When leaders are asked about the top challenges they’re dealing with, “time management” will usually make the list. It’s a common experience for leaders to feel stressed about not having enough time in the day to get everything done.
Most of the time, the solution is not found just in the mechanics of time management but in the mindset behind it.
Let’s explore both negative and positive time management mindsets and then unpack four time management tips that you can consider adding or adapting into your current time management practices.
Negative Time Management Mindsets
We consistently hear many leaders describe the following mindsets about time. Which ones of these are you experiencing?
- I am overwhelmed.
- I am spending too much time at work or thinking about work.
- I feel disorganized and am in constant responder mode.
- I have too many meetings.
- My work and life are conflicting.
- I feel like I am always putting out fires.
- My work is usually done in between a series of interruptions.
- I really want to be more effective not just efficient.
- I say ‘yes’ too much and am spread thin.
- I am not sure how to make decisions about what to do and what not to do.
- I hear myself saying to others “I’m so busy.”
Take heart! These are all common challenges and there are solutions. One way of thinking about time is viewing it as a limited resource that you can never get back. This view can lead to a scarcity mindset and selfish time management practices.
“Being busy is a form of laziness – lazy thinking and indiscriminate action. Being overwhelmed is often as unproductive as doing nothing, it is far more unpleasant. Being selective – doing less – is the path of the productive. Focus on the important few and ignore the rest.”
~Tim Ferris, The Four-Hour Workweek
Positive Time Management Mindsets
Another way of thinking about time is viewing it as a compounding interest investment that multiplies time for what and who matters the most. This view can lead to an abundance mindset and servant-leadership time management practices.
Here are some mindsets about time that can be adopted into your thinking. Which ones of these do you want to cultivate?
- I can live and work with focus.
- I am investing the right amount of time at work and can turn off work when at home or at play.
- I am organized and can initiate toward priority actions.
- I can influence leaders to design highly productive meetings.
- I can plan and execute highly productive meetings.
- My work and life will blend smoothly.
- I will choose what is most important and reduce unnecessary fires.
- I can reduce interruptions and stay focused on one thing at a time.
- I can be effective in my life and leadership while also being efficient.
- I will only say ‘yes’ to the most strategic people and projects.
- I will determine my life focus and make decisions in harmony with my vision, mission, and values.
- I will hear myself saying to others “I am with you and for you.”
“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
~ Steve Jobs
Right now, which mindset will you choose moving forward?
☐ Option 1: Negative mindset, scarcity, stress, busy, and unfulfilling.
☐ Option 2: Positive mindset, abundance, health, focus, and fulfilling.
4 Time Management Tips for Busy Leaders
As leaders, we already have competencies in how we manage our time. We may just need some strategic micro-adjustments to experience the benefits we are looking for.
As a result of coaching hundreds of leaders, here are my top four time management tips for busy leaders to consider:
1. Write down your life focus
A written life focus is much like a business plan. It gives your life focus, momentum, and direction. Very few leaders whom I have coached have a written life focus, although they all agree it is important.
- Life Purpose: Why do I exist?
- Life Values: How do I behave? What is most important to me?
- Life Mission: What do I do?
- Life Roles: What are my roles in life?
- Life Relationships: Who are the most important people in my life?
- Life Goals: What is most important right now?
- Life Results: What does the fulfilled dream / desired result look like?
WinShape Coaches can walk with you to help you design your life focus.
2. Assess your current time use
Track what you actually do in one week and see what you observe. It is laborious, but you will gain helpful insights. One helpful tool to track your time is to use this free work hours tracker.
- If your actual schedule and time use was used to reverse engineer your life focus, what would it say?
- How much alignment do you have between your aspirational life focus and your actual life focus?
- What adjustments do you want to make?
3. Evaluate your list and decide to: Do, Delay, Delegate, or Delete
“The basic value proposition of Essentialism: only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.”
~ Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less
Once you have your list, make a wise decision about what you can immediately delete. Then decide what you can delay. From there, determine the items which you can delegate or hire someone else to do.
Part of delegating is training someone to effectively do the job. You can’t just give it to them and expect them to execute without modeling, training, and coaching.
Now you have a true to-do list!
4. Commit to a consistent weekly/daily planning time
Walter Elliot said, “Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.”
One of the most practical and helpful time management practices is to have a planning time. This is a dedicated time each week and day where you make multiple strategic decisions at once.
When you have a good weekly and daily plan then you can be flexible and spontaneous when needed.
Here are some tips to consider when doing a planning time.
- Nail down a consistent day of the week, time, and place which will not be changed. The beginning of the week seems to work the best for many people.
- Look over last week and write down 3 highlights. Learn from the past and plan for the future.
- In your discretionary time for this week, decide on the 3 top tasks you must do. This is where you make decisions about Do, Delay, Delegate, and Delete.
- Schedule these priority tasks for when you are the most alert and energized.
- Daily decide your top 3 tasks and do them one at a time until finished. What you don’t finish can flow into the next available block of time.
- For anything scheduled like regular meetings, think it through in the Planning Time and write down how you want to show up and what part you want to play.
- The regular planning time is like a short race that will allow you to persevere toward living the life you are called to live. This is the intentional life that will allow you and others to flourish and thrive.