Time management is arguably the most important skill one can master to maximise daily happiness & success. The tips & advice below have been garnered from a diverse set of business leaders, mentors, personal experiences, mistakes, and executive coaching. They have fundamentally changed my life for the better. Each has crossover applicability to personal & professional life.
1) Remember, How You Spend Your Time is a Reflection of Your Priorities
How you're spending your time should always be a clear reflection of your priorities. Conversely, your priorities should always be clearly reflected in how you're spending your time. Often during the daily & weekly grind, we move away from this healthy, balanced marriage between our priorities & time spend.
Example: Your top priority this month is skill development for your team, but you're spending the largest portion of your time each week on hiring. You have two potential issues: 1.) Your priorities are out of order. You may need to reorder them. This is a healthy, constructive conversation to have with your manager for clarity and transparency. 2.) You're spending too much time on hiring. You need to shift more time to team skill development which is your top priority.
Tip: Run a calendar audit each month as a healthy exercise to keep your balance.
2) Know the Difference Between Urgent & Important
Most (ideally all) of your meetings, emails, interactions, conversations, and daily tasks are important. However, not all of them are urgent. Do yourself a massive favor, and learn how to decide within seconds where each task lies on the urgent vs. important graph. I've made this quick & easy 2x2 decision chart to help:
3. Calendar Management: Your Calendar is a Blank Canvas
Imagine your entire calendar is wiped clean. It's completely empty. You need to re-populate your days, weeks, months, and quarters with the items that are most important. Would your calendar look the same as it did before? Which meetings would you put back onto your calendar from your old calendar? Which meetings wouldn't make the cut? This is good direction for the changes you should be making to your calendar right now.
You control how you spend every minute of every day. Don't be fooled into thinking that others control your time. Your priorities may come from your leaders or someone else, but how you spend your time is your minute-to-minute choice.
Tip: Cancel/Move meetings that are unimportant or are important but not urgent enough. Not always an easy conversation to have, but it's the right thing to do.
Tip: Block time in your calendar. Whether you are blocking time for a meeting, to complete tasks, answer email, or thinking time, you've now set time to action it.
Tip: Color your calendar. Categorize your time by assigning colors to each priority. These calendar colors give you an immediate snapshot of what your week looks like. You can quickly adjust your time spend if you're investing too much/little in each of your priorities. Example: Here's an example of my calendar.
4) Inbox Management: Compartmentalise & Automate
Manage your email, don't let it manage you. The more we can automate the allocation of your emails into appropriate Urgent vs. Important "compartments", the more we can reduce Inbox noise, speed up workflow, and let you work smarter.
Tip: Use tags/subfolders & rules. These can be based on email sender, subject, recipient group/alias, To: you vs. CC: you, etc. When this is done properly you will have your important vs. urgent items automatically going to a few easy-to-find places in your Inbox. Examples: Create a rule for each email from your manager to go into a specific subfolder. Create a separate rule for emails from anyone on your immediate team to go into a separate "Team" subfolder. Create a third rule for all emails addressed to your entire company/dept. to go into a separate subfolder.
Tip: Mark & file action items. Find the system that works for you.
- Simple: Move your action item emails to an "Action Items" folder.
- More Sophisticated: Use "Tasks" in GMail or Outlook, attach the email to each task, and add the due date to each task.
5) Meeting Management
Respect your time & other's time - too many meetings are run inefficiently & ineffectively. Here are some easily applicable tips for effective meeting management:
Tip: Set a prioritized agenda. Understand what everyone wants to accomplish in the meeting and prioritize agenda items to cover the most urgent & important items first. This prevents the last few minutes of your meeting covering 3-4 very important and urgent topics in less detail than they require.
Tip: Less > More. Have an agenda & finish it. Don't set yourself and everyone else in the meeting up for failure by coming with too many agenda items. Be respectful of other's agenda needs and come with only your top items. Having a backup of 3-4 quick things to cover is fine, but be clear about your top 1-2 prioritized agenda items in every meeting. Rule of Thumb: 30 min: 1-2 topics. 60 min: 2-4 topics.
Tip: End meetings early. Jeff Matthews, an incredible business leader, gave me this advice. Simple, yet overwhelmingly effective: "If you end every meeting early, you have a few minutes to get to your next on time." Advice here - set expectations at the beginning of the meeting that you'd like to end 2-5 minutes early if possible.
Tip: Acknowledge how much meeting time you have left after each agenda item is completed. It takes the pressure off of everyone wondering if the meeting will end on time. It also let's everyone know whether or not the meeting is pacing well.
Tip: Conversation > Email. Don't have a meeting or lengthy conversation over email. Schedule a meeting or have the conversation in your next scheduled meeting. This respects everyone's time and avoids loss of necessary detail.
6. Every Minute Counts. A Challenge for You...
I truly believe that every minute of the day counts. We owe it to ourselves and others to use the minutes wisely. Time management goals typically start out addressing how much you can get done in a day. This is a worthy goal when you're starting to apply time management tips and best practices. As you get closer to mastering your time management skills, I challenge you to set goals addressing the least amount of time wasted in a day.
Tip: Challenge yourself to waste no more than 15 minutes per day, every day.
Okay, your turn. Which of these tips resonates with you most? What are your best time management tips? Get in touch with Brandon over at Sales Development Coach.
*This post was originally published on Linkedin.