Time management is one of the most common and daunting challenges for busy executives. In my Executive Coaching practice, I find that many leaders either never learned a time management system, resulting in reactivity and lack of focus, or they have learned an overly rigid system preventing them from fluidly adapting to the realities of their organization and shifting challenges of the marketplace. In fact, there is no universal time management “system” that works for everyone. Rather, I suggest that leaders test and practice specific time-management principles to see what actually works depending on the demands of their business and jettison those that do not.
- Clarify your Intent.Start by asking yourself: if I had a more time, then what would I do with it? What would I actually spend my time on that I would both enjoy and drive the business forward? Clarify what you want to do, why you want to do it and what it might look like.
- Resolve any Underlying Resistance.It is easy to ignore internal barriers to good time management and overly-focus on external challenges (“if only I had more time or resources then I could…”). It is essential to raise your self-awareness regarding any underlying resistance to spending time on what is actually important to you is. Try this exercise:
o For example, what worries you about focusing more high-level strategy work? What do you worry will happen or not happen? For example, you might be worried that the day to day work won’t get done or won’t get done well; or you might assume that this level of thinking is self-indulgent and unrealistic. List your worries and negative assumptions. Don’t edit them.
o What negative behavior results from these worries and assumptions? In other words, what do you do–not what do you feel or think–but what is your actual behavior? Be specific.
Executives often operate on beliefs and assumptions that limit them from trying new behaviors; for example, you might believe that you are wasting time, will fail, or disappoint others, etc. if you loosen the grip on your daily responsibilities. Some executives, especially with leadership styles that tend to be solely big-picture in their thinking, tend to overly-focus on the vision and macro level of the company while completely neglecting or minimizing the importance of the day to day operations, processes and systems of their organization. Either way, it is important to become aware of and challenge any internal limiting beliefs that is preventing you from focusing on what you really need to.
- Audit your Schedule. Screenshot and print your typical weekly schedule.
o Batch miscellaneous non-urgent tasks (e.g. phone calls, emails, etc.) into one or two limited times of the day.
o Reduce all meeting times where possible. Implement a meeting structure to make them more efficient.
o Eliminate unnecessary, ineffective, and repetitious meetings
o Automate or outsource any repetitious, menial tasks
- Protect Your Peak Performance Time.What time of the day are you the most productive and focused? Block this time of the day to focus on projects (e.g. writing a strategic plan, drafting a proposal, working on creative content) that requires your sustained attention and creative thinking.
- Timeboxing. Move your to do lists items onto calendars. We typically focus on tasks that are easier to accomplish, that are often less important and those that take less time; also, we get easily overwhelmed with too many tasks. Projects that involve multiple steps are more easily accomplished when we use a Timeboxing method. This involves blocking time on your calendar so you can visually see the task and allot the appropriate time to complete this. When you are collaborating on projects with team-members you can share this commitment with others, increasing your accountability to complete it. In a study conducted by Harvard Business Review Timeboxing was ranked as the #1 productivity hack.
- Delegate More. This is one of the most difficult leadership and time-management skills because it involves a gradual process of letting go of control, training and trusting others to do the job. An easy first step is identity those tasks that you don’t enjoy, consume a lot of your time and which someone else on your team do could do more effectively or would provide them an opportunity to develop a skill-set. Identify these tasks, match them with the appropriate team member and invest time in training them.
- Work in Sprints. You can accelerate your productivity both individually and as a team by working in sprints. Set your alarm to work on specific projects in a set amount of time. Start by asking “what can I realistically accomplish in 30 minutes or 90 minutes”? You can also have your team work in sprints by having them focus on one big goal over the course of an entire day or even an entire week. Sprints have been tested at Google Ventures with over 100 startups and the results show that they get more done and faster. Sprints help bring teams into focus, have crisp problem-solving, and be more productive overall.
If you need help improving your Time Management skills then please contact me here.