Time is money. A stitch in time. The big time. It’s about time.
We talk about time a lot. And yet we’re always worrying about it, running out of it and wishing we had more of it. For business leaders, managing time well is important for productivity, personal balance and, ultimately, job satisfaction.
Leading a business demands a lot of your time - as does everything else in your life. We know you want to do it all, but it’s totally fine to admit that that’s pretty much impossible. What’s important is focusing on yourself, doing what you can do, and understanding what you can't.
Vistage bangs the drum for balance and mental wellbeing, and we’re here to help you sort the 'must do' things from the 'could do without'.
Here are the best ways to take back control over your time, allowing you to use it wisely.
Leadership is a significant responsibility, and it can leave you either wanting to - or feeling like you have to - be all things to all people. But that’s just not realistic. This is the curse of the ‘superleader’ - that head of the business that thinks they can do it all. They can't, and they shouldn't. Taking everything on is bad for business, and bad for your health. You should have talented staff that you hired for a reason - hand over the responsibility they're there to own.
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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
Three certainties in life are death, taxes and being invited to an inordinate number of pointless meetings. To make better use of your time, clarify the intention of the meeting in advance. Oprah Winfrey (who, by the way, is worth $2.8 billion) apparently begins every meeting with three questions:
What is our intention for this meeting?
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. Send an email instead. 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 the recommended time to retain attention spans.
3. Limit travel time to crucial meetings
There are, of course, some meetings that need your physical 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 attend - 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 organise their days, but for those that do, there are some great tools for organising your time. There are to-do list apps, project management tools, and bits of software to track your time. Use trial and error 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 allow everyone on your team to view the progress of a project and leave direct messages for status updates. Slack, meanwhile, allows messaging to flow between your team members in real time. You can use all of these apps on the go - just remember to change your phone’s notification settings. The constant distraction of phones going off can get in the way of proper work.
5. Hire a PA
Whether real or virtual, if you don’t have a PA, you are your own PA. Your mind needs to be free to focus on the bigger picture for your business, rather than getting bogged down in the time-consuming details of booking train tickets, arranging meetings and so on. Small tasks can add up and eat into your time, but by delegating (see point one) those to your PA, you are freeing up your schedule, allowing you to get into a more productive flow without any niggling interruptions.
6. 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 or Daily Check-In.
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.
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 different conditions of stimulants and deterrents. The group that was distracted by emails and phones, unsurprisingly, did worse by 10 points than a group that was not interrupted. They also did worse by 6 points than a similar group that had smoked marijuana. The email group performed worst out of all of them.
Basically, while email is a useful communication tool, it can feel like an inescapably distracting part of modern working life. Your inbox can become yet another demanding to-do list, so ignore it - for a while. 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. Turn off phone notifications
We’ve all been in a situation like this: you’re in a budget meeting on Thursday morning when, halfway through, a friend asks you to lunch via WhatsApp, you get a reminder about dinner Tuesday night, or receive a picture of your nephew stroking a dog. You’ve suddenly lost your flow. It’s a familiar, distracting feature of modern life that pulls your mind away from where you need to be in that moment - focusing on your business.
It’s been shown that it takes 15 minutes to refocus on a task after an interruption, and that on average, interruptions take up three hours of a manager’s day, so your time is already at a premium, and you don’t want to willingly add to that. Put your phone on airplane mode during meetings, and turn off notifications where possible during busy periods.
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, while taking on a PA and delegating effectively will take care of the less important but time-consuming tasks, so you can dedicate more of your time to growing your business.