Do you ever get that feeling that there aren’t enough hours in the day? Do you glance at the clock in the late afternoon and realize you’re just not going to get everything done that you planned? Or find yourself wishing that you had spent less time in that meeting and more time at your desk working through your to-do list?
I’ve been there. I think we all have. One thing that all business leaders have in common is the same number of hours in a day. And while business schools and entrepreneur conferences teach us about motivation and marketing and business building, few explain how to manage that most precious resource of all: the time we have to build our companies. We’re usually left to figure that out for ourselves.
I’ve come up with a few techniques that help me make the most of my hours at the desk and that set the pattern for the company as a whole.
- Do the tough stuff first.
We’re all at our most productive at different times of the day, but according to behavioral scientist Dan Ariely, the best time to get down to work is usually the first hours after waking up—the time we usually waste checking Facebook or catching up with the news.
The first task on my to-do list is always the toughest. It’s the one that demands the most focus and the deepest thought: the report writing and the number crunching. I might need to lead a meeting at some point in the day, but I’ll put that off until later because it’s usually less demanding. I know that I’ll get more done in the day if I do the work that demands the most brainpower first, when my brain is feeling its most powerful.
My team knows that work comes first. Meetings come later.
- Use the calendar.
I live by my calendar. Sure, it takes a bit of effort to put items in the schedule, and I’m often tempted to type in the bare minimum when I’m listing tasks or scheduling events. But the more information I include in my calendar, the clearer it is when I come to perform that task. The notifications remind me that I don’t have time to daydream, and knowing that I have something else to do in an hour or so keeps me on my toes.
This is one of those cases when a small investment now can pay dividends in the future. Take a minute at the end of each day to schedule your events and tasks into your calendar for the next day, the next week, and so on. You’ll build a time pressure that will keep you working. In our company, the calendar is as essential as an ergonomic office chair.
- Time yourself.
Business owners don’t have bosses who stand over them cracking a whip–we have to do that for ourselves. Just as it’s important to know how long an employee should take with a task, we also need to know how quickly we should be able to complete our own work.
Time the tasks you know you have to do often: the planning meetings, the reports, and so on. Know how quickly you can complete them when you know you have to do them fast. Then keep track of the time you spend on those tasks in the future.
You might not be able to beat your fastest time whenever you sit at your desk or take to the meeting room. But you will know when the task is sucking up too much time and needs to be cut short. And just knowing that you’re keeping track of time will prevent you from frittering it away.
I’ve found that doing all of these things helps to make sure that I don’t waste time. More importantly, though, these practices set a pattern for the rest of the company. When my employees see that I value my time, they’re more likely to value theirs, too.