The following list contains tactical strategies for getting away from the busy work and the micromanaging, and moving closer to the big picture with higher productivity. To develop it, we spoke to CFOs and time-management experts, all of whom have struggled at some point to allocate, delegate, or resuscitate themselves in the face of a crushing workload.
1. Identify one area of the company you would like to learn more about and make a larger contribution to. Then, take five minutes each morning to review your schedule and look for opportunities to devote more time to that area.
Why: When you’re stressed, it’s much easier to do what is in front of you than to prioritize what is truly important. Trouble is, there will always be three things in front of you that seem to need immediate attention. Stepping back and consciously thinking about what you could be addressing instead is a good way to initiate some changes in your routine.
How: Find one meeting that you can skip or consolidate with another, and use the time you gain to focus on the unaddressed task. Reach out to a person more closely involved with it to share your thoughts or offer your help.
2. Challenge yourself to tune out e-mail and other electronic communications for set lengths of time, starting with 15 minutes and building up from there.
Why: While there are no doubt times when you need to respond ASAP, many of our technology habits are simply conditioned responses. Most messages aren’t that urgent, or even important. Don’t let them interrupt your productivity.
How: Think critically about when you need to monitor message flow closely, and when you don’t. Begin to set the expectation with colleagues that you will not respond to every message within 24 seconds. Take a few minutes to learn the e-mail labeling options at your disposal; simply marking a few messages that can be perfunctorily responded to at the end of the day can help you get off the e-mail hamster wheel.
3. Tighten up the agendas for all meetings you control, and rethink whether their frequency makes sense.
Why: For the sake of your own productivity, and everyone else’s.
How: One instant productivity booster is to share responsibility for running meetings with attendees. Asking others to create meeting agendas helps focus discussions, and ultimately allows you to miss meetings occasionally when more strategic matters demand your attention.
4. Choose one task you normally do that you can delegate to someone else. Delegate. Repeat.
Why: Chances are, you are very good at getting things done, and your natural tendency is to do rather than direct. The prospect of training someone else to do it will seem burdensome. But it’s essential.
How: One method that works for time management expert Peter Turla is to write “Why Me?” after each item on his to-do list. Over the course of a month, he learned to give up even some of his most critical tasks as he carefully trained his colleagues. One challenge of such an approach no doubt resonates with many execs: “It took a long time to get over the guilt, because I felt like I was dumping on people, even though I was in fact building their skill sets,” Turla says. In fact, he spent two years applying those “Why Me?” annotations before he felt like has had truly mastered time management.
BUILDING THE STRATEGIC CFO
Chapters in the CFO action series presented by Build and GE Capital:
Chapter 1: Own the Big Picture
Chapter 2: Create More Time
Chapter 3: Build a Better Team
Chapter 4: The Great Communicator
Chapter 5: Big Data, Big Results
Chapter 6: Think and Act Sustainably
Chapter 7: The Leading Edge
Chapter 8: Think Global, Whether You Are or Not
Chapter 9: Building a Risk-Intelligent Culture
Chapter 10: How to Win the War for Talent
Chapter 11: Technology & You
Chapter 12: The Art of Strategic Influence
Chapter 13: Building the Customer-Centric Organization