Time is finite.  We only have so much time in our day, and often feel like a victim to it.  We often reflect at the end of a day, where did all the time go?  Yet, we have choices in how we choose to spend our time.  If we focus on the mundane, easy, yet unimportant tasks, we are far less likely to complete the challenging, yet important tasks.  It’s all a matter of prioritization.

Of the leaders I coach, I often find time management is a top challenge.  The challenge of answering countless emails, playing phone tag with team members, and meetings cost us precious hours in our days.  Check out these fun facts from Cornerstone Dynamics illustrating the struggle is real.  You are not alone.

  • A manager on average spends 3 hours each day on interruptions
  • 20% of the average workday is spent on “crucial” and “important” things, while 80% of the average workday is spent on things that have “little value” or “no value”
  • In the last 20 years, working time has increased by 15% and leisure time has decreased by 33%

Tackle the Big Rocks First

One of my favorite tools to help leaders manage their time more effectively is a classic.

Stephen Covey and his organization have been talking about proactively managing time for decades.  In this video, they illustrate the concept of “Big Rocks.”  Covey’s team believes in two criteria to drive our choices on how we spend and prioritize our time – urgency and importance.  The “big rocks” are the important, yet often non-urgent tasks that are complex and have the most potential to create high impact.  As the video so effectively demonstrates is that we have more time when we prioritize the important, high impact tasks first.  Then, fill in our smaller, less important tasks around it.  Surprisingly, we have time to do all the tasks, as when we started with the more granular, less important tasks we ran out of time.

Leaders often share these proven time management strategies with me, and I also want to share them with you:

  • Touch the small, five-minute or less tasks once. The set-up time to orient yourself to a super small task, do something else, then return to the task and re-orient yourself costs extra time.  Just do the super small stuff, and be done with it.  As long as it is not a frequent interruption, it’s okay just to knock it out.
  • Schedule your time. For the more complex, important, high impact tasks, schedule time to do them.  Go to the office early or work late one day a week, or block holds on your calendar.  Create the time where you can focus to get it done.
  • Time chunking. Break big tasks down into smaller ones.  Rather than eating the whole elephant at once, which can be daunting and overwhelming, instead, define the first step and do that first.  Once completed, define the next step and do it.  After a few steps, you are far more likely to take more steps towards the big goal.
  • Mise en place. For those that enjoy cooking shows, you know that every good chef has an organized kitchen.  They have bowls with ingredients staged, and have a system to add the ingredients and prepare them.  The French phrase, “mise en place,” means everything in its place.  There’s a reason they are the best cooks on the planet.  I use a white board to organize my tasks, yet there are lots of options.  Use an organization method that works for you.
  • Use technology. Speaking of options, let technology be your friend.  Simply plugging tasks into your calendar or blocking time for “big rocks,” is key.  Clients of mine also use Panda Planners, and online apps like Evernote.  If you are an old school to-do list or post-it person, I challenge you to try a new tool and see if it can help.  What’s the worst that could happen?

Eat the Frog

A similar concept that’s also been around for years – Eat the Frog – uses the metaphor of a frog as our perceived most difficult tasks.  Often the “frog” is the last thing we want to do on our to-do list, and is the task we are most likely to procrastinate.  Eating it first provides energy for the rest of the day.  In fact, Brian Tracy estimates that 10-12 minutes invested in planning your day will save at least 2 hours of wasted time and effort throughout the day.  It takes on average 66 days to form new habits.  Try this for an extended period of time, and you will notice less stress, and better results, and maybe a little more leisure time in your day.

 Have a Healthy Morning Ritual

For us to feel effective with our time, we have to start the day off right.  That means having a positive, healthy morning ritual defined by you.  Instead of racing to your phone to respond to emails, or turning on the fear-driven news program, you need to have a few simple steps you will take each day to ensure success.

For me, when I travel and facilitate, this is essential.  I get up early, exercise for at least 20 minutes, eat a healthy breakfast, meditate using my positive affirmations, and set my goals for the day.  It is critical that I park the phone on the charger, away from the bed, and do these things before checking it or turning on the TV.  When I have done the reverse in the past, I find myself being pulled into other people setting my priorities and getting anxious and emotional before the day even begins.  It feeds our positive psyche to do more when we believe we are in control.

Want to learn more?  In addition to Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, my favorite reads on time management are The One Thing by Gary Keller and The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod.  They share wonderful principles to set your day up for success.

What is ONE thing you will do to more effectively manage your time?

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