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The Leader's Dilemma:  too much to do in too little time

Leadership has changed. In the past, the pace of life and business was very different from today. Leaders used to have time. They had the luxury of spending evenings and weekends thinking and recharging their batteries, knowing that the rest of the working world was also on hold until the next week. Those days are gone.

The leadership dilemma is having too much to do in too little time. This challenge is not new to leaders. What is new is the speed with which they must accomplish things—we need to get many more things done and consider the future to identify any potential risks and unforeseen complications in less time. Here are four leadership hacks to assist you in getting more done in less time.

1. Leverage time by hacking your approach to email

To maximise time, leaders need to be smarter about the way they use technology and email. We all know someone who has developed an obsessive need to constantly check and recheck their inbox—which results in time being lost on important tasks. To do allow ourselves to focus on what is important we need to hack our approach to email.

New York Times best-selling author Kevin Kruse studied the habits of successful billionaires, entrepreneurs, and Olympic athletes. He found that they often created a simple system to streamline their approach. Kruse recommends the 321-Zero system.

Schedule three times per day to check your email (morning, noon and night) and set your phone timer to 21 minutes as a game to get your inbox to zero. Even if you are challenged in getting through all your emails in this timeframe, it provides an opportunity to minimise lost time in checking emails as well as keeping you focused.

You can also hack the way you send emails. Most emails are written with one of these five outcomes in mind:

• FYI—For your information. You want them to be aware of something

• Share/gather information. You would like them to gather their ideas

• Decide. You want them to choose from several alternatives

• Act. You need them to take specific action based on the email

• Meet. You need to meet to discuss the topic further

Let the receiver know the outcome that you would like them to take and this will help get things done faster and at a higher level of quality.

2. Identify the activities you shouldn't be doing

No matter how well you plan your day, new tasks and activities will show up to tempt you away from what you should be doing.

A simple tool to use is to visually map your recent areas of focus. You can do this by starting with a clean sheet of paper (or an iPad) and draw a mind map with your current role in the centre and then label the various areas of activity radiating out from the centre. This provides a quick snapshot of a range of items that have been taking your attention.

The tricky part is to estimate how much time you spent on each activity or task by either counting the hours or working out the percentage of time you spent on each area. By identifying the time allocation, a leader can identify and ‘hack’ which areas they are spending too much time on, which areas they are not spending enough time on and which tasks that should be delegated to others.

3. Boost impact by delegating to your people

A recent Harvard Business Review article titled ‘Why aren’t you delegating?’ found that almost 50% of companies were concerned about the delegation abilities of their people and most did not offer any training on how to delegate.

Generally, leaders do not delegate for two reasons, first, they falsely believe that they will save time if they just do it themselves—rather than taking the time to explain the task and how they want it completed. The second reason is that they don’t have the skills to delegate. They have tried delegating tasks in the past and it did not work.

A simple way to delegate is to start by sharing the task and working with your direct report to create a 1-page plan together. Start by asking your direct report what steps they believe need to be taken to accomplish the task (not telling them!). As these ideas are shared capture them on an iPad or sheet of paper so both of you can see them—which reduces misunderstanding. Once the steps are identified, identify what sequence they should be executed and add timeframes. This approach will improve your relationship and ensure you are involved in the plan that they will execute. To assist with holding them accountable, take a photo of the plan and use this to follow up.

4. Use the right type of team meeting to enable people to do more

How many meetings have you attended that were a complete waste of time—both yours and everyone else's? It is hard for people to do more with less if they are losing effectiveness in meetings.

When the purpose of the meeting is not identified the wrong type of meeting is often selected and expectations are not met. Everyone knows it is important to send the agenda for a meeting, but they should also send the meeting type or format as well so people are prepared for the outcome that the meeting will provide.

There are 4 types of team meetings:

• Reporting

• Problem-solving

• Decision-making

• Strategy-development.

Each of these meetings has a unique format that results in a range of different outcomes. By selecting the right meeting for the right situation, you increase the effectiveness of everyone involved and eliminate wasted time.

To stay in front of the leader's dilemma of too much to do in too little time, there are a range of strategies that you can use. By hacking traditional approaches, you can improve your effectiveness and boost your influence with others.


Kruse, K, ’15 secrets successful people know about time management: the productivity habits of 7 billionaires, 12 Olympic athletes, 29 straight A students, and 239 entrepreneurs’, The Kruse Group.

Gallo, A, 2012, ‘Why aren’t you delegating?’. Harvard Business Review, 26 July.

About the Author

Scott Stein is the author of Leadership Hacks: Clever shortcuts to boost your impact and results. For more information visit or contact

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