If your inbox and meeting schedule is dominating your working life here are some habits adopted by successful leaders that enable them to retain a fresh perspective and intellectual edge.
1. Get out in the field – Management by walking about tends to illicit far more accurate information than reports and spreadsheets. At Pret a Manger each member of head office staff has a buddy store where they regularly spend a day making sandwiches and listening to staff on the front line.
It’s all very well to have an open door policy but unless we walk out, through the doorway ourselves, it serves little purpose.
2. Work without distractions – Few great novelists claim that they’ve been able to pen their greatest work in open plan offices. Instead they have a simple, private almost sacred place where they are able to focus free of interruptions. As important as walking the floor is finding time to knuckle down without distraction.
3. Walk – Dickens walked for three hours each afternoon, his observations fed his literature. Sir Allan Leighton says the 40 minutes he spends exercising and thinking each morning saves him hours later in the day because his mind is clear.
4. Separate admin from work – Even in the days before email people still had to deal with daily correspondence. All that has really changed is the transmission. What was once or twice a day mail delivery is now constant. Though we can still set aside dedicated time to handle administrative tasks whilst dedicating the rest of our day to the thing we do best, whether that be strategising, designing, writing or some other contribution which is unique to us.
5. Measured accountability – It’s much easier to be busy than to be productive. Establishing and recording the achievements that matter is as critical in the workplace as it is in the gym, yet many of us have no idea what constitutes our ‘personal best’ at work.
6. Make time for serendipity – It’s a myth that a packed schedule is an effective schedule. Many great discoveries from penicillin to Post-it Notes have come about when least expected. Similarly, it’s the chance conversations over a coffee that often result in better outcomes than 2 hour structured meetings. Keep some slack in your day to meet new people.
7. Supportive partner – Andy Warhol’s lesser known secretary Pat Hackett spent 2 hours each day dutifully taking notes and recording Warhol’s thoughts, enabling the artist to concentrate on being creative. They might not dare admit it but many outstanding leaders would quickly fall if it wasn’t for their PAs constantly shoring up the foundations.
8. Get up early – Few successful leaders sleep in, most are awake before 6, Apple’s Tim Cook reportedly starts working at 04.30! Some also work late while others like Sir Gerry Robinson head home at 5pm. Unlike the end of the day, early morning provides an opportunity for solitude, it creates a sense of advantage. The early bird really does catch the worm.