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3 Strategies to Reclaim Ownership of Your Work Day

How leaders can overcome feeling a loss of control over their day and schedule

Key points

  • Results of a recent study highlight the top five energy drains leaders face.
  • The number one drain leaders experience is feeling a loss of control over their day and schedule.
  • By becoming aware of this drain, leaders can learn how to regulate their inner resources to overcome it.

Part one of a five-part series.

Everyday leadership can be exhausting. There’s an unrecognized factor as to why: leaders experience several hidden drains that are depleting. Many leaders don’t recognize why they feel drained and what they can do about it.

By becoming conscious of the psychological mechanisms and drains, leaders can learn how to regulate their inner resources to overcome them.

In a recent study, I interviewed 20 Fortune 1,000 CEOs to understand what leadership performance looks like when executives are thriving and when they are burned out. The results uncovered the top five drains to a CEO’s energy, which applies to all leaders. Through a series of five posts, I’ll explore what’s behind each drain and how leaders can overcome them to lead at their best.

Let's focus on the number one drain CEOs experience: feeling a loss of control over their day and schedule. According to the study, the remainder of the highest drains include:

  • Acting in ways that do not necessarily reflect how they feel
  • Dealing with the impact of negative mindsets
  • Repressing or deferring their own needs
  • Feeling isolated in the CEO role

One of the biggest issues leaders face is out-of-control calendars, with overbooked schedules and back-to-back meetings. This lack of space reduces effectiveness. There is a misperception that leaders have full control over their days, but that’s not true. In reality, leaders must be incredibly intentional to create space.

Here’s what a lack of control could look like on a daily basis:

  • Back-to-back meetings with no transition time, particularly for virtual meetings
  • Spending too much time focused on the wrong things that don’t advance the business, such as preventable errors, unnecessary disruptions, or inconsequential problems
  • Being pulled in multiple directions at once
  • Directing time and energy to unproductive meetings or low-value, low-impact tasks

Once leaders understand how depleting it is to feel a lack of job control, they can be more intentional in overcoming this drain.

3 Strategies to Reclaim Ownership of Your Work Day

1. Replenish your energy resources. Replenishing your energy when it’s depleted is key to meeting the demands of leadership. Leaders can start by building awareness of their own energy resources, including what fills and drains their energy and how to refuel. This is an individual experience. It’s up to you to determine what energizes you every day.

Prioritizing your well-being is how you get your main source of energy to build your vitality. With vital leadership, leaders can learn how to replenish their energy to have the inner physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual resources to lead at their full capacity.

The PERMA+4 model of well-being provides a roadmap for maximizing your own well-being to serve others from a place of abundance. The nine pathways are positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, accomplishment, physical health, mindset, environment, and economic security.

2. Create space in your day. Seventy-five percent of the CEOs in the study discussed the importance of making space in their day to think, plan, and get work done to improve their effectiveness and lead vitally. Leaders can create space in their days by:

  • Intentionally create space. Every day, create blocks of time on your calendar throughout the day to include: thinking/planning time and transition time.
  • Update meeting lengths to include transition time between meetings. Change meeting durations across your team or organization from one hour to 45 minutes and from 30 minutes to 20 minutes. Use the extra time purposefully.
  • Model creating space for your team and encourage them to do so as well. Make the commitment to yourself and your team that this time for space is essential and may not be infringed upon.
  • Adopt “no-meeting” times or days. Determine certain blocks of time where meetings don’t occur so everyone has dedicated time for focused and strategic work.

Start small. If the first opening on your schedule is one hour on a Friday a month from now, begin by blocking that time slot. You might have to look further out than you want to start blocking your calendar. These techniques often won’t work if you only look at the next two weeks.

3. Develop the right structure for your days. Leaders can create the right plan and structure for their schedule that works for and refuels them. How to plan out the right structure:

  • Structure your day around what’s most important. Look at what Steven Covey refers to as your “Big Rocks” within your role: What important initiatives do you need to create space for in your day, week, and month?
  • Attend to the daily cycles of sprinting and recovery. Leadership involves periods of sprinting. Build in recovery time afterward. Understand when and how sprints happen to make time to slow down after each one.
  • Take a big-picture view of your schedule. Assess your schedule and ask yourself: Is this serving me? Is this helping me show up at my best? If the answer is no, determine your next steps to delegate or remove this aspect from your responsibility.
  • Create time to transition from work to home. This is especially important if you work remotely. Give yourself space to reflect on the day and plan for the next day to create work closure before transitioning to your personal life.

Reflection questions:

  • What refills your energy? What one well-being pathway do you want to focus on more?
  • What’s one step you can take to create more space in your day?
  • How could you develop the right structure for your day?

Leaders often don’t realize it takes extensive energy to deal with an out-of-control day and schedule, which contributes to their feeling exhausted. However, once leaders bring awareness, they can become the masters of their energy plan. Through understanding their own energy resources and intentionally creating space and the right structure, leaders can learn how to use their energy most effectively. This results in leaders having an abundance of energy to show up and lead as their best selves.

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