Everyone claims to be "so busy" these days. The truth is we make time for what's important to us.
If you want to get in better shape, you make time for it. If you want to coach employees, you make time for it. If you want to improve the relationship with your spouse, you make time for it.
If that wasn't enough, every person, regardless of their role, has 24 hours a day, so making more time isn't possible.
However, based on preliminary research by LearnLoft, "Time and Priority Management" is one of the top three challenges facing leaders today. The reason it's such a massive problem is because managers are thinking about time management all wrong. Most managers try to manage time with a clock and a calendar. While it makes sense on the surface, it doesn't work in reality because you lead in a world of complexity. You navigate:
This complexity makes a perfect schedule with a start and end time nearly impossible. But, as I tell all my coaching clients, it's time to think differently about time management as a leader.
Stop managing your time, start managing your energy and attention.
When leaders start managing the energy and priorities that require their attention, their time is well spent. This is precisely why the best leaders prioritize their people.
If time management for leaders were simple, there wouldn't be thousands of books a year written on the topic. Brian Tracy's book, "Eat That Frog," or Gary Keller's book, "The One Thing," are also fantastic resources. But, like leadership, if it were easy, everyone would do it well.
One of the best ways to shift your thinking on the topic is to focus on significant tasks versus just making a daily to-do list. Author Rory Vaden, MBA CSP CPAE Vaden taught a principle that will change how you think about time management as a leader:
What are the things you can do of significance today that will create more time tomorrow?
Instead of just knocking out tasks, can you prioritize tasks of significance that will create more time for you tomorrow? For example, since many managers have tasks like running reports or getting status updates, they should prioritize tasks today that would automate or implement a system to would reduce the steps and time in the future. Thus creating more time tomorrow.
A great way to explore this concept in your job is to look at your current "To-Do" list and ask yourself, "what on this list, if I do today, would create more time in the future?"
If you're a leader, you are in the people business. Which means your world isn't built around automating tasks. Instead, you must create space to lean into substantive things like building trust and strong relationships.
Please write down or highlight what you are about to read. Building trust and developing a relationship with team members is a good use of time, energy, and attention. The reason why is relationships aren't meant to be optimized because you don't build strong relationships by being efficient. Stephen Covey famously said, "You can be efficient with things but not people. With people, you must be effective."
"You can be efficient with things but not people. With people, you must be effective." - Stephen Covey
Eleven years ago, when I had my first kind, a mentor told me something I will never forget, "Kids spell love TIME." These wise words always stood out to me because most professionals spell care the exact same way kids do.
Many companies are amid layoffs and asking employees to do more than ever before. For example, Facebook just asked some managers and directors to take on a full-time or partial individual contributor role or quit.
The move to player-coach is here to stay for most organizations, making managing time and attention even more difficult for leaders. This is because professionals default their behavior to the activities for which they were hired, how they are measured, or what would cause them to be fired.
Professionals default their behavior to the activities for which they are measured.
Take a sales manager as an example. They will default to selling versus leading if they have responsibilities for revenue production and leading a sales team. It doesn't mean they don't care about people or are unwilling to help others perform at high levels, but it won't be their top priority.
If you find yourself in this position, Instead of trying to perfectly divide your time 50/50 (stop managing your time, start managing your energy and attention,) dedicate a percentage of your mental bandwidth to helping other people achieve their goals. Invite reps to your meetings or sales calls so they can learn and develop while you are selling.
There are many fantastic time management systems; my favorite is The Eisenhower Matrix:
Instead of going deep into the Eisenhower Matrix, the key is that you have a system and you stick to it. If you want some simple ways to manage your energy and attention better, here are two of my favorites:
Stay Out Of Your Inbox: One of the most significant mistakes leaders make is being attached to their email or married to looking at every notification. There is absolutely nothing wrong with email, slack, or social media. They are essential communication tools. However, your productivity nosedives when you have your email open or are checking it constantly. Leaders who do this work on someone else's priorities instead of focusing on things to help their team succeed.
If email is the primary communication channel, set a new standard with your team, "if you need something urgent, text, call, or come by my desk." You will be amazed at how they meet and exceed the standard.
Reduce Arranged Meetings: There is nothing wrong with collaborative meetings that solve problems, share innovative ideas, and have healthy conflict. In fact, those kinds of meetings are ones that teams need more of. Conversely, leaders' calendars are filled with repetitive meetings that should have been summarized in an email.
Not only do these arranged meetings crush productivity, but it also hurts the quality of work produced. Adam Grant wrote, "Success isn't about getting more things done, it's about doing more worthwhile things well."
Success isn't about getting more things done, it's about doing more worthwhile things well. - Adam Grant.
Remove as many recurring meetings as possible that don't involve building stronger, more collaborative relationships with people.
Time management is a problem, and it will continue to be a problem. The sheer amount of things grasping for your attention continues to increase. So it's your job as a leader to keep the main thing the main thing which is to prioritize your people.
I'd love to hear from you:
What is your secret to managing energy and attention versus time?
What are the things that stop you from prioritizing your people?
John is the CEO of LearnLoft, author of, F.M.L. Standing Out & Being a Leader and host of the 'Follow My Lead' Podcast. He writes or has been featured on Inc.com, LinkedIn Pulse, TrainingIndustry.com, eLearningIndustry.com, CNBC Money, and more. John completed his education at the University of Maryland College.