goalsWill you meet your goals this year, or next?  With the current economic instability, running a business is getting more challenging. I often hear flustered business leaders say things like, “I don’t have enough time to get everything done,” and “How do I find time to work on strategy and goals?”

Time is a conceptually limited resource. We often hear about “time management” techniques to help us get it all done. The truth is you can’t manage time, it goes on at exactly the same pace no matter what you do.  What you can manage is what you do, when you do it and how you do it.  Time management is really the conscious management of your decisions on which actions to take.  Its a core leadership competency for effectively utilizing time to achieve your goals.

It is important to recognize that you have the opportunity to prioritize and to control your own activities, and as the New York architect and teacher Michael Altshuler said, “The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.”

There are a large number of tools available for planning and tracking the actions you take over time.  However, it is critical to understand that effective time-management is actually effective SELF management. It comes from inside, not from the outside.  Self-management is a critical skill for being an effective leader.  It is the ability to be clear and focused on the few things that will create the greatest impact.  That focus begins with goal setting.

Setting the right goals begins with the big picture, vision and broad strategies to achieve the vision over a three to five-year period. The next level of goal-setting will be for the upcoming 12 months and this will require documenting specific S.M.A.R.T goals – goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

The third level involves breaking the 12-month goals down to the activities that need to be achieved over the next quarter to be on track for the 12-month goals. And the final level to provide the foundation for effective control of activities is to break the 90-day goals down to the first week of this period. Then measure the results from the first week and set the activities for the next week.

The idea is to repeat this process each week and at the end of first quarter, re-establish specific goals for the second quarter and repeat the disciplined setting of weekly activities and weekly reviews. Each weekly review and planning session should take about one hour each Monday (or Friday) and should include the business leader and each direct report.

The discipline of this process will allow the differentiation of urgent versus important activities. Important activities are those that lead to the achievement of defined goals and provide the most likely chance of achieving the desired outcomes for the business. However, many of the important activities are not urgent.

Pareto’s 80/20 rule applies here as 80 percent of the outcomes will be generated by 20 percent of the activities. Unfortunately, urgent activities tend to be part of the 80 percent of the activities only producing 20 percent of the outcomes. The weekly process is designed to help differentiate between important versus urgent activities on a weekly basis. The benefits of this disciplined approach to managing activities will be the measurable control of goal-focused activities and the actual completion of targeted goals.

Here are seven suggestions to apply self management discipline within the context of achieving better business results and the more effective utilization of your personal time:

  1. Delegate: Delegate activities to the staff with the appropriate skills. Manage this approach through an organizational structure and individual Positional Agreements appropriate to the size of the organization.
  2. Prioritize: Prioritize your daily work by reviewing the next day’s important activities in a ‘to achieve list’ at the end of each day. You can maximize personal productivity by focusing on this list the next day. And don’t do what’s not on the list – resist the urge to be distracted and to do things that you enjoy more.
  3. Clean up: Clean up your desk and office shelves once per month. Categorize everything into four groups: ‘Do it’, ‘Delegate it’, ‘Defer it’, and ‘Dump it”. Before getting rid of anything, just ask the question, “What is the worst that can happen if the item was gone?” If the answer is “nothing”, then dump it.
  4. Handle each piece of paper only once and never more than twice: Don’t set aside anything without taking action.
  5. Put personal interruptions on hold: Put your calls and personal interruptions on hold for one hour, two hours or whatever is appropriate to your task at hand. It is amazing how much work that can be achieved by using this simple technique and not being distracted by a phone call or personal interruption – and most of these potential interruptions will not meet the definition of ‘important’.
  6. Learn to say “No”: This maybe the most effective way to maximize your personal utilization of time and is often the hardest word to use in business. Make sure that if you don’t say “No,” it is because the activity is important in context of your own role in the business.
  7. Balance: Make sure you set aside personal relaxation time during every work day. Don’t work during lunch. It is neither nutritional nor noble to skip important stress-relieving time to recharge your energy level. Take vacations, particularly mini-vacations. The harder you work, the more you need to balance your leisure and exercise time. As any pro athlete knows, recovery is an important part of performance.

As a business leader, the key to effective self-management is to build your personal and business life around your desired outcomes through planned and measured activities, while maintaining flexibility for the unexpected. Time management is, in fact, the ultimate in self-management because it is the foundation for achieving your goals in every aspect of your life.

To get an analysis of your current self effectiveness, get in touch!