5 Time Management and Productivity Hacks for the Busy Female Leader

Reading Time: 6 minutes

We think, mistakenly, that success is the result of the amount of time we put in at work, instead of the quality of time we put in.”

Arianna Huffington

“How are you?” we ask one another. “Busy!” we all say. Of course, aren’t we all? Yet being too busy constantly is not good for our health or careers. How we manage our time has a direct impact on our productivity and that of our team. In essence, everything else hangs off a leader’s ability to manage their time well. And that means becoming much more conscious of how we ‘spend’ our time.

Female leaders don’t have it easy. They face a constant struggle to balance work and home life and this can often manifest as stress, overwhelm and burnout. In the minds of most women, there is always more to do. And there is. So how do we manage constant busyness?

In this article I offer five time management and productivity tips for the busy female leader:

1. You are not superwoman!

And no one expects you to be, except maybe you. The first step to mastering time is realising that you cannot do it all. You are in charge of what you do and what you don’t do. There is no rule out there that states you have to do everything and be perfect at it all the time. So shift that superwoman expectation of yourself. Learn to accept yourself and try weaving positive, self-accepting statements into your inner thoughts as regularly as you can. Tell yourself, ‘I am capable, I am gifted, I deserve to be in this role’. Try not to judge yourself, learn when good enough is good enough. Remind yourself that working for a demanding, never-good-enough perfectionist is a pain, don’t be that person. Liberate yourself from the need to do everything and be perfect and your team will feel liberated as well.

2. Delegate, delegate, delegate…

Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.”
– Jessica Jackley, businesswoman

Done well, delegation has a positive impact on you and those around you. Often we feel we are too busy to delegate, it is easier just to do it ourselves. Sometimes the busier we are the more reluctant we are to give up control and trust others with our reputations. Yet that is precisely when we need to. A powerful example for me was a manager of mine once said to me ‘For every 5% you add to an idea or proposal you take 15% off their willingness to do it, learn when good enough is good enough and let them get on with it’. It works.

Delegating has a positive impact on your work life balance. It supercharges your productivity and efficiency. It frees up time to focus on the big picture and the external environment. That will get you noticed and promoted, it is what you are expected to do as a leader. It gives you the peace of mind that when you take a vacation things won’t fall apart in your absence, you have a trusted team who will continue to move things forward.

If you struggle with knowing what to delegate, take the alien invasion test: If you were abducted by aliens and there was no one to do what you do for three months list everything you need to do in your job. Then take three different coloured highlighters strike through your list with a different colour for each.

1. Who could do it now if they had to?
2. Who could do it if they were developed?
3. What can only you do?

The list highlighted in 3 is all you should be doing, otherwise someone else should be or you should be developing them to be able to do that. Remember, delegating is empowering others to make a valuable contribution and to develop professionally. It is your role as a leader to help others fulfil their potential, your ability to hand off well is not abdication, it demonstrates that you believe in your team and recognise their contributions.

3. Slow down and take a break

Don’t sit at your desk all day without stretching your legs or getting some fresh air. Take a walk, get something to eat, just a few minutes several times a day will ensure that you remain refreshed and continue to run at peak performance. Female leaders struggle with stepping away, but ask yourself this, how can you inspire and motivate others if you are exhausted and running on little to no fuel? Your brain and body need down time and if they don’t get it, you’ll burn out. A study conducted by the Laboratory for Integrative Neuroscience at the National Institute of Health (NIH) revealed that ‘a vacation is critical to restoring higher-brain function that shows signs of failing because of prolonged exposure to stress.’

You are also setting an example and should be encouraging others to practice self-care. Show your team that employee well-being is a priority for you, and when they return to work recharged with fresh ideas and renewed motivation levels it’ll be you thanking them not the other way around.

Unless we refuel regularly we risk running on empty. We can’t stay revved up all the time or when we do need to kick in some speed there is nothing in the tank. Always being busy and rushing activates our stress response system releasing adrenaline and cortisol, compromising our immune system and taking the edge off our mood. It also makes us constantly on alert making us more worried and irritated with things. And it means you don’t have the time or headspace to make good decisions.

Productivity improves the more breaks you take. That is a fact. ‘Me’ time is how female leaders get to decompress and restore their energy. Take your holidays. During the day practice taking micro-breaks. Just stop. Unplug. Close your eyes and breath. Look out onto the horizon focusing on the most distant thing. Physical, emotional and intellectual self-care are critical to sustaining your productivity.

4. Learn to say no

The multitude of demands placed upon female leaders is relentless, if you are incapable of saying ‘no’ you are adding to your own burden. Saying ‘no’ is difficult. So we need to be intentional about what we say ‘no’ to. Be careful what you commit to, saying yes to please others, or not let others down, isn’t helpful.

