Focusing on your primary responsibilities, like driving sales and moving your company forward, can be a business owner or industry leader struggle. Because of this, it’s crucial to manage your time well.
Does this mean you need to get everything done? Nope. That’s not realistic. Instead, at the end of the day, you feel accomplished and satisfied without being burned out.
You’ll find some fresh ways (or reminders) to balance your responsibilities with this list of time management tips for leaders.
1. Keep your calendar fresh.
Leaders often find it very difficult to refuse an invitation to a meeting. It might appear that you’re violating the norms if you decline invites. You might be surprised at how many meetings you attended the previous week were useless upon further reviews.
The same concept can be applied to all of your calendar entries. For example, it made sense to attend local industry meetups to network two years ago. But, with more on your plate, this conflicts with your top priorities. Or, maybe you used to wear multiple hats as your business was growing. However, you can now offload some of your less important tasks with a larger team.
Regularly review your calendar and purge any entries that just aren’t priorities. This way, it won’t be as cluttered. You may even be surprised that you’ve unlocked some free blocks of time. And, as an added perk, it makes saying “no” to time-wasters much easier going forward.
2. Be agenda-driven.
In this Harvard Business School study, 27 top-performing CEOs of publicly traded companies worth, on average, $1.3 billion were followed around the clock. They tracked over 60,000 hours across three months with the help of their executive assistants. The study’s purposes were to analyze and provide recommendations on how time could be more efficiently spent.
I’m not going to go over the results of the entire study. However, I want to highlight the fact that these individuals are agenda-driven.
“CEOs oversee many organizational units and workstreams and countless types of decisions,” note Michael E. Porter and Nitin Nohria. “Our research finds that they should have an explicit personal agenda and that most executives have one.” A clearly defined agenda helps a CEO maximize their limited time. The loudest constituencies will take precedence without one, and the most important tasks won’t get accomplished.
Having a good agenda will help the CEO determine their priorities for the coming months, sometimes years. “But it is not unidimensional; rather, it is a matrix including broader areas for improvement and specific matters that need to be addressed. It combines time-bound goals with more open-ended priorities,” they add.
“Keeping time allocation aligned with CEOs’ top priorities is so crucial that we suggest that every quarter CEOs look back at whether their schedule for the previous period adequately matched up with their personal agenda,” the authors advise. “They should also update the agenda to reflect current circumstances.”
3. Think about tasks in terms of debts and assets.
“The key to time management is thinking about your tasks in terms of debts and assets,” Sujan Patel told RescueTime. But, what exactly does that mean?
“In other words, which tasks give you time, and which ones take it away?” Nico Prins explains in the article.
The cost of setting up time assets is usually low, and you’ll gain more time in the future as a result. You can accomplish this by streamlining processes, automating work, or delegating work, Prins adds.
The problem with time debts is that they are harder to calculate. In most cases, there are two kinds;
- Tasks that take up time without freeing up more down the line. These will have to be done in many cases, but they can be automated or delegated. An example is answering emails.
- Tasks that create more work for you later on. This is a classic example of starting over if you don’t get something right the first time.
Sujan says potential assets should be recognized before they turn into debts. This includes delegating tasks without sufficient instructions.
There is a tendency to assume that everyone has the same knowledge base, Prins states. However, doing so may result in vagueness and ambiguity.
To avoid this, Sujan recommends creating briefs that are detailed and precise. Then, with just a little effort, a potential time debt can change from being a liability to an asset.
4. Tackle tasks in the right order.
We all tend to fall into the same trap: spend too much time on the easy stuff. You might feel productive answering all your emails, organizing your computer files, and cleaning your desk, but maybe those things aren’t the most important and urgent.
For this reason, so many people believe that they should identify their most important task (MIT) first thing in the morning and tackle it first. As many people are the most alert and energetic in the morning, it’s the perfect time to work on your most pressing issues.
You can then slowly work your way through the “would-be-good-to-do” activities once you’ve completed all the “must-do” ones.
5. Reduce phantom workload.
“The words phantom workload was coined by Marilyn Paul, Ph. D., and David Peter Stroh,” writes Deanna Ritchie in another Calendar article. Phantom workload “is the unintentional work created when people either take expedient but ineffective shortcuts or avoid taking on such as essential.”
These include complex tasks such as:
- Clarifying mission, vision, and values
- Asking questions that challenge what is ambiguous or unrealistic
- Identifying and resolving conflicts
- Clarifying and streamlining decision-making processes
- Providing candid, constructive feedback
- Differentiating people with sanctions and rewards
- Launching innovative projects
- Making decisions that require disinvestment in programs or projects
“When not addressed, the phantom workload leads to various consequences such as rework, unproductive meetings, organizational conflicts, and fractured relationships,” Deanna. Moreover, the phantom workload is also a leading cause of wasted time since you have to deal with “the same problem over and over again.” Eventually, phantom work “leads to greater stress and a further reluctance or inability to engage in difficult tasks.”
How can you fight back? Deanna suggests the following;
- Set a limited amount of realistic goals.
- Plan for tomorrow the night before.
