God only knows how many articles have been written about how to save time, how to manage your time, how to raise your performance, etc. I wanted to give you some techniques that work. I recommend these techniques to my clients, and they absolutely work. If you put each of these techniques to work for you, you WILL become more productive, immediately. Why? Because they work. They are time-tested, and I have seen many smart young executives put these into practice and gain benefits nearly immediately! Give them a read, and then give them a chance to help YOU to raise the level of YOUR game!
Assess/Plan/Act – If you’re going to improve your management of the time available to you, it will require you to first determine how much of your available time you are wasting. This is easily done by tracking your time for a week or two and then putting down how you spent your time in fifteen-minute increments. Limit yourself to 8-10 categories. Track how you’re spending your time and put each fifteen-minute chunk into a bucket, one for each category. Don’t over-analyze, just do it. Suggested categories: Meetings, Sales, Marketing, Serving Others, Planning, Communicating, Managing, Leading, Performing Work, etc. Don’t try to create too many categories, keep it simple. Once you have tracked your time for a week or two, you are ALWAYS going to be surprised by how you invested your time. You’ll be amazed by how much time you invested poorly, leading to waste. Once you have determined how much time you’re wasting, and how you’re wasting time, change your priorities for the better. Plan your next week by focusing on the most important, most leveraged activities and putting those on the calendar first. Also, put an hour each day onto your calendar to handle the unexpected. Some days you won’t need it, but most days you will. Once you have the plan worked out, take positive actions and invest your time wisely by sticking to your priorities as much as possible. Find where you’re wasting time and eliminate it, and do it NOW!
Invest in Yourself First – You cannot be at your best unless you take care of yourself first. Get some rest. Get some exercise. Eat a sensible diet. You want to act like your body is an essential asset if you want it to perform like a Lamborghini. If you don’t sleep, you cannot be at your best. Likewise, take a day off and recharge your battery every once in a while. All work and no play makes Jack a very tired, very crabby, dull executive, right? Finally, invest in your long-term success by staying aggressive with training by studying your industry and reading regularly. Also, invest in yourself by finding someone to coach or mentor you so that you can achieve your highest potential. Build long-term relationships based on trust that will help you to surround yourself with helpful, ardent supporters who want you to win.
You Cannot Go It Alone – Enlist others in helping you to build your productivity. Too many new executives become the junk drawer in their company when they get promoted to management. Don’t take on everyone else’s problems and bury yourself in busy work. People will bring their problems to you as long as you let them. That does NOT mean that you must become the problem solver for all of the people around you. If you adopt a policy of only allowing your teammates to bring you a problem when they also bring a thoughtful remedy, you will not end up with an office full of problems that require you to work late to handle them for your peers. Encourage your team to learn to think critically and to solve their OWN problems. Delegate wisely to the people who work in your organization, and do it with solid forward thinking and planning. You must develop the people around you so that they will be motivated to help and eager to stretch their skills. Give your teammates challenging and meaningful work that will stretch them, and they will be ready to handle critically challenging and difficult work for you when the time comes. Do not seek to go it alone, get your colleagues to collaborate and help you to succeed by setting a great example, and helping them the RIGHT way.
A Calendar Is a Great Tool – Leverage your calendaring tool wisely, whatever it is. Put time on your calendar to handle for the most important work first, and let the rest take second priority. Place an appointment on your calendar every day for an hour to handle the unexpected. When the unexpected interruption comes along, you can pivot from scheduled work if need be, and then use the hour on your calendar to get your higher priority done. Stop procrastination in its tracks by putting the most important things onto your calendar, and then getting them done. Simply putting the tasks that you need to get done on your calendar, reduces the chance of procrastination dramatically. At the end of the day, review how your day went, looking for signs of waste. If you find waste, use that fresh knowledge to ensure that tomorrow goes better. Eliminate waste from your calendar, and you will quickly find that you have more free time during the day for work that delivers a positive impact.
Focus and Leverage Your Energy Efficiently – A significant number of great business leaders (Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Harvey Mackay, etc.) have stated that the most important thing they have done which contributed to their success was to focus. Do likewise. When you focus, you set in motion a repeatable routine that allows you to work on the most important, most highly leveraged activities. Recognize that your body and brain are wired to be most efficient in 50-90 minute increments and that you can get into the Zen-like state of “Flow.” However, if you keep grinding away on work, eventually (around the 60-minute mark), your energy and focus begin to dwindle. Work in 60-90 minute spurts, separated by 15-minute breaks that allow you to visit the restroom, hydrate, take a walk, relax, etc. By getting focused and by planning to use your energy in the most efficient way possible, you will notice that your productivity will increase significantly.
Own Your Priorities – Only you can ensure that you are working on the most important thing at any given moment. Don’t make excuses, don’t play the victim card, and don’t blame your boss for your choices. They are YOUR choices, and as a talented executive, you need to take ownership of them. Make the best choices you can, period. That’s one of the things that we get paid for, making great choices and great decisions. OWN THEM! You have the power to get systematic about how you work, how you think, and most of all, how you decide what to do now, and what to do next. Commit to continuous improvement of your work processes. Commit to making courageous decisions about what to say YES to, and more importantly, what to say NO to. When you say NO, make sure that you are looking out for the interests of the greater good. Make sure you say no in a way that shows that you’d prefer to say yes, but you can’t because you have greater priorities. OWN your priorities.
Well, that’s a pretty potent list of changes that YOU can make, starting right now. The list will ensure that you can make a quantum leap forward in your productivity. You can move from working hard, to working with an intelligent plan, one that is designed to bring out your VERY BEST! You will notice an immediate difference if you put each of these best practices into use. Better yet, the people around you in your life and your career will ALSO notice an immediate, measurable difference and be thankful. It’s up to you. These best practices will make you better and make you faster. Remember this; nobody can do this for you. Do you have the motivation to do this for yourself and your team? I know you can, but again, nobody can do it but you. You’re going to have to decide to do it for yourself. I hope that you will.
Send me a note or add a comment to this article and let me know what the impact is for you personally and professionally. If you’re one of the many clients who I’ve worked on Choice Management with and you want to share your story about how you improved YOUR productivity, please do!
Michael Beach is a business advisor who specializes in developing outstanding management skills and leadership abilities in Emerging Leaders, those high performing individual contributors whose company intends to promote into management and leadership positions. Michael’s approach to developing the next generation of leaders is extraordinarily successful. So much so that he offers his clients a performance guarantee. What are YOU doing to develop the next generation of leaders in YOUR company? If you’re not doing anything currently, or if you’re not doing enough, or if you worry that you’re not doing it the best way possible, you should contact Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.