Lining my bookshelves, you’ll find crisp new copies of books that promise to transform how I manage my time. Their uncracked spines taunt me as I rush by, trying to squeeze too much into my day.
So, I had to laugh (mostly at myself) when an advisor who participated in our most recent research, said the following was his greatest challenge.
TIME MANAGEMENT! I’m frustrated with my lack of progress in developing efficiency in my workday and I don’t want to pick up another time management book again.
I get it.
There are days when I spend an embarrassing amount of time staring at my to-do list and thinking about what I should do next, when I find myself investing hours in doing work that others could likely do better than me (if given a chance) and when I notice weeks slipping by without a minute of attention focused on my biggest goals.
How terribly human of me. It seems, however, that I’m not alone. In a recent AbsoluteEngagement.com study (results out soon!) just 11 percent of advisors said they spend three quarters of their time (or more) on the things that they – and only they – can do.
Time Management Isn’t About Time
I won’t be the first person (and almost certainly not the last) to point out that time management issues have little to do with time. Just as often they’re about priorities (or lack thereof) or delegation (or lack thereof). And while I don’t claim to have all the answers, there are some changes I’ve made that have helped enormously. I wanted to share those with you.
Strategy, Structure and Personal Efficiency
To get started we should acknowledge that time management is really about productivity and there are three distinct types of productivity.
- Strategic productivity is about knowing what you want to accomplish and focusing attention on moving the needle on your biggest goals.
- Structural productivity is about getting the right team and processes in place to allow you to focus on the things that you – and only you – can do to drive the business forward.
- Personal productivity is about structuring your day (and your inbox) to ensure you are operating as effectively as possible.
I outlined these in more detail in a previous post. Click here for more on that.
There’s an order and a logic to tackling these different forms of productivity and it starts, at the top of the list, with what you are trying to accomplish in your business or your life.
Here are my three quick(ish) hits on productivity that, at a minimum, have helped me focus on the right things.
Idea #1: Get Clear on the Big Goals
The first idea is all about strategic productivity. Time management, in this case, is about focusing on the right things.
- Clearly identify the achievements that, if accomplished in the next 12 months, will have the greatest impact on your life. The goals should be as specific as possible and may relate to your business, your family or your health. For example, one of my goals is to write a book this year and I’ve mapped the steps out in detail. Other goals relate to health and business and all have clear timelines. Avoid goals like ‘grow the business’ but focus on the activities that will, in fact, grow the business.
- Identify the one next step you need to take to advance each goal.
- Put those steps front and center. You want to ensure that every day, when you are looking at the long list of tasks you need to accomplish, you are reviewing the ‘next steps’ as well.
I have my goals at the top of my daily list and I look at my progress every day even if it’s a fleeting glance. As a result, I know that I’m working on something (even if it’s small) that will push one or more of those goals forward each and every day. You’ll be amazed at how the simple act of reviewing those big goals every day changes where you focus your time.
Idea #2: Assign Accountabilities Not Tasks
The second idea is all about structural productivity. Time management, in this case, is about creating room to focus on the right things.
This tactic demands that you ‘get over yourself’. To execute on structural efficiency, many of us need to stop delegating tasks and start defining “accountabilities”. And that means ceding some control.
Rather than assigning tasks to your team, make others accountable for key projects or processes, leaning on you when your unique skills are required. There’s no doubt it takes time to train people on what you want and expect but the payoff is huge.
For example, we recently launched a new program and while I was heavily involved in the development, I don’t need to manage all the details post launch. To transition to someone else on the team, I mapped out all the key tasks and goals associated with the program in a spreadsheet so everything in my head was documented. Then I identified which tasks I felt I should do and gave someone else responsibility for making everything else happen. Taking the time to create that document was critical.
Now I’m “reporting to” my team on the overall process and I can stop thinking about what needs to happen next.
Idea #3 Start Fast
The third idea is all about personal productivity. Time management, in this case, is about eliminating some waste in the day.
While I know we all struggle with increasing personal productivity I’ve given in to some of the things I do wrong (like using my inbox as a filing system). However, the one thing that has had a significant impact for me is identifying my 3-5 ‘must complete’ activities the night before.
This tactic draws on the ‘big rock’ theory that Hyrum Smith wrote about in the 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management. As a result, when I sit down at my desk in the morning, I know exactly what I need to do first, second and third. I don’t stop to think about what I should be working on first or between each project.
I do take mental breaks throughout the day to do smaller tasks and magically those all get done. When I focused on the small things first, in an effort to tick things off my list, the bigger things kept getting moved to the next day.
If I were to recommend any book on time management I would, like thousands of others, say David Allen’s Getting Things Done. The focus of that book is really personal productivity. And while I don’t want to diminish the importance of his ideas (they are superb), I do think that we need to focus first on strategy and structure. If we don’t, we run the risk of getting to the wrong place faster.
Thanks for stopping by,