I’m too busy.
I don’t have time for that training class.
I don’t see how she finds time to exercise.
These are all excuses and ones I’m sure you have uttered before. I know I have. It’s not that we don’t have time, it’s that we place a priority on something else. That’s o.k but let’s be honest with ourselves. And, with others.
How is it that the President of the United States or the CEO of that Fortune 500 company finds time to exercise? They are clear on what needs to be done, they are disciplined in their approach, and they are diligent about adjusting what doesn’t work.
Time is the great equalizer as we all have 24 hours or 1,440 minutes each day. Take away 7 hours for sleep and we’re left with 17 hours to get things done. Your job is to figure out how to maximize those 17 hours.
As I write this article, I am watching a guy next to me drink a Red Bull. While that is going to give him a few more minutes today, it’s not a good long-term strategy. However, these 5 strategies are:
1. Prioritize Your Day
Figure out what you SHOULD be doing and plan those first before doing the things you either like to do or find easy to do. Budgeting time is similar to budgeting money. When you set a financial budget, you choose to spend money on certain items and forgo others. Spending time is the same. When you choose to work on one project you are impacting another.
Stephen Covey breaks this down into the following four quadrants in his NY Times Best Selling Book, “7 Habits of Highly Successful People.”
1. Urgent / Important
2. Not Urgent / Important
3. Urgent / Not Important
4. Not Urgent / Not Important
How often are you focusing on Quadrant 4 because they are quick and easy? Challenge yourself to be in Quadrant 2 and focus on the tasks that drive the greatest impact.
You may say, “All I do is fight fires.” It is important to put out the fires but we need to find time to prevent them in the first place or we will never move forward. Even fire fighters spend time training, doing community outreach, and developing prevention ideas. Next time you see a “fire”, ask yourself, “If I let this burn, what will the consequences be?” Then, decide if you’ll fight it or let it burn out on its own.
2. Get Up Early
For most of my career, I arrived at the office well before others. While my commute time was shorter, it also allowed me to get in front of the day before it got in front of me. It’s the quietest time and when I am most cognitively alert allowing me to plan and think. How often have you shown up to the office when everyone else was around and been tackled in the hallway with a problem as you walk to your desk. This doesn’t happen when you are the first one in.
HBR showcased a study by Christoph Randler, “The Early Bird Really Does Get the Worm” that found “people whose performance peaks in the morning are better positioned for career success, because they’re more proactive than people who are at their best in the evening.”
Doctors also say early morning is the best time to work out as it gets your body moving and your endorphins going. Evening workouts will keep you awake well past your bedtime. Set the alarm clock and give it a try for a month.
3. Plan Your Day
Whether you are a morning person or an evening person, find time to plan your day. Spending 15 minutes to look over your schedule, determine your priorities, and adjust as appropriate will improve your chances of focusing on the right things.
During your planning and throughout the day, assess when your body and mind work most effectively for a given task. I use early mornings to plan and write and afternoons to do interruptible work. What is “interruptible work?” It’s the work that requires very little cognitive time to move in and out of an activity. For example, cleaning out my Inbox or scanning the daily blogs to stay abreast of industry trends. What works for you is different than what works for me. The key thing is to find out when you are most productive for a given task and then plan accordingly.
When you understand how you work, schedule your meetings around these times? If your most productive time of day is 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m., then minimize the amount of meetings you hold during that time. Just because someone sends you a meeting request, doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Control what you can control.
4. Manage One Time Management System
A former colleague had a calendar for work items and another calendar for personal items. She always had problems planning events or double booking herself. Our work and home life are merging and so should our calendars. How often do you have a personal meeting (e.g. appointment at kid’s school or a doctors visit) during the work day or a work meeting with your counterparts in India at 9pm?
Have one system to see all your Contacts, Calendars, and Tasks on one device. I realize that some organizations have strict security protocols that make this challenging but there are often workarounds. I worked for one of the leading software security companies and was able to find a solution that met my needs as well as the organizations tight security rules. Talk to your IT department as companies are quickly adopting BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) policies to make this less of an issue.
5. Make a Routine for the Routine
Spend a week tracking all your mundane tasks and ask yourself, “Is there a better way to accomplish this task?” Every morning when I wake up, I turn on my computer and load up 4 websites, Outlook, and Word. All open up automatically. Does this save me a lot of time? A little. But finding 5 or 10 of these items starts to save more time. Financially savvy people are often frugal with their money. Time management savvy people are often frugal with their time.
Another is using templates. These can save hours on projects as you don’t have to recreate the same process over and over. I’ve integrated over 40 companies after a merger. While each one is slightly different, about 75 percent of the work can be carried over to the next acquisition. I had templates for Merger FAQs, Offer Letters, Project Plans, Communication Plans, etc…. Templates can save a significant amount of time the second or third time you complete a task but it does take extra time in the beginning. A little investment now will pay big dividends later.
An executive I worked with in the past said he never had time to go to the gym. That is, until he had a heart attack. Prior to that wakeup call, getting the heart pumping every morning wasn’t as important as that conference call. But, that conference call soon moved down the priority list when Life or Death became a bigger issue. He learned to better manage his day to make sure he could arrive at the gym every morning. Funny how that works.