Time Management Tips for Leaders

If you are a leader, you know how much managing people and projects can be a demand on your time. It seems like our days and weeks are full of endless meetings, phone calls, emails, text messages, and “drive-by” conversations. All of this can take a toll on a leader and lead to frustration, exhaustion or even burnout.

With ever-increasing demands on our time, it is important that we set aside time to focus on the priorities we have set for ourselves. I have found that when I get frustrated or tired, it is usually because I have allowed my schedule to dictate my priorities and not the other way around. Much of this ultimately comes down to how we manage our time and our schedules. 

For several years, I have studied how to best manage my time and sought out advice from those who are experts in this area. This advice has come in the form of classes, seminars, podcasts, TED Talk videos, books (written and audio), and blogs. Along the way, I have collected some great advice and have discovered what works for me and what does not. 

Each of us has different learning styles, interests, personal responsibilities, strengths, goals, and challenges. Therefore, it is essential to find out what works best for you and tailor it to your needs. Regardless of what tips you use, the important thing is that you take time to find what works best for you and begin to put them into practice. 

Your time is too valuable to allow your schedule to keep you from the things that you really need or want to accomplish.

While technology has transformed our world, it can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to managing our time and daily distractions. For example, there are some fantastic tools that can assist with time management and help keep us focused on the right things. I use several of these and would not be nearly as productive without them. That being said, if not kept in check, alerts and notifications can quickly turn into another distraction that keeps us from ultimately focusing on what matters most to us.

After much trial and error, here are some of the tips that I have found that help me remain focused on what is important while continuing to ensure I fulfill my responsibilities as a leader.

Set aside time to learn and grow professionally

It is easy for us to approach our work day and “go through the motions” while our calendars, meetings, and email dictate our daily tasks. When we allow this to happen, we run the risk of not challenging ourselves to learn and grow. It is important for all leaders to set aside time to learn new things and educate themselves about their profession. Most of us work in fields where things are continually changing. 

Leaders must adapt to change and learn new things or risk being replaced by someone who can.

I have found that I need to be intentional about learning and improving my skills as this will not happen without setting aside time to do so. One practical change that I have made is that I now use the time during my commute to listen to podcasts or audiobooks that focus on specific areas of interest. This change alone has allowed me to focus on learning for over one hour each day. That time would have otherwise been spent listening to music or doing something else less productive. 

Schedule time for focused work

The term “focused work” or “deep work” has become popular with productivity gurus and for a good reason. I think it paints an accurate picture of what we are trying to achieve as we seek to avoid constant distractions. As leaders, many of us are not only asked to focus on tactical work but also strategic. Much of the strategic work such as planning, budgeting, setting goals, etc., is done best when we can creatively brainstorm and spend time thinking about the task at hand. 

Just as we schedule time on our calendars for meetings and appointments, leaders need to schedule time for focused work. 

In an interview with Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, which can be viewed here, they both talk about the importance of not filling up your schedule with meetings but allowing time for creative thought and planning. I doubt that most of our schedules are more demanding than these two CEO’s. The lesson to be learned from this is that it is equally important to schedule deep work time just like we would do with any other meetings.

Delegate tasks to others

As leaders, many of us have a mental picture of exactly what the outcome should look like when we work on a task. We can lean towards being perfectionists and want to tightly control how something is done for fear that it may not be done right. When leaders take this approach, they can fall into the trap of doing everything themselves and not allow others to remove tasks from their “plate”. 

I have found that when I properly delegate a task, many times it will be done better than what I could have done myself. While proper delegation takes practice and great communication, it can free up a leaders time to work on other items of greater importance. Delegation is a great tool that can help leaders focus on specific “high value” work while allowing others more skilled, or passionate about a particular task, to focus on other work.

80% done well by someone else is better than 100% done perfectly by you.

Document your goals and objectives

In his book entitled Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, Cal Newport states: 

“Clarity about what matters provides clarity about what does not.” 

As leaders, it is important that we document our goals and objectives so they can be tracked appropriately. As Cal Newport says, it also helps add clarity regarding what is truly important and what is not. I have found that starting each week and each day by listing out what I want to accomplish helps set the tone for the day and gets me focused on the right things. It is very easy to wake up, look at emails and our schedule and let that set the tone for the entire day. Leaders need to be in charge of their schedules and not let their schedules set their priorities for the day.

There are many great tools that can help capture our goals and objectives. For many years, I used the Franklin Covey planner and filled out each daily page with each passing day. That was a great system, but I found it was more-and-more difficult maintaining a paper system the more I became mobile and relied on electronic devices for calendaring, email, etc. I now use an electronic tool that helps me track tasks and keeps me focused on the right priorities. The key with any task manager, whether paper or electronic, is that is must be updated and reviewed at least daily to remain valuable. Like anything, if the information becomes stale, it loses its value.

Guard your time

Warren Buffet is quoted as saying:

“The only thing I cannot buy is more time.”

While most of us have plenty of things we cannot buy (unlike Warren Buffet), it still holds true that none of us can buy more time. We are all allotted the same amount of time in a day, and we have to manage what we have. Many distractions can come up during the course of a day. While we cannot schedule or plan for true emergencies, some things arewithin our control. 

Most of us would agree that ineffective meetings can be a big time waster. Michael Hyatt, in his book entitled No Fail Meetings lists questions that we should ask ourselves before hitting “accept” on our next meeting request. Examples include:

Is this meeting important?

Is it important for me?

Can I afford the time given my other priorities?

Could someone else take my place?

The bottom line is that you and I do not have to accept every meeting request. We need to be selective with what we choose to attend and determine if our time is better served doing something else.

If you are fortunate enough to have an administrative or virtual assistant, they can help manage your calendar for you and ensure that only important items make their way onto your calendar. By effectively utilizing an assistant, it can translate into a huge time saver as they can work with you to determine the important phone calls, emails, and meeting requests that you feel are worth focusing on. 

In closing, a leaders time is constantly in demand. It is imperative that a leader learns to manage their schedules, prioritize their work, and focus on what they feel is important. The ultimate goal of time management is for us to manage our work and not have our work manage us.