How effective are you at using found pockets of time to get work done?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from over 240,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

How effective are you at using "found" pockets of time -- 10 to 30 minutes -- to get work done?

  • Very: I always have a ready list of tasks to do in these small moments.

  • Somewhat: Sometimes I use it productively and others I waste the time.

  • Not very: Most of that found time goes to waste.

  • Not at all: I never get anything done in those pockets of time.

Make a list of small tasks. Most of you are somewhat effective -- or less than somewhat -- at using small time slots of “found time” to get things done. This occurs because when we find 15 or 20 minutes, we spend 10 of it trying to figure out what to work on and then 10 minutes saying we don’t have enough time to finish the task. An effective way to use this time is to maintain a list of small tasks that can be done in 15-, 30- and 60-minute spans. When you are given the gift of some found time because a meeting ends early or is cancelled, you can immediately turn to your list, pick a task and get it done. This small productivity enhancer will help you fill these times effectively and get a lot more work finished in a given day.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

How many close personal advisors do you have that you can go to for guidance in challenging times?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from over 240,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

How many close personal advisors do you have that you can go to for guidance in challenging times?

  • 5 or more: 3.0%
  • 2 to 4: 55.7%
  • 1: 21.0%
  • None: 20.3%

Build your personal advisory board. We don’t have all the answers. Getting fresh, objective and outside perspectives can help you make better decisions. Consider creating your own personal board of directors. Find people you respect and trust and, most important, who think differently than you do. They’ll push your thinking, offer good ideas, challenge your assumptions, and help you make better choices. The board doesn’t have to be large but it should be larger than the zero to one people 41% of you have (or don’t have) as advisors. Investing time in these relationships can be one of the best investments you’ll ever make.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

How frequently do you get overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from over 240,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

How frequently do you get overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do?

  • All the time: 11.1%
  • Frequently: 29.3%
  • Sometimes: 36.6%
  • Not often: 19.2%
  • Never: 3.8%

We all get overwhelmed. The question is: how do you deal with it? 77% of you report you’re overwhelmed “sometimes” or more frequently. The pace of business won’t let up. Change and complexity are ever-present. Your ability to cope with stress is a key determinant of how successfully you’ll manage the chaos you deal with every day. Resilient leaders perform better and are generally happier and healthier. Do you have techniques you use to build resilience? Do you have practices to help you cope with stress every day? If not, build them into your routine. Working out, meditating, pursuing a hobby and building strong personal relationships are just a few ideas for how you can become a more resilient leader.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

How structured is your approach to problem-solving?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

How structured is your approach to problem-solving?

  • Very – we have clearly defined steps and output at each step: 19.5%
  • Kind of – we generally follow a repeatable problem solving process: 50.5%
  • Not very – our problem solving is a bit haphazard: 21.5%
  • Not at all – we never solve problems the same way twice: 8.5%

A weak structure means weak solutions. Problem-solving is a repeatable process with predictable end products for most common problems. A structured approach to problem-solving ensures you fully understand the problem and are comprehensive in your search for solutions. The structured approach is also efficient. If you can be hypothesis-based in your problem solving and focus on the highest opportunity solutions, you can save a lot of time by not chasing small ideas. For the 30% of you not solving problems with a structured approach, give structure a try. You might find you’ll come up with bigger and better solutions faster than ever before.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

How do you deal with manipulative people?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

How do you deal with manipulative people?

  • I cut them out of my life as fast as I can: 32.5%
  • I ignore their manipulations and do my own thing: 42.5%
  • I often fail to realize I’m being manipulated: 6.2%
  • I recognize I’m being manipulated but just let it happen: 2.8%
  • I confront them directly and ask them to stop: 16.2%

Avoiding the manipulator. The majority of you seek either to ignore or get away from the manipulators in your life. While that can be effective in many situations, in some situations your only option is to confront that person and ask them to change their behavior. Some helpful techniques for dealing with manipulators include changing your perspective to look at their manipulations from a more logical perspective and changing the rules of the game to react differently to their behaviors. In any case, something needs to be done, or you’ll be miserable in the situation. If you’re not aware you’re being manipulated, spend more time being reflective and assess your relationships more objectively. Doing so might help suss out hidden manipulative behaviors.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

What’s the biggest challenge in leading a high-performing team?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

What’s the biggest challenge in leading a high-performing team?

