Seven Ways to De-Clutter Your Leadership

by Andy Wood on September 27, 2013

in Enlarging Your Capacity, Five LV Laws, Hoarders, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Alter-egos, LV Cycle, Principle of Increase

EA3623-002I have a pretty high tolerance for clutter.

Until I don’t.

Can you relate?

If you can, you’re probably what the Myers-Briggs people call Perceiving.  If you can’t, and the very idea of leaving stuff out in case you need it a month from now is deeply disturbing, you’re Judging (not judgmental – that’s a different animal).

The problem with being a clutterbug “P” like me is that the items on my schedule or the stuff on my desk start to accumulate until productivity-wise, it feels as though I’m in quicksand.  And then I just want it all gone.

Not organized.  Not streamlined. Not prioritized. O.U.T.

What’s true in life is true also in leadership. If you could imagine the whole sphere of your leadership activity – relationships, meetings, communication, conflict resolution, vision, more meetings, planning, etc. – as items on a desktop, what would your “desk” look like? And if you could compare your “desk” with the “desks” of others in your team or organization, how full is theirs?  And not to stretch the metaphor too much, let me add that wishing for a bigger “desk” is probably not going to solve the problem.

In leadership as in life, things have a way of accumulating. But you don’t have to surrender to clutter creep.  Here are seven ways to redirect your leadership T.R.A.F.F.I.C. and in the process free up more time to focus on those areas where you are indispensable:


Let me go ahead and risk running you off now. The number one reason for clutter creep in the lives of leaders is that they remain convinced they’re the only one who can handle certain things. That’s true to a point. But sooner or later you’re going to have to train somebody else to do some of that stuff, or you’re severely limiting your effectiveness.


That’s my translation of your saying, “It’s a whole lot quicker just to do it myself.”

In the immediate, that’s true.  But since when do leaders limit themselves to the immediate? If your time is consumed with the immediate, you’ve gone from leader to practitioner and you’re just spinning your wheels.  Training is a leader’s way of focusing on the future by empowering someone else to handle the immediate things.


Then, once trained, you have to let go of some of those things that consume your time and energy. This is where you refer to others.

No, they may not do it as perfectly as you – at least at first.  But if they can do it adequately so that you can focus on what you do brilliantly, you’ve just invested in your leadership future.

One side note here: In delegating responsibilities and opportunities to others, check your perfectionism at the door. Feel free to remain the coach or consultant, or even the boss. But let your constituents run with the ball and live with the results.


One of the biggest sources of clutter in a leader’s life can be procrastination. Sometimes we avoid the less pleasant tasks or the most challenging. It’s also easy to put off dealing with problem issues because lives and relationships and feelings are involved. Sadly, those problems or decisions aren’t going anywhere, and they often loom even larger as time goes on.

Nothing cures clutter quite like a healthy round of decisive action. Stop waiting for the perfect opportunity or holding your breath for the next wave of information that isn’t going to change what you already know. Decide!  Yes, you may need to adjust as you go, but it’s always easy to steer a moving vehicle than one that’s sitting still. Get moving by taking action.  What is one action you can take today that would free up your time and leadership for more effectiveness tomorrow?

Follow Up/Finish

Another major source of clutter are projects, issues, ideas, and initiatives that get generated in some of those meetings and then sit on your “leadership desk” for weeks and months after that because you didn’t finish them out or follow up on them.

This is one of my biggest weaknesses. I’m a great starter. I can start any number of things on any given day, and do so with enthusiasm. Then tomorrow I’ll start something else without going back to what I launched into today.

If that describes you, then do yourself and your organization a massive favor.  Hire follow-up people and pay them very well. Get an assistant who is also a project manager and empower them to execute on your behalf.

Otherwise, if you can’t hire to your weaknesses, find ways to track progress – a white board, a notebook you revisit daily, an app on your smart phone, whatever. Turn your ideas into projects, and move them along to completion.


More and more we are learning that the idea of multi-tasking is a myth. The latest evidence is coming from brain science. Your brain simply cannot focus on two things at once. It literally goes back and forth from one issue to the other.

But if you are proactive enough with the previous ideas, you should be able to lock in on the one thing you need to be doing right now.  That may involve removing other distractions like closing your computer or putting your phone in GO AWAY mode.

Some of those “J”-types I mentioned earlier are experts at this. I have a dear friend who, when I meet with her, starts by taking 15 seconds (that’s all it takes) to clean off her desk. That simple act frees her to focus on our conversation. I have another friend who spends most of his time at his “second office,” which happens to be Burger King. He has all his meetings there.  What can you do to focus your energy and attention on the one thing that has to be done?


