Bracing for a future that involves AI and ever-increasing data sets, CIOs face great cultural challenges.
6 productivity tips for overloaded IT leaders
When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. Reclaim your time and focus with these tactics from your peers
The most effective CIOs make sure to schedule in time to take care of their minds and bodies for optimal performance. But IT leaders can supplement that self care with a number of practical tactics to accomplish truly important tasks during the work day.
Consider these six no-nonsense strategies from your fellow IT leaders and productivity experts:
1. Delegate more
There’s always an opportunity to allocate much of what’s sitting on the CIO’s desk to others in the IT organization. The more an IT leader deputizes the rest of the organization to deal with these demands, the more time he or she has to deal with the issues that require C-level attention. “Delegate everything you feel your people can handle,” says Larry Bonfante, veteran CIO and founder of executive coaching and consulting practice CIO Bench Coach. “It frees you up to add value in the ways you are uniquely positioned and qualified to, and allows your team to grow and develop their skill sets.”
Of course, mindlessly pushing tasks downhill all but guarantees that issues will make their way back to you. The key to effective delegation is to set objectives and agree on success metrics before handing off the task or project, says Bob Pozen, author of “Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours.” After that, the IT leader should serve only as a consultant – not micro-manager – checking on success metrics and addressing shortfalls at the end.
2. Examine new ways to prioritize tasks
“Being productive means you have clarity on what you need to get done and what is important to you,” says Matthew Mead, CTO of the digital technology consulting firm SPR. “One of the hardest things about being productive is knowing what to prioritize.”
CIOs can experiment with different tools for determining what’s critical. Mead has found useful prioritization mechanisms in Simon Sinek’s "Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team" and the six “horizons of focus” in David Allen’s Getting Things Done work-life management system. “Simon’s books are about finding your purpose, and David’s work is about organizing and having clarity around your goals,” says Mead. “David is an advocate of breaking down goals based on envisioning the outcome you want, then breaking that vision into small individual, action-oriented steps.” Mead uses a concise definition of what he needs to accomplish to be successful (a list of three to five easily memorized goals), which he then shares and validates with his boss and direct reports.
[ Read our related story: 8 ways to fight burnout on IT teams. ]
3. Balance your time budget
Nate Ulery, managing director at business and technology consultancy West Monroe, regularly reviews his vital initiatives lists with business partners to make sure he’s spending his time on the projects that will most impact business results. That list should never get longer, he says. “When a new item comes on the list, ask what items come off,” says Ulery. “Force yourself and your business partners to make choices so you and your team are focused on the most important work.”
4. Apply the OHIO principle
When it comes to taming an unwieldy inbox, Pozen recommends IT leaders adopt the “OHIO” principle – only handle it once. Most of us check our email every few minutes. That’s a mistake, says Pozen, who advises looking at your inbox once every hour or to and doing so with some rules in mind. “Skip over 60 to 80 percent of your emails based on subject or sender,” Pozen says. “For important emails, answer right away.” The vast majority of digital correspondence, Pozen argues, does not require a reply.
5. Block and tackle your calendar
“When it comes to productivity, for me it starts with being smart about how you structure your week – taking the time each week to just think about your priorities and the strategic objectives you want to achieve,” says Jeff Reis, Vice President of Information Technology at Softchoice. IT leaders must be diligent about pushing back on low-value meeting requests to ensure they’re spending time wisely and caring out time in their calendar for themselves and the key tasks, Reis says. “If you don’t block the time in your schedule for your strategic priorities, it can fill up fast with other things.”
6. Find your daily sweet spot
Smart technology leaders figure out what part of the day is most productive for them and tackle their more difficult work during that period, scheduling their less demanding tasks for those hours when they know their attention or energy will be lower.
“For me, my most productive hours are 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., so I often defensively schedule that time to work on the important, strategic items, and do my best to ignore the interruptions that come email, instant messaging, and phone calls,” says Ulery of West Monroe. “I spend mid-afternoon and my train-ride home on items that require attention or awareness on my part, but not my best thinking.” Those who work best later in the day can flip this arrangement on its head.
For additional tips, see our productivity hacks collection.
Want more wisdom like this, IT leaders? Sign up for our weekly email newsletter.