I need more time with no extra hours,” a friend recently told me. She consistently feels anxious going to work, gets to the end of the day and feels like she hasn’t stopped to take a breath. Her regular rants include “I don’t have enough time”! She feels scattered, unfocussed and disorganised. The stress is building as she runs around reacting to what is happening around her.
I think at some stage in our careers, we all have experienced moments like this when we feel like a headless chook and seem unable to get in front and on top of our workload and this often spills into other aspects of our lives. For me, it was in early 2003 – a couple of years after establishing a new business and giving it my everything to get it off the ground. The passion, excitement and determination to create something successful was a driving force that also pushed me closer to the burnout zone.
I learnt that feeling like I had a lack of time, meant that I had to prioritise to gain control over my day. Several things needed to change, some were relatively small in concept and simple in application, but they made a significant difference immediately.
- Role definition – get a blank piece of paper and write at the top what is my job? What are the 5 major tasks to achieve this? What 5 things am I doing that I can delegate? And finally what steps can I take to delegate them? For me, such a simple exercise clearly showed me that I was spending nearly half my time on tasks that I could easily get someone else to do and I was too “hands-on” in the business managing rather than leading.
- Urgent vs important – any time management guru or text will explain that we spend too much of our day reacting to what appears urgent rather than on those activities that have a direct impact on outcomes. This became very clear to me as I proof read documents, approved invoices, accepted interruptions from other internal departments and got distracted by administrative processes.
- The “to do list” – a non-negotiable, essential tool that I have used every day for the past 15 years. It has become legendary with every person who has worked for me and they will tell you that I live and die by it. It numbers and lists every task specifically that needs to be completed for the day. It has to be specific eg: call Tony Jones re: ad approval or complete reference check on Mandy Smith. Grouping tasks or being generic such as do reference checking or ring clients doesn’t get done because it isn’t exact or measureable. Once completed, ticked off, it becomes a single document that lists all tasks – not using different systems such as outlook, sticky notes and a notebook – one system, one list.
- “Big rocks” – becoming clear on the “big rocks” – that is typically between 3 – 5 of the most important priorities that you do that deliver the outcomes you want to achieve. Figure out what they are and spend at least 70% of your week doing them. For me these highest payoff activities were performance management, business development, coaching and sales training.
- Empowering others to take responsibility – when it’s your own business or where you have direct accountability for specific outcomes for a division, it can be hard to let go. The moment I delegated authority, allowed people to make decisions and learn for themselves, the confidence and trust grew. The result for me was more time and less stress, as I wasn’t holding sole responsibility for everything that happened. A weight was lifted off my shoulders.
The secret to gaining more time is through priortisation and focusing on those things that actually make a difference to what you are trying to achieve. In the words of productivity guru Timothy Ferriss, “being busy is used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions”. I couldn’t agree more. It is so easy to fill our days with unimportant, seemingly urgent but irrelevant ‘busyness’. To my friend I say, “stop, revisit your purpose, get clear on what tasks actually contribute to achieving your results and don’t procrastinate by being ‘busy’”. You will never get more hours in the day, but you can certainly control what you put into the hours that you have.
So does my friend need more time? No! If that were a possibility, she would just fill it doing more of the same unproductive stuff she is doing now and in essence be no more effective. Having more time doesn’t equate to greater effectiveness…but being effective will create you more time.
Nicole Underwood provides business coaching to leaders and owners who are seeking to improve their results through more effective leadership and communication. A recent client has said “Her effervescent style coupled her with extensive experience in her field is a joy to work with. She is non-judgemental and not controlling in her style. I would highly recommend Nicole to any emerging leader who needs tips and support in growing a team. She is a first class consultant.” Business Owner, March 2012.
*This article was originally written and published for Training Point in January 2012