One of the things I hear most often from the leaders, teams, and organizations I work with is “we need to be doing more with less.” Workload is an ongoing discussion. Whether it’s due to lean resourcing plans, or back-to-back meetings (with many of my clients being double and triple booked), it feels like there is never enough time to get everything that needs to get done, done. (And that’s just the work to-do list; let’s park the personal to-do list for now).

The questions I get asked as a result:

How can we work more efficiently?

Can you provide some time management tips?

How can I better pitch my case for another resource?

Should we implement a meeting-free day?

There is validity and value in working through all of those questions, no doubt. But if you can’t change the process or system, you’ve tried all the time management hacks, your case for added resources is denied, or the meeting-free days just aren’t sticking…don’t lose hope.

Providing clarity early on – as a leader, as a cross-departmental colleague, as a project or program lead, or in virtually any other role – can save time, meetings, re-work, review time, and unnecessary conflict. In other words, clarity at the front end can help you save time and stress (and make getting the work done much more enjoyable). One of my favorite lines (and my clients can attest to this) is: “how can you get ahead of this?”

Clarity tip #1: Blending reactive and proactive…

Too often, the immediate fire gets all of our attention. You cancel the one-on-one meeting with a report or colleague, or the team meeting, in order to put out the current fire. You put off the kick-off meeting for the project because you’re busy dealing with a conflict that has arisen at the 11th hour of another project. This isn’t a judgment. We’re human, and we’ve all done this. That said, it’s a recipe for remaining in an ongoing “reactive” state, which can lead to exhaustion and frustration for leaders and teams. 

Instead, I encourage you to start your week by doing a review of the following:

  • What are the non-negotiables that must get done this week? 
  • Look ahead 2-4 weeks: what do you need to “get ahead of” this week, so that it doesn’t become a fire in the future?
  • Think of your direct reports, teammates, and cross-functional colleagues: what are your critical accountabilities and commitments to them?

Answering these questions can help you attend to any fires that really need your attention, while also looking to the future to help minimize future fires. 

Clarity tip #2: How to “get ahead” of it…

Here are some ideas for how to “get ahead” of things that are further out in the future:

  • If a new project or task is coming up, take 30-45 minutes to talk to those involved to clarify: what success looks like, the expected output, which other departments need to be involved, any critical interdependencies, and any critical organizational context that will help employees better understand the project or task.
  • If your team is mid-project or task, take 20-30 minutes to do a check in and clarify: are any refinements needed to the process? Are there any obstacles that may delay the project or task? Do team members have any concerns, anticipate any risks, or have any confusion about the output? Talk these items through, and take action or make decisions as needed to help move the project or task forward.

Clarity: the extra bonus…

Not only will clarity help you and your team save time (and help alleviate stress, confusion, and re-work down the road), “clear leadership and expectations” is also one of the 13 evidence-based factors for creating a psychologically safe and healthy environment. In my experience running leadership and executive 360’s, those who provide clarity – about context and what’s expected of their people and teams – are among the most highly rated leaders. Clarity empowers team members to take action, make decisions, and produce great work. 

If you’re looking to build your leadership toolkit, or to optimize the way your team gets work done, schedule a complimentary discovery call and let’s talk about your needs. From 360 assessments, to leadership coaching, to team workshops, we’ve got you covered.

Stephanie Woodward is a leadership consultant and coach. She works with individuals, teams, and organizations to help them find and sustain their sweet spot of great results, optimal wellbeing, and personal fulfillment.

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