It’s Time to Stop Trying to Do it All

May 26, 2016, 3:00 PM UTC
Businesswoman talking on the phone in office
Photograph by Jamie Grill via Getty Images

The Fortune 500 Insiders Network is an online community where top executives from the Fortune 500 share ideas and offer leadership advice with Fortune’s global audience. Beth Brady, CMO of Principal Financial Group, has answered the question: How do you make time for yourself with a hectic schedule?

“I need more hours in a day. If I had even 30 more minutes before this meeting, I could respond to at least six of the high-priority emails in my inbox, return my mom’s phone call, recharge my phone to at least 45%, finalize the monthly report, grab a refill of coffee, and hit the bathroom.” Sound like you? Me too.

But is having more hours in the day really the solution? Time is like an empty closet. Somehow it always gets filled. The real answer is figuring out how to manage the time we do have.

Before your next Outlook reminder message pops up on your screen, here are some steps to turn a hectic schedule into a manageable one:

Say “no”
It can be the most difficult word for us to use. But it’s the most important for being an effective leader. And, if you can’t, surround yourself with people who can. I know when I am saying “yes” too much when my life begins to feel out of control. I feel tired. I am more easily stressed. I have trouble sleeping. Daily cues let me know I have not built breathing space into my schedule. I must assess quickly to get back on track.

A great place to start is with meetings. Figuring out which ones I really need to attend is critical. If it’s about something I need to know, I can always get the notes or a recap. That takes 10 minutes, vs. an hour-long meeting.

Also, for me, events—specifically speaking engagements—can overtake my schedule. They can be a real time-suck if you’re going to do them right, so I’ve learned to be very picky. I have to select the ones I should be doing and delegate the rest to others.

Shake it off
There are many things we all need to shake off every day to be productive—difficult project decisions, unsettling comments from a direct report, an unpleasant meeting with a client, a tough drop-off at school with the kids. Letting these things fester has a toxic effect on productivity. It eats away at your ability to be in the moment, wasting precious time and brilliance that you could be using to make that next big—or little—decision.

In Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth, he tells a parable about two monks. They are walking in silence when they see a girl trying to cross a very muddy road. One monk picks her up, carries her across the road through the mud, and sets her down. The two monks continue to walk in silence for several hours. Finally the one monk breaks his silence: “You shouldn’t have done that because monks are supposed to not even touch women.” My favorite line from the other monk: “Are you still carrying that girl? I put her down hours ago.” Pause. Reflect. Shake it off. Put the girl down. Move on.


Someone once told me that when I try to do it all, I am denying a direct report from an opportunity to develop. I can’t do it all. And I certainly can’t do most of it effectively if I am spread too thin. Effective leaders don’t try to do it all. Period. When they do, the work suffers and eventually the inevitable happens: burnout. I’ve hit that wall from serving too many masters a time or two—or 10—in my career. It’s not a good experience.

We all start out being delegated to. As you shift to being a leader, learning how to provide direction and feedback vs. doing the work takes time and practice with ups and downs that impact your schedule along the way. Know what you should be doing vs. what your team can do. Then, get out of the way and let them do it. Your schedule, and sanity, will thank you.

Power down
You need to find things you do that refill your energy store. Power down means spend time doing what you love, not checking off “to-do” tasks you need to get done that you don’t enjoy. It forces you to take time for yourself.

I love to garden, work out, read, play two-dots, and check my FitBit (FIT). All let me power down to help me refocus and provide an outlet to clear my mind. Whatever it is for you, do it religiously. It’s critical to a healthy schedule and life.

It seems simple, right? So why don’t we do a better job of managing time? Because bad habits sneak into our lives so quickly and stealthily, that it can be weeks or months before we realize we’re back to a hectic schedule. Using (and practicing) these tips will make you better, happier, and more balanced. That’s a good thing—not only for you, but for everyone.

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