Time management is an area in career and professional development where a small improvement can yield big gains for efficiency and success in the workplace. We constantly hear about the newest fad “productivity hacks” and quick fixes to alleviate our schedule woes—“once and for all”, they say. This is in our fast-paced (now mostly) digital economy, being efficient and productive is a very sought-after commodity, and something that most of us are constantly trying to tweak and improve. Productivity has fast become a top buzzword for defining how we go about achieving success, and we’re under no shortage of pressure from distractions coming at us from all sides—if you’re like most of us, your phone is usually dinging throughout the day with notifications for emails, texts, and social media posts.
It’s also something so broad that we often see the task of even attempting to improve in this realm as insurmountable. The key here is to focus on small, concise actions that will pay the biggest dividends.
While it’s true that time management is crucial for all employees to master, it’s perhaps most important for leaders to do so. As people who hold positions of power in a company, and have authority over people and decisions, you’re constantly inundated with requests for information, guidance, and approval. Not only do you have the business’ larger goals and vision to worry about, but you’re also dealing with any problems that can (and will) arise within your team. All of this combines to provide the typical leader in a business organization with little to no time to actually work on their prioritized tasks, and an abundance of stress of tardiness. When you don’t manage your time well, your company suffers, your employees suffer, your customers suffer, and more often than not, you suffer as well.
In order to avoid this, let’s look at a few strategies for combating this time-drought. These are by no means “miracle workers,” but they are small steps towards achieving a more peaceful disposition through improved time management.
1. Fire yourself from everything you don’t need to be directly involved in.
Simply put, let your team do their jobs. In theory, you’ve hired entirely capable candidates for the job, and you should trust them implicitly to carry out their duties successfully. This can be tough when you’re someone who tends to micromanage or worry about the little details. What you need to realize, though, is that every time you get stuck in the weeds, you take away time and energy from making the important decisions that only managers and leaders can make. The less time you spend micromanaging, the more time you have to “MACRO-manage”!
Time spent managing email inboxes is the scourge of the modern businessperson. While we can’t do away with email completely, there are some strategies to employ so that it doesn’t swallow your days whole.
- Set regular times to check emails, and don’t do it before or after that! You know that you can’t stop the influx of emails coming from every direction, and you have to be at peace with the fact that there will always be more emails to send and respond to. If you create blocks in your schedule where you specifically check email, you can make it seem more manageable. Set a timer and stop when it goes off. Even if you haven’t responded to EVERYTHING, just stop. It can wait until tomorrow. (Unless, of course, it’s something extremely urgent. In this case, try to start with those messages. If you notice them as your timer is going off, set another, shorter timer to keep you focused on responding to or sending emails that can have immediate negative consequences if left unchecked.)
- Create template emails. If you’re like most professionals, you probably find yourself sending more or less the same type of emails all the time. By creating templates for these, you can reduce time writing out the same messages time and time again. Be careful here, though, that you don’t erase your personality from these emails—you don’t want to start sounding like an auto-generated reply robot.
- Utilize email scheduling. One of the great features about a service like Gmail is the ability to schedule emails ahead of time. This allows you to block off time for writing emails, even if you know that they don’t need to be sent out at the time of writing. This allows you to be asynchronous in your email communications, and plan a few steps ahead so that you’re not constantly at the mercy of time sensitivity.
- Organize your inbox. This one’s pretty straightforward: organize your emails utilizing labels and folders—either by client, project, or however you see fit. You can even create separate inboxes if you admin several email accounts.
3. Calendar & Meetings
- Have an agenda. Know what the purpose of the meeting is, and what you hope or expect to accomplish once it’s over. If possible, further organize the meeting into blocks of time for each item or issue that needs to be discussed.
- Set shorter meeting times than you think you’ll need to get people to feel more of a sense of urgency. This may seem counterintuitive—to set less time for a meeting than thought necessary, but the funny thing is that meetings will actually be more productive and streamlined if everyone is aware of a time crunch. So much of our meeting time is spent on idle chatter or pointless brainstorming, where everyone throws out every single idea that comes to mind. Remind everyone of the time constraint at the beginning of the meeting to help keep conversation on-track.
- Book your meetings back to back. Similar to only emailing at a certain time, create a day or two where you take all your meetings in a block. While you may think “a day of meetings will be so boring!” It can actually help keep your brain on track as you switch between activities. Think of it this way, it’s difficult to concentrate on complex problems and tasks when you know you’ll be interrupted by the meeting you have later that afternoon. You’ll subconsciously be preparing for that meeting, which will take away focus from whatever is at hand. Scheduling your “meeting days” and “focus days” separately can optimize the time you have for both of those things.
4. Find your peak performance time.
- This one is a little trickier to measure externally, and it really is different for every person. You likely know when your peak performance times are, just as you know well your “afternoon slump” times. Save your peak performance times for thought-intensive activities like writing, decision making, and complex problem solving. Save the more mundane tasks, like responding to low-level emails, for your “slump times.”
- One of our Methods coaches, Dr. Raj, has a great concept about this in his Methods course, which you can find here in his Methods for Personal Mastery.
It’s no secret that we can’t control the inconstancy of the world and all its unpredictability; we’re always going to encounter things that set us back, whether a global crisis or something much smaller. When these things happen, it can be all too easy to let it derail your timetables and scramble your carefully crafted calendar, but that doesn’t mean we have to let that happen. While none of these tips will immediately fix all of your scheduling stress, it can help set you on a better path of being aware of where your big time-sucks are, and gives you some tools to help combat that. By being in charge of your time, you’re well on your way to becoming the most effective leader you can be.
As always, thank you for reading the Methods of Leaders Blog, we hope the knowledge in this article helps you become a better version of yourself.
If you want to learn step-by-step time management and productivity skills we recommend investing in yourself and your team with a Methods of Leaders membership.
Learn How-To Plan Your Day and How to Effectively Manage Your To-Do’s with Peter Bregman’s Methods of Leaders ‘Productivity’ Course
Sources of Inspiration:
- How to manage Your Time Effectively as a Workplace Leader
- 8 Tried and True Time Management Tips for Business Leaders
- 4 Simple Ways You Can Manage Your Time And Engage Your Team
- The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies
- Time Management Is About More Than Life Hacks