Welcome back to the second installment of our three-part blog series: "Delegate, Eliminate, and Automate: Your Escape from Overwhelm." In this article, we're diving into the often utterly mystifying world of task elimination—mystifying because it can be excruciatingly difficult to determine which tasks actually need to go, and even more, to admit no one needs to be doing them at all! (That means admitting time was wasted, which can feel like an unredeemable sin to many of us.)
We'll unravel why this art of eliminating the unnecessary is as vital as your morning coffee, why it can feel trickier than quantum physics, and how you can elegantly prune your to-do list for a more Zen-like leadership style that says, "I've got this."
We've all been there—staring at a list that feel endless, where every item seems to carry vital importance—knowing there is no way under the sun we can do it all, even if we didn’t pause for sleep or even to eat. Simultaneously, we are terrified something is going to get dropped in a big, public and worse, messy, way. It is actually highly likely that if nothing changes you are probably right. It isn’t going to be pretty.
Let’s assume you have already read last week’s blog about The Perils of Delegating Poorly, and you’ve done as much delegating effectively as possible for the moment. (If not, now might be a good time to do so—then come back here and we’ll keep going.)
Even after we delegate to others, we still have to take a long hard look at where we are spending needless and counterproductive (not just UN-productive – actually COUNTER-productive!) time on things that do not and will not ever matter.
We're not just here to commiserate about the clutter in your calendar. We’re here to do a complete remodel. Here’s how you can clear the decks yourself fairly quickly.
The Importance of Task Elimination
Imagine a world where you could dedicate your time and energy solely to high-impact tasks that drive growth and innovation. Wouldn’t that be dreamy? Task elimination holds the key to unlocking this ideal scenario. It isn’t just getting something off your desk. It is removing it from your life altogether because it isn’t helping you. It’s slowing you down.
In your business, where time is a precious commodity, freeing up valuable hours is essential. This is the essence of working smarter.
You get it in theory. But it is important to wrap your mind around what eliminating those tasks that are dead weight can really do for you ASAP:
Enhanced Productivity: When you are no longer bogged down by mundane tasks, you can channel your efforts into activities that genuinely move the needle. Who doesn’t want more productivity?
Strategic Thinking: Eliminating tasks allows you to concentrate on long-term strategies, innovative initiatives, and critical decision-making. Yes. You. It shifts the focus from reactive crisis management to proactive, visionary leadership.
Reduced Burnout: The relentless cycle of crisis management and overwhelming task lists often leads to burnout. Eliminating non-essential tasks plays a pivotal role in promoting a healthier work-life balance and maintaining overall well-being. You get to have your cake and eat it too. Don’t believe it isn’t possible. But you’re going to need to let a few things go.
It can feel impossible at first. The rest of this blog will walk you through, step by step. Ready?
The Challenge of Task Elimination
Despite the undeniable benefits, the process of task elimination can be surprisingly challenging. Executives and leaders often face a common dilemma: the paradox of having too much to do and too little time to assess their priorities. This catch-22 situation leaves them trapped in a cycle of constant busyness, leaving little room for thoughtful reflection on task significance and alignment.
Ring any bells? Well, if so, keep reading.
Sources of Tasks Needing Elimination:
Let's talk culprits. Those time-sucking tasks can seemingly come out of nowhere (or, too often are handed to us as a mandate by our boss or our clients!):
The Vague Vortex: Ever find yourself lost in a sea of unrelated and unfocused tasks, wondering if any actually matter? That's the lack of prioritization in action—look for tasks that are not clear on their outcome or do not move you towards a specific goal.
The Micromanagement Morass: Ah, micromanagement, the dance where you end up doing the cha-cha with tasks meant for your team. Time to cut in and show them the exit! (This was a big part of last week’s blog, but this isn’t about the work you are delegating. It is about the work you are creating for yourself overseeing the efforts of the very people you delegated to.)
Whack-a-Mole Wasteland: Ding! Email. Ding! Chat. Ding! The squeaky wheel syndrome keeps you bouncing between notifications. If you are available 24/7 you will be consumed 24/7. This is about the tail wagging the dog. Take back control of when and how you respond to emails and social by setting finite time windows to do so. And then hold the line.
The Tradition Twist: "But we've always done it this way!" Habit and status quo can be comforting, but it can also sneak in tasks that are as relevant as last decade's fashion. This a hidden bias at work. Kick it to the curb and be willing to shed unnecessary activities like that old landline.
The Tech Trap: Ever find yourself spending gobs of time on learning a new software, or tracking minutia in a CRM or community project tracking platform? These tools can be helpful, of course. But be clear: is this a shiny toy, or is it really saving me time?
The Overcommitment Quicksand: Say yes to everything, they said. It'll be fun, they said. But now you're sinking in tasks that make you question your life choices. Time to kick that overcommitment quicksand to the curb!
Admin Avalanche: Mountains of administrative tasks can feel like drowning in paperwork quicksand. Time to grab a lifeline and toss these overboard.
