How to Manage Your Time: 15 REAL Ideas for the Busy Boss
15 Ways I Manage My Time As a Boss
It’s just about that time of year when things are at their busiest. With the end of the year closing in, the pressure is on to meet our numbers. We’re busy planning our projects and budgets for next year. People are starting to use up their vacation, making their availability limited. And with kids back in school, my employees schedules are more restrictive. For the past two weeks, I’ve found myself leaving the office feeling like I barely put a dent in my ‘TO DO’ list. Fortunately, I know I’m not alone in this, and neither are you. Here are 15 time-saving tips for the busy boss:
1. Do it Now, Thank Yourself Later
It was something my old college roommate used to say to me. I often complained of feeling overwhelmed and always felt like I was behind. He, on the other hand, always seemed to get more sleep, relax more and not be as pressed for time. “Do it now, thank yourself later,” he would tell me. His point was very simple: Rather than defer little things until later, just take 30 seconds to do it and move on. Forgot to setup a one-on-one meeting with Mary? Need to review that financial report to get it off your desk? Behind in approving your employees’ time cards? Do it now, thank yourself later.
2. Set Thresholds of Minimums
Managing time efficiently, when you’re a perfectionist like me, is easier said than done. It’s hard to fight the urge to make everything perfect. But the higher I’ve gotten in my career, the more I’ve had to come to my senses. When you prioritize work, set a minimum threshold that you need to accomplish in a given day or week. Disruptions happen. Don’t sweat. Get the minimum done and move on. The difference between Nice to Have and Need to Have can be huge in terms of your time, so be realistic about what you need to accomplish.
3. Overcome Your Fear of Delegation
Everyone always says “Just delegate it,” as if it’s that easy. But face it. Sometimes you need help. It took me a very long time to be comfortable with the concept of delegation. I’d find myself wondering, “Why ask someone else to do something I can do just as easily?” Or better yet, “She’s just as busy as I am.” But in reality, sometimes we need the help of others. The first part of learning to delegate is to appreciate the fact that as the boss, your time costs the organization more and you’re in your position to make tougher decisions. That’s just reality, not arrogance. Consequently, while there are things that someone else can do, there are some things that only you can do and you need to prioritize those items, even if it means asking for help.
4. Standardize Repetitive Work
If you take a step back and look at your day, week or month, you’ll find repetition in there somewhere. Sending standard emails, completing your weekly report, or scheduling one-on-one meetings with your staff, etc. are all example. Find ways to standardize the work. Doing so not only helps you get it done efficiently, but you grow to expect it. If you send out a monthly department news letter, for example, have a format ready for you to fill in rather than start from scratch each time. Set an hour up each Friday to write your weekly report. Schedule all your one-on-ones on Tuesday mornings, so you know to plan other things around your Tuesday morning schedule.
5. Put the ‘Open Door Policy’ On Hold
I am a huge believer in the Open Door Policy. No matter what I’m doing, I try to make myself available to my team as much as I can, even when I tell them I will come by later when I have a moment. Unfortunately, this can also become extremely disruptive. When things get to the point where I simply need to plow through tasks, my Open Door Policy is suspended. Close your door and concentrate. If you don’t have an office, find an empty conference room. You’d be surprised how powerful a solid 60 minutes of time to concentrate can be.
6. Schedule A Meeting…With Yourself
We see an open time slot on our calendar as gold, because we have time to get some things done. However, if there’s an open time slot on your calendar, there’s a message being sent to others: “I’m available.” Just the other day, I noticed a colleague’s calendar showed he was out of office on Friday afternoon. When he called me after lunch, I asked him about it. “Oh, I just do that so no one schedules last minute meetings with me on Friday afternoon to make sure I can finish things up before the weekend.” Follow his advice. To ensure you get some time to yourself, schedule meetings on your calendar to block out some time to get work done. Nothing is worse than a day full of meetings and feeling like you got nothing accomplished.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Say ‘No’
Especially when you’re feeling overwhelmed, sometime you just need to say ‘no.’ As a manager, one of your biggest assets is your time. And everyone will want a piece of it. Sometimes, you simply need to turn down requests for help – at least defer them – to when you can accommodate. It’s nothing personal, just politely say you are unable to help at that time.
