We talk about time a lot: how we should be spending it, how to avoid running out of it, wishing we had more of it.
We talk about time a lot: how we should be spending it, how to avoid running out of it, wishing we had more of it. For leaders, managing time is important everywhere, from business productivity and profitability to personal life balance and, ultimately, job satisfaction.
Leading a business demands a lot of your time, much of which is often taken from outside interests and self-care. But focusing on yourself is important and valuable, as well. Particularly in dividing between what you can do, and a clear understanding about what you can't.
Our ability to manage our time filters directly into our work-life balance and sense of mental wellbeing. Nearly half of UK bosses admit they’ve felt forced to compromise their own health as a result of pressure at work, according to Vistage (2018).
It’s possible to get help to sort the 'must do' from the 'could do without'. Here are the best ways to take back control of your diary.
Leadership is a significant responsibility, and it can leave you trying to be ‘all things to all people’ (whether you want to or not). We’re here to remind you that this is simply not realistic.
Think of this as the curse of the ‘superleader’ - a head of the business that thinks they can do it all. You can't, and you shouldn't try. Taking everything on yourself is as bad for business, as it is for your health. Leaders should have talented staff hired for a reason, so they can hand over responsibility and provide.
By learning to delegate, you are trusting the team around you to manage the tasks and deadlines that you set them, creating a culture of collaboration and shared responsibility. That frees up your time to be invested elsewhere in the business - or in yourself.
2. Choose your meetings
The three certainties in life are death, taxes and being invited to an inordinate number of meetings.
To reduce the ‘meeting’ burden on your time, clarify the intention of any assembly in advance. Oprah Winfrey (worth about £2.1 billion) apparently begins every meeting with three questions:
- What is our intention for this meeting?
- What is important?
- What matters?
This clarifies whether it’s necessary: if no-one can answer those questions - why have the meeting?
We would go one step further and ask those questions BEFORE it begins. No agenda? Forget it. No goal? Don't bother. Setting these expectations for yourself will ensure teams consider valuing all time.
Manage your time better by only meeting when necessary - don’t stick to a schedule for the sake of it. And when you do have meetings, keep them as short as possible - 20 minutes is an ideal time for well-structured check-in.
3. Limit travel time to crucial meetings
There are, of course, some meetings that need your presence, but a good rule of thumb is, if you don’t need to be there in person, don’t go. Here, technology has its uses - video link programmes such as Skype allow you to attend meetings digitally, saving you the time and mental effort of travelling long distances.
Just remember you have options. Ask your PA to make arrangements for you, send someone in your place, or ask to re-arrange for a few weeks’ time. Remember not to feel obliged to be everywhere at once - after all, 67% of meetings are considered ‘failures’ by executives - so bear that in mind when planning how much of your overall time a potentially unproductive meeting might take up.
4. Organisational tools
Not everyone loves using tech to govern their lives, but for those who live and die by their devices, there are some great tools for organising your time.
To-do list apps, project management tools, and enterprise collaboration products all provide ways to better track your time. Trial and error is the best way to find the ones that work for you (and your team).
Nozbe allows you to tick off tasks, helped by colour-coded lists and calendars. Trello and Monday emerged from project development in software, allowing a workforce to view the progress of a project and leave direct messages for status updates. Slack, meanwhile, is a useful and decluttered alternative to email to improve messaging to flow between your team members in real time.
You can use all of these apps wherever you are - just remember to change your phone’s notification settings. The constant distraction of phones going off can get in the way of proper work.
We’ve all been in a situation like this: you’re 5 minutes into your a budget meeting on Thursday morning and, already, a friend has asked you to lunch via WhatsApp, you get a pinging reminder about dinner Tuesday night, and maybe even a picture of your nephew stroking a dog.
You’ve suddenly lost your flow. Blinking lights and notices are a familiar, distracting feature of modern life, and extra effort is needed to ensure they don’t take attention away from focusing on your business.
Research has shown that it takes 15 minutes to refocus on a task after an interruption, and that on average, interruptions take up to three hours of a manager’s time each day. A leader’s time is already at a premium. The discipline necessary to set your phone to airplane mode during meetings, and turn off notifications where possible, can be a vital habit to set in place.
6. Hire a PA
Whether real or virtual, if you don’t have a PA, you are your own PA. If your mind needs to be free to focus on the bigger picture for your business, getting bogged down in the time-consuming details of booking train tickets, arranging meetings and filtering email requests is burdensome.
Small tasks can add up and eat into your time, but by delegating (see point one) those to an effective, you are freeing up your schedule, allowing you to get into a more productive flow without niggling interruptions.
7. Ignore email (kind of)
In 2005, psychiatrists from King’s College London ran a study. They asked groups to take an IQ test under conditions of stimulants and deterrents. The group that was distracted by emails and phones, unsurprisingly, performed about 10 points lower than a group that was not interrupted. This was a larger difference than the 6 points opened by a group that had smoked marijuana.
15 years later, the volume and importance of email has only grown higher. The inbox has become yet another demanding to-do list - not (as it might seem) a business’ lifeline. Either set aside small portions of your day (e.g. first thing in the morning, or straight after lunch) where you do nothing but answer emails and stop after a set time.
Or if that’s too risky, turn it off for at least one hour a day, so that you can focus on completing a particular task during that time instead.
8. Be realistic
Feeling busy is not the same as being efficient. When we feel like we have lots to do, we feel like we’re getting stuff done. However, that’s usually not the case. Trying to do everything at once means nothing gets completed. Try different ways of prioritising your workload, such as The Pomodoro Method (a time management technique which segments your day, usually into 25-minute intervals) or Daily Check-Ins.
Be realistic about your workload, breaking your day, week or project up into specific goals that are measurable and attainable within a certain time-frame. That way, you can focus your mind on one task at a time, monitoring your progress as you go.
Time management is about practice, and getting into a routine that allows you to be much more efficient. Being strict with minimising distractions (where possible) will allow you to focus on specific tasks. If you need support, taking on a PA and delegating effectively helps make sure time-consuming tasks are still being managed, and you can dedicate more of your time to growing your business.
This article is courtesy of Vistage UK.