- Be protective of your time, like eliminating distractions and not accepting all time requests.
- Ask for help through delegation.
- Use the right tools. Calendar, for instance, streamlines the scheduling process by eliminating back-and-forth communications.
6. Limit small decisions.
“Making decisions uses the very same willpower that you use to say no to doughnuts, drugs, or illicit sex,” says Roy F. Baumeister, a psychologist who studies decision fatigue and the co-author of “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.”
As with lifting a weight, you can only lift the weight so many times before your muscles give up on you when you decide or avoid a temptation.
“It’s the same willpower that you use to be polite or to wait your turn or drag yourself out of bed or hold off going to the bathroom,” Baumeister told the New York Times. “Your ability to make the right investment or hiring decision may be reduced simply because you expended some of your willpower earlier when you held your tongue in response to someone’s offensive remark or when you exerted yourself to get to the meeting on time.”
Some of the best entrepreneurs and leaders wear the same outfit every day to keep their brains sharp by avoiding small decisions. Although you don’t need to go to that extent, focus on the big picture by letting go of small details.
7. Avoid the 25-minute meeting rule.
“People are regularly in meetings that last too long, often with little that directly involves them,” writes Rebecca Newton in Forbes. “One response can be to instigate a 25-minute maximum (or similar) meeting rule.”
“But this seeming quick fix can undermine collaboration and creativity, which typically requires longer, giving people space to brainstorm,” she adds. Take action against the root of the problem by challenging managers to constantly check and ensure that the right people are in the room and encourage them to take some conversations “offline.”
8. Stay DRY.
In 1999, Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas introduced the phrase “don’t repeat yourself” in their book The Pragmatic Programmer. According to their definition, DRY requires “every knowledge piece to have a single, unambiguous, authoritative representation within the system.”
Code repetition can be reduced by using DRY techniques in software engineering. When appropriate, coders streamline coding using reusable sources, aka “snippets.” This is why the name “don’t repeat yourself” is used, explains Calendar co-founder and CEO John Rampton.
“As well as saving time, writing the same thing multiple times means that there is less room for human error,” he adds. “After all, if you make a mistake once, you’ll probably make it twice. Plus, if you decide to make any changes, you only have to do this one time.”
In summary, less code is better. This conserves time and energy. Maintenance is much easier as well. And there’s less risk of bugs arising.
How can leaders use this concept to better manage their time? By identifying where you’re repeating yourself — like with phantom workload.
To start, write in a journal every day for a week or two. Then, for a better picture, track your time for at least a month. That way, you can see how you spend your time. Additionally, you should be able to identify less common occurrences using this method as well.
“Hopefully, you now have a bird’s-eye view of your tasks,” states John. “Next, you need to decide which tasks are best suited to DRY.” Ideally, you want to be on the lookout for bottlenecks, pain points, time-consuming tasks, and activities that you repeat. After that, you can create templates, automate routine tasks, and delegate specific tasks to others.
9. Create “if-then” rules.
It’s not unusual for a leader’s day to include constant interruptions. What’s more, your schedule is likely to change at the last minute because you need to put out fires. And, since your position carries so many responsibilities, it’s tempting to divert your attention from your top priorities.
As a result, setting if-then rules automates what you should do in any circumstances mentioned above. Why? These rules reduce your workload and allow your employees to work independently. And, by asking your team to find a solution, you can avoid reprioritizing your entire schedule.
For example, a high-profile client is threatening to take their business elsewhere. If this happens, then you can ask your business partner to take over the scheduled team meeting.
10. Don’t robo-check your email.
Don’t let your email inbox control your life.
I’m sure you’ve heard that piece of advice numerous times. But, it bears repeating. After all, an Adobe survey found that people spend an average of 3.1 hours a day sending and checking emails alone. So, that comes out to 15.5 hours a week and a staggering 20 weeks a year!
It’s essential to set a regular time each day in your calendar when you read and respond to messages. And more importantly, avoid being distracted by the constant pings and pop-ups that you’ll encounter throughout the day. Personally, I do this three times: in the morning before work, after lunch, and right before closing time.
Furthermore, turn off push notifications and other alerts if you’re unable to stop checking your inbox during the day. And, to avoid checking your phone in the middle of the night or early in the morning, turn off your phone when you go to bed.
Also, make sure your coworkers and employees know when you will be available electronically — sharing your calendar and creating automatic “out-of-office” messages will make this easier. Don’t forget to inform them that you’ll only be answering emails during the specified hours. During your “offline” hours, you’re only to be contacted for “urgent” issues.
11. Design delegation in advance.
As a leader, delegation is an essential part of managing your time. Leadership is about determining what they are uniquely qualified to do, and prioritizing those tasks while delegating to others. Always consider your employees’ strengths and competence when delegating tasks to them.
Another consideration? Don’t micromanage. When you hand a team member the ball, let them run with it — even if it’s not how you would do it.
Experts like Don Jacobson recommend arranging any check-ins or follow-up conversations during the initial delegating meeting to optimize time management. Consequently, both you and the employee can plan your schedules accordingly, so you both know when to talk again.
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