Many top performers attend strategic leadership programs or work with a coach or mentor. Those who fail to fully implement what they’ve been taught frequently lament, “I just can’t find the time.” Ironically, while admitting that time management is one of their weaknesses, even highly motivated individuals often feel they have insufficient time to do anything about it.
Time management courses often note that each of us is given the same 8,760 hours a year. Since you can’t make more time, “time management” is really a misnomer. Instead, focus on “activity management and prioritization” as you consider the old (but undeniably true) adage, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Busy — not just hyperactive, but successful and productive — people are simply better at prioritizing their time and effectively managing their activities.
You can do three things to excel at activity management and prioritization. First, jealously guard your time as your most valuable and only non-renewable resource. Second, be aware of and proactively guard against known time wasters (especially electronic ones). And third, follow the Four Ds –Dump It, Delegate It, Delay It, or Do It — strategies which have proven themselves highly effective over time.
Dump ItThe first and most important decision is whether to dump a new To Do item. Take a serious look at whatever comes up, and ask yourself whether it really needs to be handled at all. If it’s not important to you (to your vision and ultimate success), or if it’s mainly part of somebody else’s agenda, then drop it. If you don’t, it will waste your time, potentially start a snowball effect of activity, and otherwise come back to haunt you. And if you delegate something that should have been dumped, you’re just wasting somebody else’s time.
Far too many items make it onto our To Do lists and inexorably move forward on our calendars before we finally dump them. Like taking food home in a doggy bag, ignoring it, and watching it turn into black gunk before finally throwing it away uneaten, this entire process is a tremendous waste of time. Let the restaurant dump what’s left right there and then, and encourage yourself to dump unnecessary items in real time.
Real-time dumping takes decisiveness, courage, and a clear vision of what’s important to you and your business. For example, if you are aware (as industry research repeatedly shows) that the most successful advisors spend the bulk of their time in client-facing activities, then it’s much easier to dump entire classes of To Do items and activities. Of course, you should always observe politeness, protocol and pecking order. So when you turn down invitations to join committees or to attend superfluous meetings or social engagements, do so skillfully.
Delegate ItMastering the art of delegation is a crucial skill. You can’t possibly do everything by yourself, and it’s vastly more effective to have your best-suited team member perform any given task. You may be your team’s fastest typist, but as the advisor who should be spending time with clients, typing your own reports and marketing materials would be ludicrous. Moreover, if you empower a competent individual on your team to do the first sorting and dumping of phone calls, postal mail, e-mail, and other To Do items, you’ll be well ahead of the game.
Effective delegation does take some up-front effort. In particular, you have to train your assistant to know what should and shouldn’t be dumped. The best assistant I’ve ever had spent time sitting over my shoulder for four weeks so she could understand exactly what I did and didn’t need to see. You should also train a competent assistant to keep your calendar (including calendaring all recurring and future-oriented activities such as birthdays and graduations). Many successful individuals don’t keep their own calendar, both to save time and because an assistant can better guard and prioritize their time.