Meeting Mayhem: Meetings for the sake of meetings? No agenda? Unclear objectives? Lack of respect for everyone’s time? Let's call it what it is—mayhem. Time to untangle from the endless web of conference calls and reacquaint yourself with productive hours. If you aren’t the one calling the meetings, this can be extremely difficult. Even if you are the one calling them, it can still be difficult. A coach can help both scenarios.
Low-Value Limbo: Picture this: you're on a tightrope, balancing your goals on one end and low-value tasks on the other. It's time to let go of those task weights and soar toward success. Remember, low value is anything not moving you towards your goals, either directly or indirectly. What? Not entirely clear what those goals are? Maybe start there.
Perfectionist's Predicament: Spending hours perfecting the minutiae while your big-picture are trapped in an endless loop? Perfection is a pipe dream, and actually stifles growth and achievement. Let good enough be good enough. Excellence is the objective, not perfection.
So, let’s peel back the curtain on strategies that cut through the clutter and carve out space for the tasks that truly matter. It's time to liberate your leadership style from the shackles of the unnecessary. Get ready to embrace streamlined success like never before.
Interrupting the Dynamic: Slowing Down to Speed Up
To break free from the earlier mentioned catch-22 of being too busy to eliminate some of the busywork, it's essential to interrupt the dynamic and create space for prioritization and evaluation. Here's how:
Schedule Reflective Time: Just as you block off time for meetings and tasks, schedule dedicated periods for reflection. Treat these slots as non-negotiable appointments with yourself to assess your current tasks and their impact. This time is sacred. Non-negotiable. Seriously. Commit to it. The alternative is not pretty.
Prioritize Self-Care: Recognize that taking care of your well-being is not a luxury but a necessity too. A rested mind is better equipped to evaluate priorities objectively. When we run our minds and bodies into the ground, we make more mistakes and function slower. We also have an increased risk of serious illness. If you think it was hard to decide which tasks to eliminate, this diminishment of your abilities will put all of it on hold, and make a decision for you that you might not like one bit.
Delegate Initial Assessments: In the initial phase of reassessing your tasks, consider involving a trusted colleague or coach. Their external perspective can provide valuable insights and help you see tasks from a different angle.
Start Small: Begin with a manageable subset of tasks to evaluate. Don't try to assess your entire workload at once; this can feel overwhelming and counterproductive. Focus on a specific department or area.
Embrace Imperfection: As we stated earlier, understand that perfection is not the goal. It's okay to make adjustments as you go along. Task elimination is a dynamic process that requires flexibility and a willingness to adapt.
Spotting Tasks Needing Elimination:
Often the hardest part is to start. Everything seems to carry inflated importance if you are already loaded down with unnecessary tasks. Where can you begin to get real perspective on what is and isn’t essential? There are a number of exercises you can do. You can combine these or try them out one at a time.
It might seem inappropriate to say this, but have fun! You likely have spent a great deal of time in overwhelm which is pretty much the opposite of fun, and enjoying playing around with how to remove the detritus is good medicine for creative problem solving—the thing you need most right now. Here are some great options:
Resource Reduction Thought Exercise: Envision having only half the resources available. Prioritize tasks and identify non-essential ones that could be eliminated.
Critical vs. Non-Essential Thought Exercise: Categorize tasks as critical or non-essential. Gradually phase out non-essential tasks over time to refocus on high-impact activities.
Bucketing Method Thought Exercise: Group tasks into categories such as "Brings In Revenue," "Serves Customers," "Regulatory/Required Tasks," and "Necessary for Employees." Eliminate tasks that don't align with these categories.
Regular Review: Self-aware leaders should regularly review their daily tasks and question their value in relation to their overall goals and responsibilities.
Goal Alignment: Assess whether each task directly contributes to the achievement of long-term goals and the organization's mission.
Time Tracking: Keep track of how time is spent each day to identify patterns of tasks that might not align with core responsibilities.
Delegation Potential: Determine if any tasks can and should be delegated to team members.
Impact Analysis: Consider the potential impact of not performing certain tasks. If the impact is minimal, it might indicate that the task can be eliminated.
Feedback and Input: Seek input from colleagues, mentors, or advisors who can provide an external perspective on your daily routine.
Experimentation: Temporarily eliminate or reduce certain tasks to see if it affects your overall productivity and effectiveness.
Embarking on the Elimination Journey
By consciously interrupting the cycle of perpetual busyness, executives and leaders can regain control over their tasks and priorities. Slowing down to assess and eliminate tasks is the key to escaping overwhelm and crisis management. For a practical tool to assist you in this process, ask us for a copy of our "Unstoppable Leader - The Overwhelmed Executive Time Audit" worksheet to track your time daily and see where your main time wasters are lurking .
Through a structured and strategic approach, leaders can pave the way for enhanced productivity, innovative thinking, and a more fulfilling leadership experience.
Stay tuned for the next installment of our blog series, where we will explore the art of task automation and how it can revolutionize your leadership approach.