What's the cost of your workload?

Good leaders push themselves hard for success, but Dianne Jacobs writes that it is possible to balance an executive agenda by remembering some simple strategies and approaches.

It’s summertime. You’re technically on leave, but still checking messages on various devices, dialling into that conference call or having to firefight on an issue that apparently only you can handle. The family is forgiving up to a point after all they’ve seen it all before.

Sitting in the executive suite does not always mean a comfortable seat. High-achievers accept this. However, there would not be a senior leader who did not try to contain executive-level workloads or yearn for uninterrupted periods to deal with loads of complex information or cherish more family time.

While working long and hard is clearly part and parcel of advancing in corporate structures, are the work-centric more successful? Each of us is touched by success. Can dual-centric executives secure and keep a place on the fast track? Yes. If you transform your working blueprint.

Gaining control is not as simple as being organised. Beyond multi-tasking (which actually increases stress while reducing productivity and creativity) it requires the ability to identify and focus on what is most critical to create a significant outcome.

Time has an opportunity-cost. Hard work is not the issue, value is. An activity audit is highly revealing. Am I working on what gets to a better result? Why now? How should I direct my talent? What creates fulfillment? Am I progressing my top three expected results?

Not-To-Do lists then set boundaries and limits. What should I stop doing? Can I let go? What gets in the way? What am I willing not to pursue? What am I not prepared to lose? Am I acting with integrity? What makes me anxious? How much (time, money, tasks) is enough? When is something ‘good enough’ or ‘approximately right’ or ‘tweaked enough’ to action?

Most executives know first-hand the stress of unrelenting corporate agendas, yet few take a strategic approach to break the cycle. Those that do tend to:

Make purposeful choices
Decide what matters, what creates meaning and which measures of success or failure are realistic while retaining a competitive edge. For each of the many roles played and demands made, have criteria or simple rules by which to prioritise, when to engage or disengage or how much effort to invest.

Schedule thinking as well as doing
Perspective and reflection take you to the ‘balcony’ so you can ‘freeze-frame’ to analyse or move from the problem to the solution or shift the time orientation (past, present, or future) or its hue (positive or negative) for more thoughtful review, planning and decisions.

Value partnerships
Rather than going it alone have a range of strong relationships, coalitions and mentors from multiple, diverse sources that form a reciprocal support and intelligence network. Nurture key relationships.

Tactically pace
Know when to ramp up and when to ease off, what energises and what drains; when to say no, delay or delegate; and when to pause during intense work. Protect what lessens the strain or creates the space to stop, take note, learn, expand, recharge, regain composure and reboot.

Underlying all of this, of course, is for organisations to improve work practices and respond to life-stage diversity. Redefining how work is done is complex. Changing business models, less focus on place, operating across geographies, headcount pressures and employee personal capital all test how to lead and monitor.

Senior executives can play their part by questioning inefficiencies or outdated methods, stopping the unimportant or time-wasters, rethinking meetings and late-night conference calls, looking for productivity gains and shifting expectations.

Success scripts pit career against other life domains. But integrated and fulfilled executives are more productive. The choices you make during the year will be telling. Enjoy the rest of summer and use the time well.

Dianne Jacobs is founding principal of boutique talent capital consulting and executive coaching firm, The Talent Advisors, and a former equity partner at Goldman Sachs JBWere. She tweets on leadership via @talentadvisors.