If only added responsibility came with a few extra hours in the day. Leaders have likely had this thought cross their mind at least once, possibly even today. Sure, those in leadership positions generally possess more experience, education, and other factors that set them apart from their peers. However, no matter how skilled or competent one becomes, there are still just 24 hours in a day.
Unless time management is done well, constant worry about how to fit everything in makes it impossible to fully live in the moment. When a leader is not present in the moment, she or he can only be so effective. Presence involves an awareness of not only the task at hand, but also all those who have a role in making it happen. Successful leaders must engage with both.
Toward that balance, here are 10 ideas for leaders to implement in their time management strategies:
Minimize to-do lists.
The list of things to do will always be there, always getting longer. Pick just a few to focus on each day or for the week, selecting the ones with top priority. One way to maximize this approach is to create a list organized by task instead of by project.
For example, “plan for the upcoming presentation” would appear as a list of multiple items, such as “finishing reading reports, design the slideshow template,” etc. Crossing these smaller tasks off will add a level of satisfaction not achieved by listing the project as a whole.
Appoint a fixed e-mail time.
E-mail facilitates important conversation and information sharing, but it can quickly impede productivity. Checking messages as they come in often results in a day of nothing but e-mailing.
Leaders can free up their schedule by committing to only checking and responding to e-mails during a certain part of the day. In some environments, this may not be realistic, but communicating your “online” schedule to employees and colleagues will help you honor your appointed e-mail window.
Take advantage of e-mail labels.
To maximize e-mail time, develop a labeling system and organize your messages into folders. Various e-mail services feature programming options that will do much of the sorting work for you.
If the labels are done well, your inbox could double as your to-do list for the day or week. Either way, easier access to communications will shave off a considerable amount of time spent corresponding in the long run.
Consolidate your calendar.
Another valuable tool for time management is a streamlined calendar available to you no matter which device or computer is with you. To make a calendar worthwhile requires a commitment to updating it regularly. Oftentimes, people get in the habit of making mental notes, but as leaders keep a consistent log of information, they can free their minds for tackling more demanding tasks.
Color code your schedules
Improving the calendar further simply involves developing a color system. Having a visual representation of your schedule will help you prepare mentally for each of your responsibilities. In addition, color-coding is a great way to help separate your work life from your home life, and it illustrates where you can improve to have more of a daily balance.
Determine which meetings to attend.
The ability to decisively say “yes” or “no” to things is one of the greatest assets a leader can develop. In the case of meeting attendance, if you feel compelled to sit in simply because you ought to, consider finding another task. If you do not definitely need to be there, then your time is likely better spent elsewhere.
Establish urgency in meeting planning.
For meetings deemed absolutely necessary, practice scheduling each for shorter blocks of times than might seem possible. Many gatherings for business discussion take up large portions of the day simply because they can. By scheduling a two-hour meeting in a slot of 90 minutes, for example, you can encourage urgency in yourself and in your peers.
Start every meeting with unifying questions.
Another way to establish urgency is to start each meeting with questions instead of announcements. At the outset, ask what is expected from everyone present and what success will look like. Start and finish with this to help the group stay on task and collectively evaluate the efficacy of the meeting.
Group meetings together where possible.
Part of time management involves chunking tasks and activities together, especially meetings. For example, if you have three meetings that need to happen on Wednesday, plan them all in the morning or all in the afternoon. This leaves the other half of the day open instead of having them spread out from clock-in to clock-out with no productive chunks of time in between.
Schedule time to completely disconnect.
No effectively managed schedule is complete without time to yourself. Schedule a “meeting” with yourself or do whatever it takes to have a few minutes to disconnect from everything.