By Heidi Pozzo
Time is your most valuable resource. It is the only thing you cannot get more of. As a leader, how you spend your time has a tremendous impact on the success of the company. A study conducted by CEO.com indicates that CEOs work 57.8 hours per week, and spend 2.5 hours every day in meetings. A separate study conducted by UC Irvine found that people get interrupted, by their own doing or by others, every three minutes and generally it took 23 minutes to resume their work. That’s a lot of distractions and meetings.
Imagine if you were able to get some time back by operating more efficiently. When focused on the right things, you can quickly accelerate the growth and profitability of the business. If you spend your time on the wrong things, you signal to your organization that it is ok to waste time and focus on the wrong things. In this article, I’ll highlight five common time sucks and how you can deal with them.
The Urgent Request
The urgent request can come from anywhere. It can be from a customer, a board member, a banker, an analyst, another department head, etc. It doesn’t matter where in the organization you are, there is always someone who can make an urgent request of you. The thing is, the urgent request may not always be urgent. And it may not always be a request. It may be a curiosity. Or it may be a flag that there is a larger question that you need to understand and address.
Before reallocating resources (yours or others), ask the following questions:
- Do you actually need to respond to the request?
- Why is the request being made?
- What is the real request?
- What is the real timeline?
- Can you satisfy the request with something that already exists?
Many times when asking these questions, you will find that the request is not actually urgent or you can answer the question that is being posed without extra effort. You’ll regain a tremendous amount of time for you and your team.
Countless hours are spent in meetings that run much longer than they need to, include people that could be doing other things or don’t need to happen at all. These meetings may be recaps of actions that have already been taken, where focus will be going forward, etc. In other words, they are information updates that can be handled through a recap circulated via email. Effective meetings should be action oriented, focused and include the right people.
Elements that make a meeting effective include:
- Agenda with meeting objectives
- Pre-read materials for any decisions that are going to be made
- Discussions focused on topics that need a decision
- A brief opportunity for questions/clarifications needed on actions already taken (note: this should be brief and materials included in pre-read)
- For one-on-one meetings, there should be a clear purpose and follow the above points
- If participants are not ready, the meeting should be postponed until it is an effective use of time by all
By critically looking at the meetings you hold and those you attend, you may be able to recapture hours of your week.
Email is one of the biggest time sucks that exist. Senior executives regularly get more than 100 emails a day. If you spent 5 minutes on each email, you would spend your entire day just on email. But the contents of email are many times not actually urgent (although it feels that way), and not important.
Here are a few actions you can take to reduce the amount of time spent on email:
- Turn off alarms that tell you when you have new mail
- Establish norms in your company that people use cc sparingly
- In the subject line, include commentary as to what action is needed (Decision needed by, etc)
- Only check your email twice a day for no more than 30 minutes each
- Set up filters and flags to help you focus and prioritize
- Know when to pick up the phone and have a quick conversation rather than having a back and forth on email.
You can reclaim hours of time daily by changing how and when you use email. It is a tool and should not drive your daily schedule. By setting 30 minutes in the morning and the afternoon on your calendar each day, you’ll find you are more efficient and focused in how you manage the flow of information.
Drop By Visitors
Having an open door policy is a great thing. Unless it stops you from accomplishing your priorities. In reality, there are times to keep your door open, and other times to keep it closed to allow you to focus and quickly accomplish items that require undisturbed time. Everyone has a time of the day that works best to concentrate. For many, it is in the morning. Understanding what works best for you is critical to being able to quickly move through items that need your focus. Conversely, the times when you are least productive should be the time for drop by visitors.
Here are some steps to managing drop by visitors:
- Make it well known the times that the door is open for people to drop by and block that on your calendar
- Friday afternoons many times work well for drop by visitors and walking around to see people
- Close the door during times you have set aside for quiet time
- Ensure that you are focused on completing your tasks during closed door time and not getting distracted by other activities
- If people try to interrupt your closed door time, politely redirect them to open door time or scheduling a meeting
By minimizing interruptions in your day, you will be able to accomplish tasks that need your attention and focus much more clearly.
Doing It Yourself
As you’ve moved up the ladder, you have likely done the roles of those that now report to you. In some cases, you may be able to do it better because your staff is new to the role. It is not possible for you to do your job and the job of your staff. And job satisfaction will decline for both you and your staff if you try to do their work. The typical excuse that comes along with this topic is you can do it faster. And that is probably true. But, if you do it yourself, you are not doing something that you should be doing.
When you have the urge to do something that is the role of others, take the following actions:
- Ask yourself if this is your job
- If the answer is no, teach the right person how to do it
- Set expectations around what the result should look like
- Allow follow up for questions and clarifications
- Be clear on timelines for completion
Delegation is one of the most important things that you can do to free up your time. It will take some work at the beginning to train your team in the skills and expectations. When done well, this frees up your time tremendously. It builds confidence, trust and engagement in your team.
Call to Action
Time sucks can easily creep into your day and consume massive amounts of time. As a leader, it is critical to ensure you are focused on the right things. With some effort by looking at the five time sucks listed above, you can free up a significant amount of time in your schedule to focus on higher value areas. If you aren’t sure if time is being spent the right way, add up the cost of the people in the room, the cost of the room, etc. Would you pay that much money out of your pocket to spend the time that way? If the answer is no, get rid of doing things that way. How are you going to take charge of your time and get the best return for it?
Copyright © 2017 Heidi Pozzo – All Rights Reserved
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Heidi Pozzo is a strategy and performance improvement consultant. She has helped transform businesses by connecting the people in the company to the strategy, resulting in significant increases in earnings and business value. To find out more about her services,
or call 360-355-7862.