7 Things The Smartest Leaders Always Make Time For

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It’s difficult to find the time to do everything on your list at work, let alone in life.

And if you really drill down on it, there are at least 7 things in leadership most leaders feel there will never be enough time for…unless, of course, you make it.

But these are 7 things all the smartest leaders always make time for.

It’s amazing to me, but when you talk to leaders who operate at the highest level, they seem to have time for exercise, family, vacation, and the five other things on this list.

It’s easy to get mad at them and pretend they live in some artificial bubble while you go back into your very real world and complain about how slammed you are.

I get it. I guess that whenever you read this, you’re already feeling pinched for time and a bit overwhelmed.

Welcome to leadership. Welcome to life.

If you study the differences between great leaders and poor leaders (as I outlined here), many of the best leaders are proactive. They refuse to make excuses, and they have an abundance mindset (not a ridiculous mindset, just an abundance mindset).

Another key difference is that great leaders refuse to let their days get sucked up by meeting after useless meeting, email, and being pulled into other people’s urgent priorities.

If you’ve ever made it to Friday and had a hard time answering the question, “What did I accomplish this week?” it might be because you failed to make time for these 7 things for which great leaders always make time.

Too many leaders make it to Friday and can't answer the question What did I accomplish this week? Click To Tweet

So, if you really want to edge up your leadership and begin accomplishing something significant, start making time for these 7 things. And remember, read through the end for some free help on freeing up the time to do exactly that.

1. Investing in your best people

Guess who will monopolize your time if you’re not proactive?

Your most problematic people. Problem people will occupy your calendar unless you decide they won’t.

When volunteer X didn’t show up for the 5th time, most leaders will spend incredible time and effort trying to fix that. Or you’ll get yet another meeting request from person Y, who always seems to have some irresolvable crisis going on in his life.

And in the process, your best leaders will be ignored.

Your best people—the ones who show up on time, every time, prepared and ready to do an exceptional job—rarely ask to meet with you. They never call you. They never bother you.

A great leadership practice is spending most of your one-on-one time with your best people.

Why?

It makes them better.

It makes you better.

It moves your mission forward faster.

And—let’s be honest—it’s not like the problem people really get better as a result of your meeting with them anyway. They continue to be problematic.

So, cut your losses and spend the bulk of your time with your best people.

Problem people will always occupy your calendar unless you decide they won't. Click To Tweet

2. Planning for the future

There’s never enough time to do an awesome job planning for the future.

But if you study top performers, you realize they do something many other leaders don’t: they spend significant amounts of time working on plans for the future.

Naturally, they execute as well, but having a carefully crafted and shared mission, vision, strategy, and even a set of values can guide your organization beautifully into the future.

If you don’t plan for the future, the future will happen to you.

If you plan for it, you’ll shape it.

When was the last time you took a full day—or even a full week—to work on the future?

No one will ever ask you to do it; they’ll criticize you if you don’t. So do it.

No one will ever ask you to plan for the future. They'll just criticize you if you don't. Click To Tweet

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3. Your Highest Value Projects

If you broke what you do into categories from ‘lowest value’ to ‘highest value’, you’d learn something interesting.

You will naturally spend most of your time doing the things that provide the least value: answering emails, going to meetings that went too long, didn’t need to happen, or that you shouldn’t have attended, and answering questions that really didn’t move your mission forward.

Think about it this way: If you didn’t engage in any of the above for a week, what would truly be lost (other than having a full inbox to empty?)?

But you also do things that provide exceptionally high value. While it will vary from leader to leader, for me, those things would be creating great sermon series, setting objectives for the months and years ahead, and ensuring our senior leaders are healthy and on mission. I know when I do those things well, our church does best.

If you consistently spend time on high-value projects, you will have a far greater legacy as a leader than leaders who don’t.

So what’s the greatest value you bring to your organization? Budget significant time for that.

Too many leaders spend most of their time on the things that provide the least value. Click To Tweet

4. Exercise

I avoided this for too long in my leadership. For the first decade of my time in leadership, I hardly exercised.

Ironically, I worked more hours and got less done.

While I’m not perfect in my exercise routine, exercise has been a bigger part of my life in the last five years than at any other point. So has proper sleep (see point 5, below).

Perhaps not coincidentally, during the window in which I’ve exercised the most and slept the best, our church has grown to the largest it’s ever been. I’ve also written 3 books, launched this blog, and launched a leadership podcast.

This may not be a coincidence.

You’ll make time to go to the doctor if you suffer from obesity, diabetes, or heart disease. So why not make time for exercise instead?

People who make no time for exercise will eventually have to make time to see the doctor. Click To Tweet

5. Adequate sleep

In the 1980s and 1990s, leaders used to brag about how little sleep they got.

I bought that line of thinking until it almost killed me.

Chronic lack of sleep was a major factor in the personal burnout I went through almost a decade ago (I outline 7 painful truths about burnout and leadership here).

Today, I don’t cheat on sleep anymore. In fact, I believe getting a full night’s sleep and even napping is a secret weapon most leaders miss.

You think more clearly and are simply nicer to be around when you’re rested. Everyone is. And those are two key characteristics of effective leaders.

Everyone will ask you to stay up later to get things done.

Don’t.

Go to bed on time. You’ll actually get more done—refreshed and alive in the morning.

Leaders who go to bed on time get more–not less–done, than leaders who cheat sleep. Click To Tweet

6. Family

Everyone wants you to have a great family life as a leader, but then they’ll ask you to please attend their event next Saturday (which happens to be your family day).

What do you do?

Too many leaders cave and say yes to the event.

Every time you say yes to an event on your day off, you say no to your family.

Every time you say yes to an evening out, you’re saying no to your family.

Every time you say yes to a project you can’t adequately manage, you’re saying no to your family.

Every time you say yes to an event on your day off, you're saying no to your family. Click To Tweet

Two things can help with this.

First, pre-determine what your family time will be. Then, when people ask you whether you’re free, you can say, “I’m sorry, I have a commitment.” If all you have is a blank space in your calendar, you’ll end up saying yes. So write “FAMILY” into your calendar as a commitment.

Second, you need to learn how to say no nicely. I show you why that’s so important and how to do it in the second free training video below.

One day you will retire from leadership. You will never retire from your family.

One day you will retire from leadership. You will never retire from your family. Click To Tweet

7. Thinking

Every leader needs time to think.

If your life is a series of long meetings, administration, and endless texts and emails, you will never take time to think truly. Add to that the constant digital disruption you carry in your pocket or purse, and you’ll rarely have time to think—unless you make it.

Innovation never arises from leaders who want to get it done. Innovation comes from leaders who question what ‘it’ should be.

Again, you can carve white space out on your calendar to think. Go for a long car ride with the windows down. Find a coffee shop to linger in. Take a walk in the woods. Hop on your bike. Or lock your office door, shut your laptop and grab and pen and paper.

You can actually develop some strategies to become a better thinker (I outline mine here), but first, you need to create the space and time to think!

Innovation never arises from leaders who just want to get it done. Innovation comes from leaders who question what 'it' should be. Click To Tweet

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.

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