Managing your time when your day is filled with meetings, work on specific projects, business development and the inevitable interruptions is one of the biggest challenges my clients report. All of the leaders I coach are the CEO-type person in their small to mid-sized company so the demands on their time and energy are simply part of the day-to-day experience. They often discover that it is not really about managing their time but more about managing the tasks.
When everything is important, where do you begin?
Leading a company comes with certain responsibilities. It is no secret that time is limited and there is plenty to do. Instead of managing your time, think about managing your tasks. It is a good time to use the CEO Mindset© and note what are true priorities, opportunities to delegate and what needs to be postponed no matter how exciting it seems at the time.
Matt (not his real name) is the president of his small company. They do a combination of research for private companies and governmental agencies plus develop products from their research. On any given day, Matt could be contributing his technical expertise, meeting with potential investors, overseeing the project managers, following up with the manufacturing of prototypes, meeting with customers or dealing with the administrative parts of small company. The list goes on and on.
One of Matt’s challenges is that he is not a natural checklist kind of guy. He certainly is aware that organizing his time makes a difference to his direct reports and to the financial growth of the business. A part of our coaching has been to find his best method that balance his natural tendencies with getting his work done.
Does Matt’s story sound familiar?
The particulars may vary from one leader to another but the experience is still often reported. It is easy for everything to feel important. There are many important tasks that need to be done. So you could fill your time with trying to do them all. Or you could do something more organized and focused. Productivity is less about time and more about working smart.
- The Pomodoro Method- This is a simple method of focusing on a task needs only one piece of equipment…a timer. Set your timer for 20-25 minutes and simply focus on one task or one part of task. When the timer sounds, you end there or set the timer for another 20-25 minutes and resume your task. Great for working around those interruptions and meetings!
- Be absolutely strict with setting priority tasks- Not everything has to be done in one week nor even in the current month. Identify what is truly a high priority task and focus your plan on that. You can follow this by moving other items up the priority list as tasks are completed.
- Delegate, delegate, delegate- This cannot be said enough to leaders of small to mid-sized businesses (I’ve written about this before). You have been a hands-on person because you had to be but your company needs something different now. Identify which tasks you must do or are best suited for and give the rest to the appropriate team or staff member. Take it from one of my clients, you don’t have to be only person who knows where to find the Ice-Melt.
- Apps on your smartphone, tablet or laptop- There are some great tools out there like Trello, Asana or EverNote that provide ways to track your tasks and tasks assigned to others.
- Use a sticky note with 3-5 daily (or even weekly) tasks- Sometimes handwriting your list is a more effective reminder than an app. The downside to using an app is that it can be out of sight, out of mind. Using a sticky note to your laptop or some other prominent place is a visual reminder and the act of writing can be a memory aid as well.
- Use a task log like the CEO Mindset© Task Management Log- Kudos to Matt for inspiring this tool! It is also a handwritten way to keep yourself on task. This month-long organizer enables the user to keep track of both the tasks you are responsible for and any tasks assigned to a member of your team or staff. To use the log, you write in all of the tasks you are organizing. Then you note who is designated to complete the task, if you have to provide an accountability check in and check if it is due this week, next week or by the end of the month. There is a final category which denotes when the task is completed. Post this somewhere highly visible so it is a visual reminder. You can download a version of the CEO Mindset Task Management Log here.
As with all of the tools, avoid biting off more than you can actually manage. They are all about setting priorities. When everything is important, you must identify which things are more important than others. Another caveat is the number of tasks you assign yourself. Just this week, Matt identified 8 things on his weekly list. When I asked him about them, he explained that four of them were simple progress updates. Most of the time ( and most of us) manage three to five priority tasks per week. Whenever possible, set up tasks into chunks of work so you can easily work on something and walk away when necessary.
Less about time management and more about task management
This cannot be said enough. Choose a tool that makes sense to you (modify it if it helps) and make it a practice. Matt has discovered that he is much more focused and clear about what tasks he must do. He has also discovered more clarity about what can be delegated. Another plus for Matt is that it has strengthened his ability to see what is on the short term horizon so deadlines not surprise him. Growing a small to mid-sized business takes concentration and effective decision making. Using a tool that supports better task management will support you staying fresh, alert and organized.