If you are a leader, you know how much managing people and projects can be a demand on your time. It seems like our days and weeks are full of endless meetings, phone calls, emails, text messages, and “drive-by” conversations. All of this can take a toll on a leader and lead to frustration, exhaustion or even burnout.
With ever-increasing demands on our time, it is important that we set aside time to focus on the priorities we have set for ourselves. I have found that when I get frustrated or tired, it is usually because I have allowed my schedule to dictate my priorities, and not the other way around. Much of this ultimately comes down to how we manage our time.
For several years, I have studied this and sought advice from experts in the form of classes, seminars, podcasts, TED Talk videos, books (written and audio), and blogs. Along the way, I have collected some great advice and have discovered what works for me and what does not.
Each of us has different learning styles, interests, personal responsibilities, strengths, goals, and challenges. Therefore, it is essential to find out what works best for you and begin to put it into practice.
While technology has transformed our world, it can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to managing our time and daily distractions. For example, there are some fantastic tools that can assist with time management. I use several of these and would not be nearly as productive without them. That being said, if not kept in check, alerts and notifications can quickly turn into another distraction that keeps us from ultimately focusing on what matters most.
After much trial and error, here are some of the tips that I have found that help me remain focused on what is important while continuing to ensure I fulfill my responsibilities as a leader.
Set Aside Time to Learn and Grow Professionally
It is easy for us to approach our work day and “go through the motions” while our calendars, meetings, and email dictate our daily tasks. When we allow this to happen, we run the risk of not challenging ourselves to grow. It is important for all leaders to set aside time to learn new things and educate themselves about their profession.
Most of us work in fields where things are continually changing. Leaders must adapt to change and learn new things or risk being replaced by someone who can. I have found that I need to be intentional about learning and improving my skills. One practical change I have made is to use the time during my commute to listen to podcasts or audiobooks that focus on specific areas of interest. This change alone has allowed me to focus on learning for over one hour each day — time that would have otherwise been spent listening to music or doing something else less productive.
Schedule Time for Focused Work
The term “focused work” or “deep work” has become popular with productivity gurus, and for a good reason. It paints an accurate picture of what we are trying to achieve as we seek to avoid constant distractions. As leaders, many of us are not only asked to focus on tactical work, but also strategic work such as planning, budgeting, and setting goals. These tasks are best accomplished when we can brainstorm and spend time thinking about the task at hand.
Just as we schedule time on our calendars for meetings and appointments, leaders need to schedule time for focused work.
In an interview with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, which can be viewed here, they both talk about the importance of not filling up your schedule with meetings, but instead, allowing time for creative thought and planning. I doubt that most of our schedules are more demanding than these two CEOs. The lesson here? Scheduling deep work time is just as important as scheduling meetings.
Delegate Tasks to Others
Many of us have a mental picture of exactly what the outcome should look like when we take on task. We can lean toward being perfectionists and want to tightly control how something is done for fear that it may not be done right. When leaders take this approach, they can fall into the trap of doing everything themselves and not allow others to remove tasks from their “plate.”
I have found that when I properly delegate a task, many times it will be done better than what I could have done myself. While proper delegation takes practice and great communication, it can free up time to work on other items of importance. Delegation is a great tool that can help leaders focus on “high value” work while allowing others who are more skilled or passionate about a particular task to excel.
Remember, 80 percent done well by someone else is better than 100 percent done perfectly by you.
Document Your Goals and Objectives
In his book, ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World,’ Cal Newport states, “Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.”
As leaders, it is important that we document our goals and objectives so they can be tracked appropriately. As Newport says, it also helps add clarity regarding what is truly important and what is not. I have found that starting each week and each day by listing out what I want to accomplish helps set the tone for the day and gets me focused on the right things. It is very easy to wake up, look at emails and our schedule and let that set the tone for the entire day. Leaders need to be in charge of their schedules and not let their schedules set their priorities.
There are several great tools that can help capture our goals and objectives. For many years, I used the Franklin Covey planner and filled out each daily page with each passing day. That was a great system, but I found that the more reliable I became on electronic devices for calendars and emails, it became the more difficult it was to maintain a paper system. I now use an electronic tool that helps me track tasks and keeps me focused on the right priorities. The key with any task manager, whether paper or electronic, is that is must be updated and reviewed at least daily. Like anything, if the information becomes stale, it loses its value.
Guard Your Time
Warren Buffet is quoted as saying, “The only thing I cannot buy is more time.”
Although most of us have plenty of things we cannot buy (unlike Warren Buffet), it still holds true that none of us can buy more time. We are all allotted the same amount of time in a day, and we have to manage what we have. Many distractions can come up during the course of a day. While we cannot schedule or plan for true emergencies, some things are within our control.
Most of us would agree that ineffective meetings can be a big time waster. Michael Hyatt, in the book, ‘No Fail Meetings,’ lists questions we should ask ourselves before hitting “accept” on our next meeting request. Examples include:
- Is this meeting important?
- Is it important for me?
- Can I afford the time given my other priorities?
- Could someone else take my place?
The bottom line is that we don’t have to accept every meeting request. We need to be selective with what we choose to attend, and determine if our time is better served doing something else.
If you are fortunate enough to have an administrative or virtual assistant, they can help manage your calendar for you and ensure that only important items make their way onto your calendar. Effectively utilizing an assistant can translate into a huge time saver, as they can work with you to determine the phone calls, emails, and meeting requests that are worth focusing on.
In closing, a leader’s time is constantly in demand. It is imperative for leaders to learn to manage their schedules, prioritize their work, and focus on what they feel is important. The ultimate goal of time management is for us to manage our work, and not have our work manage us.
This piece was originally posted on CIO Reflections, a blog created by Michael Saad, VP and CIO at University of Tennessee Medical Center. HIs diverse career path also includes leadership roles with TrustPoint Solutions and Henry Ford Health System. To follow him on Twitter, click here.