In the midst of the second year of the pandemic, I was coaching a number of senior leaders who were struggling. They had made it through the time of being off campus but things were not ‘normal’ on campus. And their list of things to accomplish was as long as ever, but now included managing all of the return to campus issues. Several were trying to decide if they could keep going or not. Was it their current campus? Was it Student Affairs? Was it being a senior leader? They were trying to figure out what to do to make things better for themselves and for their colleagues, but first they needed to diagnose what was making it all so hard.
I started asking these colleagues what they could stop doing. What were they spending time and energy on that were really low priority? Where there projects that while important were not critical? And being very pragmatic, what things were not important to their leaders? Why were they still doing them?
Here at the start of a new year, when so many, myself included, are busy thinking about what we want to add to our lives through resolutions and one words, it’s also a good time to ask ourselves what we can stop doing?
There are always projects that need doing. No matter your title, you’ll have something that matters to an even more senior leader. But one of the perks of being a leader is also one of its hazards – we have some level of control over what’s on our list. Creative, talented, caring leaders therefore, keep adding to that list of projects — big ideas, initiatives and on and on. And they matter. Again, creative, talented, caring leaders see ways to make a difference, problems to be solved, and opportunities to support staff and students. It’s wonderful and it can be a lot.
So back to my question – when you feel overwhelmed what can you stop doing? Here’s a challenging question, what are you spending time on that your supervisor doesn’t care about? They don’t mind that you are working on a specific project or idea, but it’s not on their priority list. While they might think it’s a nice thing, they certainly don’t want it to get in the way of their priorities. So, can you let it go?
It’s difficult to let go of projects that are near to our hearts, but sometimes, we need to do just that. A colleague of mine posted a companion question on Facebook this week asking, ‘what do you say no to?’ When we say no to an option or choose to stop doing something, we create space for other opportunities. This includes the opportunity to rest, take a deep breath, go for a walk, in other words, to take care of ourselves.
Sometimes our resolutions are to stop doing things, but what I hear about most often is a plan to break a habit. Breaking a habit is good, but perhaps we should also practice some reflection about that to do list. What is on it because someone else thinks it’s important? Do you have a choice to stop? If so, it’s worth considering the idea. Being selective, carefully thoughtful about where and on what you spend your time and energy is an important part of being a leader. It helps you and it helps your staff since you aren’t as stressed and you don’t overload their task lists.
Our ability to choose where we spend our time and energy is often greater than we give ourselves credit for. Pay attention to the feeling that you ‘have to’ do something and ask yourself if that’s really true. In other words, choose to choose. Give yourself the power to say no, to choose to stop. You may be surprised at what you learn about your busy life. At the very least, if you decide to actively choose all that’s on your list, you’ll feel a greater sense of control. So the questions for today, what can you choose to stop? What are you choosing to do?