High-powered Executive. Runs a multi-million-euro business. On the Board for several not-for-profits. Two kids. Has just run their second marathon.
I know what you’re thinking, how do they do it? How is it possible to lead a business, contribute pro-bono time AND have a work-life balance that prioritises family and fitness?
This “art” of time management, and efficiency, doesn’t come easy. We’ve all developed, read about, adopted and rejected various methods, some successful and some not, to try and boost our productivity, but I’ll bet that like me, you often find yourself still frustratingly short for time.
However, what is absolutely clear is that, in the main, the people who rise to the top, usually have this one nailed. Usually to a level that puts the rest of us to shame.
So, what principles do they employ that we could all learn from?
Learn To Let Go, and Delegate
This is an obvious one. If you’re a new manager, you’ll understand first hand the battle here. You hold on to the tendency to “do”, because you’re the best one to do the job, and taking the time to train someone else doesn’t on the face of it, seem any more time efficient. Even for senior managers this is an issue. You might have strengths that place you as the best project manager, process improver, statutory reporter and deep-dive analyser, but if you did all of that, you’d have no time for team leadership, strategy and driving commercial objectives.
Approach this situation from another view – what is it that you, and only you, do, that no-one else can? I’ll bet it’s the higher-level aspects of your job, and it’s those elements you need to prioritise over everything else. BAU can be delegated; not only will it boost your team, you might be pleasantly surprised what others can do when asked to step up to the challenge.
Prepare a Plan, and then a Contingency Plan
I’m a big fan of writing a daily plan for the following day, the evening before. Not only does it lead to a vastly better night’s sleep, it’s valuable in taking stock of where you’re “at” and developing an understanding of your own productivity, over time. I strike off what I’ve done from my earlier plan, reallocate incomplete items to the next day and jot down in a few key words new priorities that need to be addressed.
That’s simple, but what’s much more critical is developing what we’ll call a contingency plan, for the unknown. We know the world of unknown events, business problems and crises exist, and generally they rear their head when we’re swamped. Ensuring that you always allocate a “free” hour in to every day is essential to coping with unexpected development. If you’re lucky enough not to need this hour for the above purpose, you’re a foot up on time and can re-allocate it to speeding up delivery of other key priorities.
Focus on Results rather than Hours
In general, people focus on the time it’s going to take them to complete tasks. And invariably, task completion will then always take that time, often expanding to fill the allocated time. In accounting, you’re even more susceptible to this approach, even if you work in industry, due to an industry accepted appreciation for the “billable hours” system.
Instead of analysing a task in terms of how long you anticipate it is to take you and then fitting it into your daily / weekly schedule, try allocating time to the task in a way that aligns with the value of the end-result. At the level you operate at, your success will not be measured on how long you work, but rather what results you deliver. Re-evaluate your time allocation strategy: do you need to create a prioritisation matrix?
Set Your Hours and Create Distance
My final point touches on something a lot of us don’t think about. On first glance, it may seem arbitrary to set working hours for the sake of having a work life balance, plus as we’ve been exploring above, not the easiest to stick to. Sure, if you have nothing planned, why not work into the evening, get a few more things done?
Because it’ll dull your shine. Frequently, ambitious people work more because they’re always “on”, driven by the buzz, and feel that the more work they get done, the better. However just think about how you feel coming back after a holiday – and when you’ve had a really good night’s sleep. Fresh, full of ideas and ready to overcome any obstacle? What about applying this principle in action everyday?
Whether it’s setting hours so you can get out and exercise, spend time with your family, or just kick your feet up and watch the latest episode of your favourite Netflix show, distance is essential for idea generation, innovation and creativity in your work.