February 26, 2016 by Grant Galbraith

Want to be a more effective leader? Get organized.

What’s the first step you take to become a more efficient leader? There are, of course, varied leadership styles, but a key element of mine is trying to set the example for a balanced, organized professional life. For instance, I always spend the first part of my day sorting through emails – I’m happiest when my inbox is as close to empty as I can get it– which reduces distraction, giving me a clear vision of what needs to be achieved for the day. The goal is to spend as little time as possible throughout the day worrying about unresolved tasks and other peripheral concerns, and to model an organized system of productivity to my team.

Of course, one of the greatest benefits of having a balanced, organized professional life, is that this will in turn create more opportunity, and good habits, for a balanced, organized personal life.

Many professionals believe organization is a luxury they can’t afford. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a necessity you can’t afford to ignore. From better direction for your team, resulting in greater productivity, to morale improvements and a more positive work environment, the effects of well-organized leadership are easy to argue. But how do you make it happen?

It’s all…in your head?

In his book The Organized Mind, neuroscientist Daniel Levitin demonstrates that multi-tasking is actually incompatible with the way the human brain functions. The conscious mind can only pay attention to four things at a time, but many leaders find they are regularly distracted by a variety of unresolved tasks. Strange as it may sound, computers and smartphones thus make it more difficult for you to focus, offering distractions as varied as a new email, a digital news article or attempting to read multiple spreadsheets in simultaneous review. Of course, we can’t work without modern technology, but streamlining, and even compartmentalizing how we use these tools can lead to increased focus and efficiency.

Getting organized

So how do you and your team start getting organized? We utilize two approaches in our firm. First, we have implemented an office wide program, which tracks the status of team projects. The program shows a project’s status and which items are a team member’s responsibility to move along. It is imperative that everyone participates in to the system for it to be the best it can be. As leaders we need to be the cheerleader for the success of our system, encouraging everyone to be equally engaged in the organization.

Secondly, we encourage all our staff to develop a personal process to manage emails, phone calls, questions and follow-up matters. This requires personal discipline and a big time commitment. I personally use Tasks in Outlook and highly suggest that you not use your inbox as a to-do list. We encourage our team members to enroll in priority manager sessions and/or other time management training courses.

There are lots of systems that can work. The key is to adopt one and commit to it each and every day!

Grant Galbraith, FCPA, FCA, is the Managing Partner of Collins Barrow Nova Scotia Inc. He has 30 years of experience in tax consulting and has more recently been involved in business advisory and assurance services. Grant is at the gym early most mornings, sees a professional trainer twice a week, eats cereal with fresh fruit five days a week, and snacks regularly throughout the day.

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