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To Be a Great Leader, You Need To Find Time for Yourself


21 June, 2020

Khang Tran

Khang Tran

Head of Engineering at Hipcamp

Khang Tran, Head of Engineering at Hipcamp, shares some of his favorite tips on how to secure the time that great leaders need for themselves.


As a leader, you often feel short of time. Blocking time for yourself -- free of meetings and calls -- is vital for boosting your creativity and setting you up in a pro-active mode. Oftentimes great people have their escape; they run marathons, fly planes, or cycle like I do -- they are immersed in activities that are taking them away from the noise of the world. As you climb a career ladder you will have increasingly less time and exceedingly more things that will require your attention. The first thing to get compromised will be your time for yourself. While this is true for almost anyone, leaders will particularly experience it. Your time will become the most significant scarcity and you will have to learn how to secure time for yourself.

Actions taken

To allow my creativity to flourish, to feel energized and be able to be pro-active, I apply these three key principles:

a. Find t ime for yourself. I would urge any leader to take seriously blocking time for him/herself and engage in something that brings them out of their context and connects them with their innermost self in which they are no longer managers, but human beings. I love cycling and for me, that is the activity that allows me to relax, recharge, and think.

b. Block time to foster creativity. Creative thinking is not something you can just put on a Jira board. Being a leader resembles being an artist who thrives on inspiration and creativity and if you don’t have time to think creatively or strategically, you’ll never produce anything outside of being a project manager. Put aside one or two hours in your calendar just to think. It is possible that nothing grandiose will emerge, but you're enabling the chance that's something truly incredible appear. Strategic, creative, or innovative ideas need time to marinate, they need to be watered and then, will eventually sprout.

c. Classify and prioritize all of your activities. One thing I practice and which I learned from my mentor, was how to free up time by making a spreadsheet of all my meetings. At first, it didn’t seem like a spectacular idea but once I realized I was spending almost 90 percent of my time in meetings I understood I had to cut on that. Today, all of my meetings in the spreadsheet are classified (one-on-ones, project management meetings, rituals, status meetings, etc). Furthermore, I break them down comprehensively (for example, one-on-one with a direct report or stakeholder), color-code them (for example, yellow for recruiting), and indicate precisely how long they will take and how often they would happen. That helps me optimize my time, prioritize, and tweak my activities and finally, achieve my goals.

These three principles are all interconnected and could be seen as a set of dependencies -- in order for you to secure time for yourself, you have to efficiently manage your time which again, includes learning how to classify and prioritize all of your activities. The overarching goal is to, by freeing up time for yourself, unlock your creativity, find the balance, and be energized and strong to lead and create.

Lessons learned

  • Find time for yourself by starting small. For example, I use 25 minutes of my commute time to zone out, read books, or just sit and contemplate. Time reserved for yourself could be as brief as time on the train or it could be as elaborate as doing marathons or cycling, but start small to make it achievable.
  • You can't force yourself to be creative, so you have to create opportunities to be creative and those opportunities happen in time. Block time to make creativity happens.
  • For many first-time managers being in a meeting gives them a sense of importance. If you're back to back all day with meetings, you're will act reactively. Learn to push back and say no to meetings (and solve things through email, for example).
  • There's no such thing as over-investing in managing your time. Some people are naturally great at time management, but most invested it in making it that way. So, start investing today!

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