Executive Suite: Conserving Time in the Executive Suite

There is less time available than ever. You know that. As we keep cutting back on our workforce more falls on our desk. And more time is lost than ever. With cell phones, email, texting, and all the rest our privacy is being invaded at a more rapid rate than ever.

Let's talk about time. And let’s not waste a lot time doing it. Every one of us needs lots more hours in our day, more days to a month, more months in a year, and many more years in a working lifetime to get it all done.


Delegate Anything You Can

The point is this. The secret to time management is to be selective.

You flat out cannot do everything. Accept it and stop punishing yourself and everyone else over it. So you begin by categorizing your things-to-do list.

Even with smaller staffs most of us could delegate three to five times more things than we do. The trick to smart delegating is a simple four-stepper.

  1. Decide what you can delegate
  2. Pick the right person
  3. Give clear instructions
  4. Give them a deadline

Think about it. Many of us fail on all four steps. We often do it ourselves simply because, well, we know it will be done our way. Unless it is truly important, bag that.

Let me remind you of the parent who had a child clean the house. The child did an adequate job, but there was still heavy dust on top of a piano. The parent scrawled, "I love you," in the dust. A kind way of alerting the child a higher standard was attainable, but also a way of telling the child both of his love and overall satisfaction.

In many instances there is such a thing as good enough. Live with it and you'll live longer.

Find someone sufficiently reliable and detail-oriented. If you look around, you have some i-dotters and t-crossers in your employ. Use them.

Instructions are often the watershed. Often we hurry through the instructions, using verbal shorthand rendering the poor victims of our delegative intentions left to guess what exactly we want from them. Usually they are on their way to an accident. Tell people exactly what you want. Then ask them if the instructions are absolutely clear to them.

Finally, give them the deadline and make clear you want THEM TO GET BACK TO YOU ON IT when it is done.


Reduce Access

Cell phones, website contact, email, fax machines, and all the rest often do not make us more efficient. They do, however, make us more accessible. And it is just this access that can devour time faster than a teenager can go through a bag of potato chips. Stop that.

Do not randomly give out your cell phone number or email address—at least not your primary email address. The less access you give to people on the perimeter the more distractions you prevent.


Prioritize What's Left on Your List Realistically

When you look at your myriad of tasks and despair at its magnitude, do not simply grind your way through the mountain starting with what is in front of you. I encourage you to move immediately to asking what (of these tasks) directly makes money, and what will save money. Move those to the top.


Make Tomorrow's To Do List Today

Never leave Work at night before listing the five most important things you have to do the next day.

You heard that one before. But do it. List them. Even if you can remember them. Why? Because that way you will not only have them in front of you in the morning, but every bit as important, you will not have your subconscious mind nursing and rehearsing them for you at night, making you restless and unable to sleep.

Don't chicken out, ducking and procrastinating over those items in the morning. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “Do what you fear.” I say, “Do what you want to avoid.” If you don’t, the to-be-done items will nag at you psychologically all day. Go right down that list, in order of importance if possible. You will eliminate irritability, heighten efficiency, and have more energy.


Get a Planner or Use Your Computer and Keep Everything There

That's right, everything. Toss out your little "While You Were Away" pads, post-its, and other bits of wood pulp you use to write things down. Keep it all in one place.

One east coast executive of a large printing company repeatedly amazed me at how he never forgot anything. His secret? He kept everything in one notebook and crossed off items as he completed them. He always knew what he did, what he was doing, and what he was going to do. He occasionally looked tired, but never stressed.


Underschedule Your Day

There will always be things--often important things--that will of necessity intrude. Give your day some flex. And keep in mind people are more important than things. In other words, give time and attention to people who want to talk with you. We win or lose with our people. If they are the most important than we need to conduct ourselves accordingly.


Watch the Phone

Most phone conversations are too long. If you have a time counter on your phone, use it. When you begin a conversation, note how long you think you will talk. Then check it at the end. You will consistently be amazed how far over you go. All the time. Use phrases at the outset of conversations such as, "I'm under a time gun, but I do have a minute or two..." "I've only got a minute but I really wanted to talk with you." If you use them at the frontend you will not offend by closing things down when you have completed the purpose of the call.


Dump It

Get rid of all paper, records, files, etc., that litter your workspace and you really do not need. It's presence is pulling your attention away from more critical tasks. Sort your mail and email once, ruthlessly. Toss out stuff you know you will likely not respond to. Don't let it pile up. Speedread the stuff in your in-basket. Don't pour over it. Skim and decide.

There's lots more to time management. But I’m out of time. See you next month.