“Saving time” is impossible, because it is one commodity we cannot save. Each day, when our allotted 1,440 minutes have expired, we can only look at those minutes as water flowing down the river. If we did not use those minutes, they have passed down the stream, never to be used again. But what we can do is to be mindful of each of those 1,440 minutes, allocating them for rest, family, and the highest leverage activities at work. You don’t need a fancy time management application on your smart phone. You don’t need a leather-bound binder with copyrighted forms, as if someone has trademarked the days of the week. It doesn’t make any difference if you use a Big Chief tablet, a Moleskine notebook, or an Excel spreadsheet. Just have something ready to write. It’s not the brand name that matters, but your disciplined approach to how you use every one of the 1,440 minutes that you have each day.
Here are five high-impact strategies for maximizing the minutes that leaders have:
1. Gather. In David Allen’s important book Getting Things Done, he emphasizes the importance of a single list for everything you need and want to do – professional, family, volunteer, fun – everything. If you have sticky notes all over your office, collect them and write them down. If you have scraps of paper with reminders from your partner of what you should do, write them down the same list. If there are calendar notes about your favorite activities, volunteer obligations, or anything else, write it down on the same list. The sheer enormity of the list will help you realize why the next suggestions are so important. But for now, before you do anything else, get everything you want to do on a single list. Does this mean that “call Mom” and “coach Little League” is on the same list as “report to the board”? Yes. Everything is on one list.
2. Focus: Separate tasks from projects. Anything that requires 45 or fewer minutes is a task. If it takes more time than that, it’s a project, and it’s imperative to break it down. The “report to the board” is a project, perhaps including tasks such as each of the following:
· Review board information requests.
· Gather data.
· Prepare charts to respond to information requests.
· Create slide deck.
· Rehearse with executive team.
· Send final deck to board.
You may think you have 100 items on your list, but if some of them are projects rather than tasks, you might nave 300 items. Get them all down.
3. Prioritize: Daily prioritized task list (DPTL). Once you have your single master list of all tasks, give them a letter or number value. Some leaders use A, B, C, etc. to indicate priority level (that’s what I do). Others prefer numerical values from 1 to 100. Whichever system you use, sort the results from highest to lowest. Spreadsheets are easy, but many other systems help you to sort automatically. Here’s a hint - if you have 50 “A” or “100” priorities, you might as well have none. As a general rule, you can’t have more than six priorities for every day - everything else is a B or C, or the numerical equivalent.
4. Blinders: Crowd out interruptions. In his new book Digital Minimalism, Georgetown Professor Cal Newport reports that people spend about 2.5 hours per day on social media and check their digital devices on average 85 times per day. I’m not a Luddite, and I know the value of technology. But try giving yourself just two times a day of a 45-minute digital break. Imagine that you are in a meeting with the president of your board. Would you be checking your Twitter feed? Imagine that you are interviewing for your dream job. Would you be checking your Facebook likes? Although Newport recommends a 30-day digital break, I’m more realistic - I’m just asking for 45 minutes. It will be excruciating, but you can do it. And once you try that, you may get to even longer periods without social media, text, and phone interactions. This break also applies to personal interruptions. My first boss wisely told me that “the open door policy has nothing to do with the position of the door.” That is, you can still welcome conversation, but close the door when you need quite time to focus on your priorities.
5. Seatbelt. We can learn a great deal from writers who have overcome writer’s block. They confess to seeking anything – a thousand other tasks – other than writing. One best-selling author reports attaching a seatbelt to his chair so that there is no other task – no dog walking, no dishwashing, no calling Mom – that interferes with the daily requirement to write 2,000 words. For you it may not be writing a chapter, but calling a difficult parent, writing an overdue observation report, or visiting your highest-performing teacher. Whoever the challenge, the “seatbelt” rule says that you prevent yourself from any distraction other than the top of your list.
That’s it. Five simple rules:
· Gather everything.
· Focus on tasks, not just projects.
· Prioritize: No more than six per day
· Blinders: Stop the distractions, especially social media.
· Seatbelt: Get the top priority done and avoid anything else that distracts you.