8. Murdered by Meetings
There are weeks when I look at my calendar, and it is full of meetings. Back, to back, to back. Drop-ins, rescheduled, unplanned. Monday through Friday. When do I get work done, if I’m in meetings with other people? When it comes to time management, take a critical look at your calendar. Do you actually need to attend each meeting? Often times, as the boss, you get invited to a lot of things, even if you don’t really need to be there. More often than not, you’ll find that half of the meetings on your calendar are inconsequential and do not require your presence. The point is simple: unless you need to be there to be made aware of something, or to approve something, consider declining.
9. Start a Little Early
If you’re struggling to find time to get things done, consider starting a little early. If the buzz around the office begins at 8:30 in the morning, show up around 7:30 to get an hour of quiet time during which you can pound out some emails, or make a list of what you need to get done that day. While putting an extra hour in isn’t exactly ‘time management’ by itself, it will help you organize thoughts, and knock out some small tasks before the day gets away from you. Bursts of quiet time are typically when you’re most productive. For me, while I can always do this after people leave, I usually find that I’m tired and want to go home, too.
10. Eliminate Transactional Waste
Transactional waste is the time lost due to process changes and inefficiency. It’s the efficiency you lose with repetitive starts and stops. If you find yourself jumping between tasks, it will lead to you losing time trying to remember where you left off, only to put it down again. Always try to power through and focus on getting one thing done. Reduce your starts and stops as much as you can. If you know you only have 20 minutes before a meeting, don’t start a task that will take you 2 hours.
11. Group Similar Tasks
Rather than stop what I’m doing to approve an expense report every time one comes in, I wait a few days and take a couple minutes to review 2 or 3 at once. I treat my employees’ time card reviews in a similar fashion. While the time savings itself may be rather minimal, the amount of lost time when interrupting something else when the creative juices are flowing can be a big deal.
12. Make Lists
It’s such a simple tool, yet so powerful: the list. Use whatever format you can maintain, be it in electronic form, on a white board in your office, or in your notebook. I happen to like using Post-It notes so that I can cross out items after I’ve completed them. Write down those fleeting thoughts as soon as they enter your mind. If you find yourself with 15 minutes of free time, instead of scratching your head for what to do, just look at your list. The amount of energy you waste trying to remember something versus putting it down and having peace of mind is amazing. For me, it is incredibly satisfying when I finally get to crumble up a Post-It note that’s no longer of use.
13. Group Think Creates Time Warps
Group Think, or the tendency for a group of people to center around the same ideas, can soak up valuable time. We’ve all been there – get the team together, talk about what we should do. The meeting will start out with “So I just wanted to get together to get some ideas….” Typically, these discussions go on to enter lengthy ordeals and result in limited tangible output. Then we schedule a follow-up session. You often walk away thinking “so what did we just accomplish?”
But spending the time to share ideas is still important. To avoid the time warp, send out an initial list of points to the team to let them think about them independently. By the time you get together, the time will be more productive and efficient. As an example, if you and your team are preparing for a customer visit, send to them a notional agenda that you came up with a week in advance. This way, when you meet as a team, they’ll have had time to review your agenda ideas and can contribute more easily with any additional ideas they had.
14. Set Personal Boundaries
In the worst of times, when dealing with a big issue that forces you to work long hours, you can easily let it take over you. You stay late, night after night, maybe even on weekends, and hardly see your kids for weeks on end. You were on a solid gym kick, and then “work exploded” and you fell out of your routine. When it comes to managing your time as a busy boss, it is vital to remember to set boundaries. Maybe you login at night to get more hours in, but make sure to leave at 4PM everyday to maintain that gym routine and get a mental break before starting up again at 8PM. Personal boundaries such as this help you step away and decompress, even if for a short time. But this decompression will make you more effective when you are on the job.
15. Think Positive, Even in Tough Times
We have a lot to keep us up at night and to let our minds wander. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my career, it’s that things will work out, even when you’re overwhelmed. It’s important to take a step back and remember to keep positive so that your workload, your TO DO list and your schedule don’t consume you. You cannot control everything, so it’s important to remain flexible and adaptive to changes. Keeping a clear head about you can help reduce your overall stress and keep you focused on the ‘here and now.’
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