one of these needs into one block of time, I experience frustration and defeat. My stress goes up and my productivity goes down.

When I rest, I really, truly rest. When I’m in results mode, I don’t let distractions intrude on the time I’ve dedicated to my primary task. When it’s response time, I give myself away as a humble servant to help others achieve their results. And when I go away to refocus, I allow myself time to reflect and rethink how to approach the future.

The final “R” is the most overlooked
People sometimes encourage you to rest, they certainly demand results, and they regularly cry out for response, but they seldom think of a leader’s need to refocus. In fact, we rarely think of it ourselves.

Refocusing is working on the team or organisation, not just in the role/organisation —time to assess, adjust, and innovate for the future. Even if the team or organization appears stable, the world all around is in flux. When our priorities shift, our understanding of our unique abilities is refined, or we experience a tough month, it is time to refocus our plans for rest, results, and response.

Refocus time is usually not a complete change of direction. It is the opportunity to make the fine adjustments needed. It is time to ask new questions, look for uncommon answers that lead to innovation, self-awareness and clarity.

Just as a camera uses different lenses for different distances, I use three types of refocus time to gain new perspective on my life and roles.

  1. Refocus weekly. Refocus time should happen routinely, at the beginning or end of every week. Even one to two hours per week of refocus time will vastly improve the future. We need honest assessment, by asking, “So, how is it going, really?” In refocus time, each of the other “R’s” needs review.
  2. Refocus monthly or Quarterly. Take a half-day every month, get away from the office, to think strategically. Ask the big questions, look at the trends in your industry and strategies how go from where you are to where you want to be.

In my business every 3 months we take a whole day to review our last 90 day plan, innovate and dream, develop something that needs the key leaders in the room to develop, create our next 90 day plan.

  1. Refocus annually. Schedule an annual retreat to do a complete review of the past year. From the lessons learned, plan the big strategic pieces for the year to come or years to come. It is also important to use this time to build the team, have fun together, learn something new together. Have a facilitator help your team to develop been team habits.

No matter the size of our team or organisation is, people will throw more stuff our way than we can imagine. Some can be ignored and some delegated, but much of it will need to be juggled. Before you’re buried by dropped balls, get into the rhythm of rest, results, response, and refocus.

Challenge: Take one of these ideas and implement it into your calendar today.

Question: Which one of these 4 do your currently do and which do you struggle to implement?

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