Look at your appointment calendar. See any “white space” there? If you’re like most busy CEOs and business professionals, you are booked non-stop for meetings, luncheons, dinner meetings, charity functions, planning sessions and… Well, you get the idea. In between the bookings, you scramble to keep up with projects, reviews, financial reports, investors, staff, customers and suppliers.
Tired yet? This weariness can wreak havoc on your business. Consider the symptoms of fatigue: lack of innovation, irritability, reduced productivity, and stress. The list goes on. And we are frequently unaware of how run down we are getting.
We are moving away from the industrial age into the information age, yet the work ethic that most of us grew up with taught us to maximize work time — time at the factory or the office. Even our language reflects the inherent value judgment of time away from work. We call non-work time “off-time” or “down-time”.
The emergence of creativity, ideas, and information as our most valuable resources, and the pervasiveness of the global, 24-hour business world has changed our concept of “time equals money.” Now, it’s “results equals money.” And we all know that more time at the office does not mean more results. In fact, it often means fewer results and more mistakes.
Build some “white space” in your life. Build reserves of time. Create more-than-enough time to do the things you want and need to do.
Plugging the Leaks
Let’s get something straight first. Building a reserve of something you need in your life is only one part of the puzzle. The other piece is to identify what is draining your reserves. If you’re pouring into the top of a leaky bucket, you won’t make much progress.
Let’s look at how to create reserves of time. Many of my new coaching clients complain of having too little time. Their “time tank” is running on empty, so they feel uptight, frustrated, flustered, pulled in every direction, and tired. Often, this is the first thing we work on together. Clearly, a reserve of time would reduce the stress. So, how do you do it?
Start by plugging the leaks. Let go of some of the activities that are consuming your time. Many of today’s high performers seem to have a common thread: the “Superman/Superwoman” ideal; i.e., Taking on everything and trying to get it done by tomorrow. Success or failure seems to be measured by the state of busyness. Face it, you can’t do justice to everything at once and you often don’t have perspective of all you have going on. It’s like tossing another ball to the juggler…33 at once for the average busy executive. Focus on what counts. Take aggressive action to let go. Here are some possibilities:
- Let go of tasks that someone else can do. Good delegation is a key skill for managers, yet the average manager spends 45% of his or her time on tasks that could be done by a staffer. “I can do it better and faster”, you say. Sure you can, but ultimately, you are judged on what you can cause to happen, not just what you can do on your own. As a general rule of thumb, in non-critical cases, if another person can accomplish a task 80% as well as you, delegate.
- Let go of your need to say “Yes” to every request. Those around you will give you all the work you are willing to take. This is true in both our business and personal lives. Some of the most stressed people around can’t say no to the next fund-raiser, the next committee, the Little League, the church, etc., etc., etc. Politely, but firmly say “No”. Examine all the organizations where you spend your time. Which ones can you “let go”?
- Let go of some meetings. The typical executive spends 17 hours each week in meetings plus 6.3 hours getting ready for those meetings. Nearly a third of that time in meetings is wasted. That works out to be about six full weeks of the year of useless meeting time. You’ve seen the symptoms: hastily called meetings, no ending time stated, no agenda, no official record of what was done or said, no followup. If even one hour per week is saved, it could mean two additional effective workdays per year! Skip some of the meetings or send someone else.
- Let go of interruptions. Interruptions can drain 1-2 hours a day. Rather than spend time with anyone who happens to stop by, close the door, turn off the phone or work from home one day a week.
- Let go of the clutter. Is your desk or credenza piled with pending and unfinished work that will be done when you “get around to it?” The average businessperson spends 3 hours each week looking for things plus 2 hours being distracted by the stuff lying around. The most effective people work from a clean desk. Having an uncluttered desk helps you stay focused on your most important project.
- Let go of useless tasks. Quit doing some of the routine things you do just because “that’s what I’ve always done.” Practice good priority management. Plan each day to stay focused on those tasks that will move you toward your goals. Watch for tasks that can be delegated or simply dropped.
- Let go of “Crises management.” Ever feel that you’re leaving a trail of unfinished projects, unreturned phone calls, unread mail, partially completed reports? Crises arise from a job we left unfinished to work on another unfinished task. Another term for crisis management is “fire fighting.”
Most of this is really caused by losing focus of true priorities. Learn to tell the difference between “urgent” and “important.”
Bottom line: Many people pay a heavy price for their success — poor health, failed marriages, neglected friendships, no personal development in any area except business. Start today to plug the leaks and create ample reserves of time for yourself.
Gary Lockwood is a Vistage Chair and the author of the “BizSuccess Strategy Book.” He publishes two popular newsletters for CEOs, business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals. Gary is an experienced business coach, facilitator and speaker.