It’s important for female leaders to establish and communicate boundaries to everyone, at work and at home. And for yourself – make yourself that to-don’t list! Setting boundaries boosts our sense of control which results in less stress. In the absence of boundaries you’re running the risk of overextending yourself not to mention living with the resentment of being lumbered with stuff you didn’t really want to do.


5. Harness the power of technology

There’s a plethora of tools out there designed to make our lives easier. For the busy female leader, it’s important you use the right tools to maximise your time and productivity. Below are just a few examples to boost your productivity, save you time and streamline your organisation.

1. Trello
Allows you to create boards and lists to organise your work and projects and collaborate with your team

2. Wunderlist
A to-do list tool that allows you to create multiple lists, invite others to join them, add notes, tasks, deadlines and upload attachments.

3. Boomerang
A plug-in for Gmail enabling emails to be written then scheduled for a later date and time.

4. Calendly
Simplifies the scheduling process, integrates with Google, Outlook, Office 365, Icloud calendars

5. Asana
To-do lists, lists different projects, collaborate with your team, track progress.

6. Basecamp
Organises your projects, internal communications and client work in one place

7. Slack
Brings all your projects, people and team communications together in one place

Time and energy is your precious currency, ensure you are spending it well. The demands on us as leaders are huge but so is the responsibility to ourselves, our teams, our bosses, our families and careers to bring our best selves to our tasks and relationships. And that means managing our time wisely, the better we get at it the bigger and better our impact.

As always thanks for reading this and sharing it. Feel free to read more on my blog page.

If you like this, please share:

  • “Penny’s compelling approach to leadership is steeped in her wealth of experience, knowledge and wisdom – she is an insightful and empowering mentor whose guidance has had a hugely positive effect on my approach to matters of presence, impact, self-awareness and authenticity.”

    Emma James COO Kamwell
  • “Penny for me is a stand out role model of women in leadership. She fought for my career, believed in me and showed firsthand what being a powerful woman in business can look like. For this especially I am eternally grateful.”

    Celine Floyd, Director of Leadership Assessment Capp & Co Ltd
  • “Penny was a catalyst for significant change, redefining the strategy and structure, developing the senior team to achieve their best through her coaching style and driving a more commercial approach. I am proud to have had the opportunity to work with such an inspirational, innovative and insightful leader.”

    Gaynor Lewis. Head of Commercial Development. ILM
  • “Penny is without hesitation one of the best CEOs I have worked with. …She is results focussed driven and challenging combined with an engaging style, an incredible sense of warmth and a clear passion for business.”

    Sara Barrie – Sara Barrie & Associates
  • “Penny is one of the most accomplished professionals I have had the privilege of working for and with…She has a real focus on results but creates an environment/culture that allows people to be their best”

    Stephen Randall Partner Melior HR
  • “Superb at managing stakeholders, calm in a crisis and always with her sense of humour close to the surface, Penny is one of the best CEOs I’ve ever worked with and I’d have no hesitation in recommending anyone take the opportunity to work with her if they get the chance”

    Kerry Simmons Marketing Director LHH
  • “Penny was my boss and inspiration for over three years…With Penny you want to work hard and be your best. And work hard we did, but we also had a great deal of fun and satisfaction in making a difference at ILM under Penny’s leadership”

    Helen Oldfield, Sales and Marketing Director, MRS
  • “She has a strong focus on customer experience and cutting through ‘stuff’ to deliver results. I can’t think of anyone better placed to provide first class advice on business and personal growth”

    Hilary Hall, Chief Executive, National Hairdressers Federation
  • “Penny is without doubt one of the most impressive senior professionals working in the people space. Her presence, intellect and stature dictate that Penny is a leading light in her field, bringing both a commercial and deeply wise approach to business. She has other rare qualities for a senior executive, genuine charm, authenticity and humility. It is always a happy experience when one gets the chance to work with Penny and a fabulous opportunity to learn.”

    John Renz, Director at Executive Action
  • “Penny was (and remains to this day) an inspiration to me and so many others. Working with her is a highlight of my career, and one that I sincerely hope happens again!”

    Rob Sayers-Brown, Customer Relationship Manager at Eliesha Training Ltd
  • “Penny is simply outstanding in the capacity of coach and mentor. She has a warm personality which coupled with her sharp business acumen, professionalism and generosity in the way she invests in others professional growth is something which I have rarely seen in leaders who have held positions such as Penny has.”

    Caroline Mellor, Global HR Director, Transformation and Effectiveness at Dentsu Aegis Network