Unless you have always dreamed of being in the Olympics, sprinting from meeting to meeting is not how you want to spend your day.
I think we all can agree that you’re over the marathon meetings, scarfing down lunch at your desk, and busywork that takes up most of your time. Yet, there’s an assumption that a full schedule comes with the territory when you’re a leader.
Should this always be the case, though?
What if you had more time to focus your energy on what’s important and not the next “emergency”? Fortunately, this is possible!
Here’s how you can gain control of your time and create more white space in your calendar.
1. Delegate Anything and Everything
One of our mottos is to maximize your three most valuable resources: Time, Talent, and Technology. It is such a misuse of talent when highly strategic thinkers or great salespeople work on tedious tasks. So, as an efficiency expert, I encourage our leadership clients to “only do what only you can do.” Everything else should be delegated or automated.
Let me give you a specific example.
While coaching my client Doug, a managing partner at a law firm, we talked about personal time management. When the topic of delegating tasks came up, he said, “I delegate when I have to.”
That was when I had a light bulb moment. I realized that leaders need to delegate anything and everything they can—not just when they “need” to.
My pivotal moment turned out to be important for Doug as well. After implementing the techniques that I taught him, Doug gained 2.5 billable hours back into his day and increased his team’s efficiency by 30%. What’s even better? He’s been able to sustain this change for four years—and counting!
Sure, it was a major shift. But if you’re willing to change your behavior—and embrace delegating work that other people can do—the results are amazing.
2. Learn How to Say No
Business mogul Warren Buffett has a famous saying: “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
While this is so true, it’s sometimes hard to know when you should say no to requests that are a few months out because you don’t know your full workload yet. (This is when white space in your calendar is not your friend).
So, what do you do? Learn from your past mistakes and set boundaries going forward.
For instance, if you had a crazy month of traveling back-to-back weeks, which caused major disruption to your family life, somewhere in the decision-making process was a misjudgment of your time. You didn’t establish boundaries that would warn you that you’re way over your limit.
Even if your schedule looks pretty open at the time of a request, know that more work is coming—and it will fill in that white space in your calendar.
This is why setting boundaries is important (e.g., limit travel to two times a month). When in place, they allow you to make informed decisions—even if your calendar looks wide-open.
It is easy to say yes when you see white space in your calendar. But you also need to have contingency time available if something important comes up. So, use the word no to keep within your limits and manage your time.
3. Increase Your Efficiency
Now, that we’re clear on the importance of saying no, let’s focus on turning you into a lean mean efficiency machine, incorporating one of our mottos: Prioritize, Eliminate, Automate and Delegate.
Prioritizing work sounds simple enough, right? But this “simple” task can be challenging (especially for leaders who see opportunity in everything).
Here’s the thing: Creating a culture of organizational productivity starts at the top. Management must set clear priorities for the company so that the departments can create goals that are in alignment with the big picture. These goals should drive personal priorities.
As a leader, it’s important to ensure that your team is crystal clear about top priorities, and it should be a small manageable number (e.g., one to three projects).
Since a lot of our most important work is done collaboratively, if your team does not understand and share these goals, you will run up against competing priorities.
Determining top priorities makes it easier to choose which work should take precedence and keep everyone focused on using their time to achieve the same goals.
Even if you make your priorities crystal clear, I can’t stress enough the importance of eliminating as much as you can from your to-do lists. If you don’t eliminate things from both your business and personal lists, you’ll encounter multiple issues that affect job satisfaction, such as feeling:
- overwhelmed because there’s so much to do.
- guilty because everything is not getting done as planned.
Eliminating work that is less of a priority at the time is not an option; it’s a must if you want to make more white space in your calendar.
We live in an amazing day and age where we can streamline most business processes using technology—so take advantage of this and automate what you can! Software companies are starting to be more collaborative, which makes it easier to seamlessly integrate other applications.
For example, Microsoft (who typically was territorial with their software) now allows more collaboration with outside tech companies. This change helps teams better use collaborative tools to increase productivity.
Always look for opportunities to automate simple repetitive tasks (and even more complicated work), so you can save time.
Once you’ve done all of the above, delegate the remaining tasks if you can.
Remember my client Doug? This piece of advice was crucial for him during our work together. He took it as approval to be more aggressive in looking for opportunities to delegate work to his team members. With more time on his calendar, he was then able to focus on the more strategic parts of the business.
Delegation done right is a win-win situation because taking the time to develop your employees by trusting them with tasks is not just a great personal productivity strategy—it’s a long-term company growth strategy.
4. Follow the 30-Minute Rule
Now let’s put the icing on the cake that will really increase the white space in your calendar: adding a 30-minute buffer time between meetings.
We all know that back-to-back meetings are just not productive. How can you have time to absorb information if you immediately rush to move on to something else? You can easily forget to capture your follow-up items. And in the case of meetings where you’re brainstorming ideas or problem-solving, you’re not able to digest and analyze what you’ve just learned.
This makes me think about a lesson I learned while taking Swedish lessons when I lived overseas. After a session, I told my tutor that I was going back home to work on a presentation.
She quickly said, “No, don’t do that!”.
When I asked why, she answered, “If you do something right after you have learned something new, you will forget what you learned. You must allow time for it to sink in and for your mind to process what you have learned.”
This piece of advice has stuck with me for years. And it is also the reason why allowing 30-minutes between meetings is a smart solution. Before you shake your head thinking it’s not possible, it is if you minimize your company and personal priorities.
As a result, you’ll have more time to:
- Digest what you just learned (e.g., summarize your notes) while it’s still fresh.
- Get your tasks done—and not just add them to your to-do list.
- Accommodate unexpected requests.
- Prepare for your next meeting (go figure!).
Imagine how good it would feel to be able to just breath and not constantly rush to the next meeting like you’re training for the Olympics?
For example, I recall doing a one-hour presentation at a Fortune 100 company that often had back-to-back meetings. Over half of the attendees were 10 minutes late because they had to make a mad dash across the large campus. What a waste of time that was for all!
Again, time is one of your most valuable resources. Creating more white space in your calendar gives you the freedom to have focus time and balance. Another client I worked with made this a part of their culture and said it has been pivotal for their organization.
Given the proper guidance, you too have the power to create a culture of productivity within your organization. My team and I can help you map out a plan and keep your organization accountable, so you can change their behaviors for the long-term. Contact us to learn more.
Do you know someone who needs our help? Forward this blog to a colleague, so they can get support too.
Plan with Jan
When it comes to time management, tell us which action do you struggle with the most: prioritizing, eliminating, automating, or delegating?