This article was contributed to The Globe and Mail by Brian Scudamore
Somewhere along the line, having your head in the clouds got a bad rap. Yet, for business leaders, finding time to ponder the future can mean the difference between successfully scaling your company or watching it fizzle.
There’s a reason LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner sets aside two hours a day for uninterrupted thinking and why Richard Branson takes time off to dream big. Studies show that companies that have a vision grow twice as big as those that don’t and taking the time to set goals increases your odds of achieving them by 95 per cent.
As CEO of O2E Brands, I’m fortunate to get to spend time thinking big. Every Monday is set aside on my calendar just for strategic thinking: no e-mails, meetings or phone calls. And I make a point of “going dark” several times a year for a few weeks at a stretch. None of this is by coincidence.
Here are three strategies that helped me reclaim my time and focus on the big picture.
Don’t love it? Let it go
When I first launched 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, it was hard to let go of control. But I soon found that doing everything made it impossible to scale – there was no room for the strategic thinking that could take my company to the next level. I had to learn to focus on what I was good at and get comfortable letting others handle the rest. For me, that meant taking out a sheet of paper and drawing up two lists: things I love (visioning, PR, branding) and things I love less (managing the numbers, hiring, talent development).
Letting go of the “love less” column gave me time to focus on growing my business. Specifically, it freed up hours for one of the most transformative visioning exercises I use: the Painted Picture. This deep-dive visualization technique helped me envision an ideal future for my company and included both tangible achievements (like how many franchises we’d like to open) and intangible ones (how my employees would describe the company to loved ones). We continue to use this technique as a company, and it’s helped us build a $250-million business.
As an executive, your time is better spent on roadmapping for a brighter future than taking a detour performing tasks you don’t enjoy.
Double up your leadership
If you’re a big-picture person, you need an ace on the small details. At first, the idea of co-managing a team can seem a little scary – can you imagine two presidents of the United States?! – but it can work with the right execution.
Co-leadership leads to increased collaboration and more innovative ideas. Oracle just replaced its CEO with two industry experts, and it’s proving to be a success. Even Steve Jobs needed a co-pilot to really shine – in his case, the equally brilliant but more grounded Steve Wozniak.
It took me a few failed COOs, but today I’ve got Erik Church. Once he was on board, things really started cooking – it’s a “two-in-the-box” style of leadership that I can’t recommend highly enough. Divided, we can each focus on tasks we’re skilled at, and we’re stronger for it.
American workers spend only 45 per cent of their time on primary job duties – the rest of their hours are gobbled up by time-sucks like meetings, administration and e-mail.
My hack for avoiding these sort of drains is keeping my plate as clear as possible. I turn to an amazing executive assistant to deal with the boring-to-me admin stuff (organizing my calendar, setting up appointments, etc). I know not everyone has this luxury. But as your team grows, you’ve got more opportunities to utilize employees’ individual strengths and delegate the right tasks to the right people.
Efficiency guru Tim Ferriss has made a career out of advising people how to delegate away the time sucks – someone even checks his e-mail for him! And this has left him with ample time to do the things he loves (dreaming up ways to be even more efficient).
Bottom line: Remember that list of things you don’t love? Chances are there are people around you who’d love to take those things on (freeing up your valuable time in the process).
For each company we start (and the total is now up to four), I’ve created time to dream up a unique and bold future. Finding time for big-picture thinking is a powerful skill in itself that makes your team and your company stronger. If you’re busy micromanaging and wrestling with details, you’re not thinking about what comes next – and that’s a waste.