  • Dealing with their strong personalities: 25.1%
  • Helping lower performers keep up: 14.8%
  • Getting them to act as a team and not individuals: 41.2%
  • Staying one step ahead of them: 8.6%
  • Some other type of challenge: 3.2%
  • There are no challenges. I love it!: 4.8%

High performers need to be a team. Clearly strong personalities and team dynamics rule when it comes to leading a high-performing team. Getting them to gel and work together can be the difference between distinctive or disastrous performance. Building a high-performing team begins well in advance of doing any work. A few critical success factors like hiring for fit, accurately assessing talent and building trust at the early stages of team formation can get your people pulling in the same direction. High-performing teams don’t happen by accident. They require you to focus deliberately on cohesion and trust to get them to perform.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

How is your year shaping up so far?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

How is your year shaping up so far?

  • Much better than expected: 9.5%
  • Better than expected: 27.6%
  • As expected: 36.8%
  • Worse than expected: 20.7%
  • Much worse than expected: 5.3%

A better year than expected. So far most of you say the year is meeting or exceeding expectations. Obviously some of that is a function of prior difficult years tempering expectations down. Perhaps some of it is natural pessimism. For those who are doing better than expected, ask yourself how you can sustain that performance without burning your team out. For those underperforming expectations, ask yourself what are the two or three focused priorities you can work on to shift performance. A leader’s job is to always look ahead and ask how you can change the trajectory. Rather than looking at today’s numbers, ask yourself how you can affect tomorrow’s numbers instead.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

How well do you handle an unexpected personal crisis at work?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

How well do you handle an unexpected personal crisis at work?

  • Very well. I deal with the issue productively and can resume work effectively: 33.3%
  • Well. I deal with the issue but it has some negative work effects: 51.9%
  • Not well. Personal crises tend to throw my work off substantially: 12.3%
  • Poorly. A personal crisis totally derails me at work: 2.5%

Moving through the crisis. It’s inevitable that a personal crisis will interfere with work at some point. Illnesses, car accidents, thefts and other challenging issues are bound to crop up and always at the worst time. Some keys to dealing with crisis involve keeping things in perspective, getting your priorities straight and getting assistance. Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues for help. We’ve all been there, and, by and large, people are understanding and supportive. There’s no need for you to shoulder the entire burden yourself. And when you see a colleague in crisis, don’t wait for them to ask for help. They may be too overwhelmed or feel like they’re imposing on others. Offer your help proactively instead.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

Which resilience-building technique do you use most frequently?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

Which resilience-building technique do you use most frequently?

  • Building a strong support system: 21.3%
  • Defining a sense of purpose: 16.3%
  • Improving emotional intelligence:15.9%
  • Taking care of your physical well-being: 24.3%
  • Managing your thoughts proactively: 17.6%
  • None of these approaches: 4.6%

SWAP OUT ANALYSIS Be more deliberate and less reactive. Many of you noted that you see leaders commonly take the path of least resistance by spending time with people who aren’t causing problems as well as being reactive and dealing with issues as they crop up rather than preventing them. Taking a more deliberate approach to how you invest your time and energy can help you avoid these mistakes. Time is your most valuable resource. Consider how you invest it just as rigorously as how you invest your limited budget dollars. Proactively planning your time can get you out of reactive mode and nip issues in the bud.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."

Which efficiency mistake do you most commonly see leaders make?

SmartPulse -- our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Leadership -- tracks feedback from more than 220,000 business leaders. We run the poll question each week in our newsletter.

Which efficiency mistake do you most commonly see leaders make?

  • Spreading their time evenly across people (peanut butter approach): 5.1%
  • Taking the path of least resistance and avoiding issues: 36.3%
  • Being reactive and dealing with issues as they arise: 54.8%
  • Most leaders I know are pretty efficient: 3.8%

SWAP OUT ANALYSIS Roll up the sleeves. Getting out of the “leader” role and into the “team member” role has many benefits. It brings you closer to your people, helps you understand and appreciate the work they do and it can be rewarding. If it’s been a while since you’ve worked side by side with the team, make a point of scheduling time to do so. Put reminders on your calendar so it happens more frequently than a few times a year. Stepping out of the leader role is easier to do than you might think.

Mike Figliuolo is managing director of thoughtLEADERS. Before launching his own company, he worked at McKinsey & Co., Capital One and Scotts Miracle-Gro. He is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He's the author of three leadership books: "One Piece of Paper," "Lead Inside the Box" and "The Elegant Pitch."