On a scale of one to 10, with ten being the best, how many of you believe you maximize your time on a daily basis and accomplish everything you seek to accomplish? Based on my observations, informal interviews, and personal experiences, this is one of the most challenging aspects of a leader’s life. There are so many things to get done and seemingly so little time to do it. Based on my non-scientific polling of leaders, most would rate themselves in the five to seven range of effective time management. So if you fall within that range, there is some good news for you. One you are not alone and two there are some very concrete steps you can take to improve your use of time.
Before we go there, it is critical to understand the damaging effects of not getting a reign on poor time management. Based on my work with the Center for Creative Leadership, if you shoulder the responsibility to develop strategy and/or strategic leadership within your organization, you need to find time to Think, Act, and Influence in order to move your organization in a positive direction. The challenge is that most leaders spend their time in acting mode. They are constantly on the go; whether in operations mode, going from meeting to meeting, spending time with their peers, working through a deluge of e-mails, analyzing data, or sifting through the piles on their desk. Therefore they find little time to think about their organizations holistically and determine where and with whom they need to spend their time influencing. In their book Becoming a Strategic Leader, authors Richard Hughes and Katherine Beatty note lack of time is a common reason and personal challenge for leaders to becoming more strategic.
Beyond strategy, when leaders don’t focus on time management other detrimental effects can arise such as:
Running from one thing to another and wondering “What am I accomplishing?”
Not being able to maintain focus on any given area
Feeling overburdened with activity and things to do
Relationships suffer as pressure to get everything done impacts personal interactions
Feeling you are not able to say no, when you know you should say no.
So what can be done to right the time management ship and take control of this most valuable and fleeting resource, because as we know in business…”Time is money”. But just as important is feeling and believing that at the end of the day, we have put in a solid day’s effort to move the organization forward in reaching its objectives. In my own work of helping leaders maximize their time, there is one key strategy I challenge them to employ.
KEY STRATEGY: Be clear about what are the most important things to focus on any given day and ensure you systematically complete them, so as to keep them from turning into urgent things. When everything is urgent your world becomes chaotic. This strategy also requires you to consider where you can take back control of your time and where you can delegate in order to maintain your focus on the important things.
In his book Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life, Orrin Woodward shares a story of an interaction between Ivy Lee a management consultant and Charles Schwab of Bethlehem Steel Company. Lee outlines a process “to step up action and doing by 50 percent”. In essence:
On a 3×5 card, sticky note, your I-pad: write down the five most important things you have to do tomorrow.
Number them in the order of importance.
Put this list in your pocket, stick it on your computer, or open your iPad first thing tomorrow morning. Focus on important thing number one and work it until it is done. Then focus on important thing number 2, 3, and so on, until they are completed.
Time management is critical to a leader’s success. In its simplest form, it is being able to identify the most important things that need your attention and systematically completing them.
Paul Martinez is the President of Dynamic Solutions specializing in leadership and organizational development. He is also an executive coach at the Center for Creative Leadership. He can be reached at Paul@ru-dynamicallydriven.com or 719-351-7356.