Many of us feel like we are firefighters rather than contractors on a typical workday. We arrive in the morning with the intention of completing a to-do list, only to spend much of our time putting out others’ fires. Then, when everyone else heads home, we finally have some time to get our work done. We work late just to keep our heads above water.
Time management issues arise repeatedly. As leaders, we do what it takes to achieve our goals. But in most cases, the accomplishments come at the expense of something else. Our time is valuable, so why don’t we put forth more effort to preserve and protect it?
So how can we get out of firefighting mode, focus on success and still be there for everything else important? This goes beyond turning off the phone when you leave the office. It is about designing an ideal week and day to create the right balance of productivity and purpose.
Working backward from the goal
The process I like to use takes a bit of reverse engineering. First, we have to answer, “What is your life goal?” Is it to retire with a certain amount of money in the bank, retire at a certain age or make enough money to give back and help others? Having a clear understanding of your goal helps set the course for everything else.
The next step is where our clients can get a little uncomfortable. We ask them, “What does success look like?” We typically have them close their eyes and describe as detailed a picture as possible. What are the physical aspects of this picture, where are they, who are they with and what are they doing? But more important, what are the image’s emotional aspects, how do they feel and how do those around them feel?
With a clear picture of success, we can begin to determine if what they are doing today will get them closer to their target. Some of you are probably saying to yourself that this will never work because your days and weeks are never the same. I won’t argue with that. But if you have a framework you can rely on most of the time, you can get to the finish line quicker and more efficiently.
How would you describe your ideal day and week? What would you like to accomplish by 5 p.m. Friday? How would you feel? How much time would you spend working toward your goal? How much time would be consumed with interruptions and putting out other people’s fires?
The research phase is next. We use a time-study tool to keep track of how our clients use their time daily and weekly by breaking the day into 15-minute intervals. The aim is to conduct the study for a minimum of two weeks.
Where are the disconnects?
Using the data from the time study, determine where there are disconnects. What items must you do, what items can you delegate and what items should you delete? First, look for blocks of time or repeated instances of time-wasters that can and should be eliminated.
Next, focus on what truly needs to get done. The rest of the tasks should fall into one of two buckets: “do” or “delegate.” The do tasks have high strategic value and move the business closer to its goals. These tasks are the ones you do best. Also in this category are the tasks that take you only a minute or two to do, but require more time and energy to postpone or delegate to someone else.
Knowing when to delegate
The second bucket is what we can delegate. When you delegate, you assign the authority to complete the task to someone else. You are not as concerned with the means and methods to accomplish the task as you are with the outcome. This clears the task from your plate and fosters growth for others. You set the parameters and let them figure out how to get it done.
Lastly, look at the time study and determine if there are any trends or patterns in the fires that continue to come up and consume time. As we identify these fires, what do we need to put in place to prevent them in the first place? Do we need to add resources, provide training or just set boundaries for what truly is an emergency?
There is no universal solution to managing your time. Using a time-study tool lets you peer deeper into how time is allocated and how to take control of it. As with any personal development tool, this isn’t a one-time fix, but a framework that should be used sometimes to ensure you are maximizing your efforts and finding the right balance between productivity and purpose.