We’ve all heard it: there’s never enough time in the day, week, quarter or year to get everything done. Businesses run lean and time is perceived as a precious commodity.
But you can master time and make it work for you. Time, and your management of it, can become your competitive advantage. The better you manage time, the more you can achieve, and the better you feel about what you’ve achieved.
Here are a few top-line strategies to consider when making time your ally instead of your enemy.
Know what you want from your time
If you’re going to make time work for you, you need to know what you want from it. Plan what you expect to achieve and use that to focus your efforts. These activities should include time away from the “day-to-day” of the business, such as time spent developing your business plan or a healthy afternoon walk or run.
Create a schedule. Every activity that is important should have a time assigned to it. As best you can, remove activities that don’t contribute to your goals, or put them on the back burner.
Make a conscious decision at the start of every day on what you want to achieve within those eight or ten hours that you’ve made available. Entrepreneur authors recommend you plan to spend at least 50% of your time engaged in the thoughts, activities and conversations that produce most of your results.1
Don’t be surprised if your most effective couple of hours produce the bulk of your results.
Urgent isn’t always important
Prioritize. One of the reasons we find ourselves unable to master time is we mistake important activities for urgent ones. Our days become eaten up with “urgent” interruptions, and we don’t cross things off our lists.
“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.” – Stephen Covey
Get into a habit of looking at activities in terms of urgency and importance, but don’t confuse the two. This concept is very similar to the “Eisenhower Decision Matrix2” attributed to U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who famously said, “I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
In the real world, some issues are both important and urgent (or have been allowed to become urgent). It’s those moments when urgent becomes a pending crisis that it’s got to be done now, and done right.
Important non-urgent activities are areas to focus your attention on when not dealing with a real crisis. This is where you want to spend most of your time. These can be managed and prioritized to accommodate your schedule, and some of these may also be able to be partially delegated. Others may slide into urgent territory if ignored.
What’s critical is learning how to minimize time spent on non-important “urgent” activities, and to work to eliminate activities that simply waste your time.
Empower and delegate
I’ve shared before how valuable it is to empower your employees. How you can reduce the chance of failure, become more efficient, find cost savings, improve the management-employee dynamic and gain hard-won loyalty. But the effect on time management is one of your biggest payoffs.
By sharing responsibility, training and trusting your employees, you can create a team you can count on. You will also gain familiarity with each employee’s strengths. The more you can safely remove from your workload, the more time you have for important tasks that require your focus and contribute to achieving your goals.
I know many business leaders and entrepreneurs have anxiety around delegating. But the best way to find more time to address the important “stuff” is take the not-important stuff off your plate and empower others to find a solution. You can start with the “trivial” urgent and not-important tasks, then move to the more important ones that don’t require you. It’s a good way to help you develop open and clear communications with your team members while getting over your anxiety associated with delegating.
So, here’s my challenge to you: Tomorrow, start your day by taking a few minutes to create a schedule and block off every activity you want to achieve. Prioritize all these activities by importance and urgency, and delegate some of those urgent-but-not-important tasks. Experts say as much as two hours can be saved per day by adopting an approach based on the urgent/important principle3.
At the end of the day, review what you and your team accomplished. Did you strike everything off your list? Did you feel a sense of accomplishment? Did you get home before 6:00 p.m. to enjoy time with family and friends?