Stop waiting for somebody else to take the initiative.  In basketball, when the ball is in somebody else’s court, there’s this thing called a shot clock. I suggest you get one, too. If you’re waiting for someone else to finish a task and they’re holding your productivity hostage, it’s time to blow the whistle and initiate some action.

One of my leadership mentors is excellent at this. When we are working on project together, if he has passed the baton to me and I haven’t responded in a timely manner, he sends me an email that says something like, “Since I haven’t heard from you, I’m assuming you’re OK with moving forward, so I’m going ahead to the next step.”

Think that may spring me into action?  Uh huh.  He knows I’m really busy, but he also knows that a little focus from me can clear the clutter for both of us. I suggest you go and do likewise.


Your leadership clutter falls or rises based on your ability to communicate. Do a poor job here, and constituents will continue to put monkeys on your back, force you to answer dozens of unnecessary questions, or leave undone what could easily be checked off and forgotten.

Communication starts with listening. What are your customers, employees, team members, or partners really telling you? What is the market telling you? Listen with your head and your heart, and a good dose of the Serenity Prayer in your spirit.

Beyond that, tell people clearly what your vision is, what your expectations are, and what you need to help you and the organization move forward. Never assume people know what you mean.  Markus Buckingham reminds us that the primary job of the leader is to provide clarity. And that takes excellent communication.


You may be able to keep several leadership plates spinning at one time. But without a strategy for de-cluttering your leadership, sooner or later one or more of them will come crashing down. And what’s sad is that it’s so unnecessary.  Spend some time re-routing your leadership T.R.A.F.F.I.C. You’ll be amazed how free you become to capture the future for yourself and your organization.

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Karen Moon September 27, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Me to a T those first two sentences – great suggestions as usual!

Martha Orlando September 27, 2013 at 9:02 pm

Andy, we just came back from a dedication ceremony from Emory at Oxford College where my dad served as dean for 12 years after giving over 30 years of service and leadership as a biology professor at Emory University in Atlanta. A residence hall is now dubbed “Murdy Hall” after him. I will be writing a devotion on this in the near future, because my father was truly a servant-leader and followed many of the strategies you have shared here. I would love to be able to link your blog to mine as examples of how one should truly lead. Please let me know if that’s okay with you.
Oh, and another thing – I was really worn out this evening, but God kept prodding me to read your post. It fit the moment, hand in glove. How awesome is our God!
Blessings to you and yours!
Martha Orlando´s last blog post ..Content and at Peace

Andy Wood September 27, 2013 at 9:52 pm

Hi Martha,
Of course! What an honor to be linked to the kind of leadership your dad gave all those years. Feel free any time to link for any reason.

Thanks as always for your encouragement.

Keith Barnwell September 29, 2013 at 8:11 am

Andy – great article. I’ve spent the past 15 years helping people to develop their leadership skills. I’ve coached experienced leaders, middle managers and those who are looking to grow their careers – and found that regardless of their background or experience, they all have one thing in common: they struggle to focus on what’s truly important. One of the main things I tend to hear from them is “I never have enough time”, when what they really mean is “I never make enough time for the right things”.

Today’s workplace sees us constantly bombarded with communications. Whether it’s e-mail, phone, video conference or countless meetings, everything (and everyone) demands an immediate response, or at least we think so. The constant interruptions and endless demands create an environment where we often find ourselves simply responding to the next demand. Rarely do we have the time to step back and focus on the important things that will bring the greatest benefits – to ourselves, our team and our business. Does that sound familiar?

In response to the challenges faced by my clients, I’ve created LeaderFocus, an application available for iPads through iTunes. LeaderFocus is much more than a productivity tool, it is a comprehensive leadership development instrument designed to help leaders gain and maintain that vital focus whilst also providing a range of leadership tools, tips and quotes to encourage them to consider and enhance their personal leadership style.

If you use an iPad please take a moment to download Leader Focus. As someone who clearly understand the problem of leadership ‘clutter’ better than most I’d be very grateful for your feedback. Also I would be interested to konw if you would be happy for me to include TRAFFIC in any future App updates? Suitably aknowledged of course. More detail about Leader Focus can be found at


Andy Wood September 30, 2013 at 9:27 am

Hi Keith,

Thanks for the encouragement, and I’m excited to check out Leader Focus. Feel free to include the TRAFFIC strategy – I’m honored that you would consider it.

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