Effective time management is crucial to your success as a business owner or CEO. You can be pulled in a thousand directions in a short time and wonder where the day went. In my book, the better you are at time management, the better you at leading, because you can divvy up your time based on what your company, clients and employees need most: your attention.
Time management is difficult for many people, but there are some helpful tricks we CEOs use to properly manage our most precious resource. Here's how I successfully manage my time and lead by example at U.S. Money Reserve.
Time and attention equals priorities and goals.
CEOs tend to be the jacks-of-all-trades of time management. We continually face pressures from both inside and outside the business and have to manage multiple business lines to make sure nothing major falls through the cracks, yet we still have to maintain a high level of involvement with everyone from shareholders and clients to employees and community organizations.
Despite these massive demands on our time and attention, truly skilled CEOs are rarely frazzled; they are always present, and they tend to make anyone they are speaking with feel like they are the center of the universe at that moment. Great leaders and CEOs continually face a shortage of time, yet the best ones never seem to falter. So what's the key?
Wherever our attention goes, our business also goes. As the leader of a major company, you matter. What you do matters. Your employees, your colleagues, and the outside world pay attention to what you are up to, where you choose to appear, and what you choose to say. My participation in specific events and what I write and say give cues to my counterparts and the rest of the company about what I hold in high esteem and what I am focused on. What I say and do publicly and privately determine what we say and do as a company. My words and actions offer a clue to my priorities as a leader and human.
If you were to apply this idea – time and attention equal goals and priorities – to your own life, what would you notice? Where do you spend your time and attention? If you were to step outside yourself and examine how you spend your time currently, what would you pick up on? What would your behavior communicate about your priorities? As humans, we often complain about how quickly time passes and feel that there is never enough. Stepping back and examining how you actually spend your time is a crucial step to identify where all that lost time goes.
The best way to figure out where your lost time goes is to use a similar technique to the one used when Harvard Business Review studied how CEOs spend their time back in 2018. For that fascinating study, the researchers trained executive assistants to account for each 15-minute period of their CEO 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for an entire quarter so they could see how CEOs actually spend their time.
While that might be excessive for personal use, you can take cues from the study to create your own time inventory. Perhaps you can take a few minutes at the end of the day to write down what you thought about or did throughout the day. You could use a bullet journal or a daily calendar to keep track of how you spend your time and attention for a month or even a week to gain valuable insight into your time and attention allocation.
The value in this exercise is that it can help you pinpoint where your goals and your actions could be better aligned. If you say you want to lose weight but don't track your food intake and energy output, you aren't setting yourself up for the best results. A time inventory is similar in that it helps you step outside of yourself to realize how you are spending your time and energy. It can help you notice places where your goals are disconnected from your actions and get you back on track or, better yet, help you hone your goals to align with what you actually spend your time and energy on.
Wherever your attention goes, so goes your time (and your business). Managing your time and your attention is one of the most important aspects of time management. It impacts your work, your home life and the quality of your life overall. If you can get a better idea of where it all goes, you can get better at balancing it across all aspects of your life.
Time is a bank account without overdraft protection.
You are free to spend your time and attention in any way you like, but once it's spent, it's gone. You cannot get it back.
Many well-known CEOs manage their time with this in mind, because it helps them focus on just how precious the present moment is. This can also help CEOs say no more often.
As Steve Jobs is famous for saying, "People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things."
Saying no can be tricky, both as a CEO and as an average person. Saying no can mean making tough choices and turning down someone you care about. It's a fine line to walk, but it can be immeasurably valuable when it comes to managing your time better.
To apply this to your life, you should take a look at your time inventory. The inventory can tell you where you are spending your time and where you are getting a return on your time investment. Whether you are the CEO of a company or just the CEO of your home, saying no to things that are not priorities is a crucial part of time and energy management.
It may also help to think of time as a series of debits and credits, like your bank account. Debits do nothing but take your time away. These are time-sucks. Some things you might include in your debit column are "wasting time on the internet" and "mindlessly scrolling through social media." These things tend to take up vast swaths of our time and attention but don't do much good for us as humans and as CEOs of our lives.
Credits are ways you spend time that may gain you more time in the future. Examples of credits are working out, making a home-cooked meal and freezing portions for future consumption, and studying something new that could help you in your career. While both credits and debits consume time, some things offer more significant benefits than others and help you manage your time effectively.
Take a close look at those activities that give you a feeling of being refreshed, energized or excited, and consider those as credits. Difficult things like going to the doctor, caring for your loved ones, or even taking time for yourself also fall into this category. Debits are the things that leave you feeling depleted and empty after you spend time on them. Consider minimizing your debits and increasing your credits. There is no overdraft protection when it comes to managing your time.
Scheduling downtime is essential.
One of the main ways I manage my time as CEO of U.S. Money Reserve is that I schedule both downtime and buffer time every day. Downtime is the time you take to recharge and rejuvenate. There is no goal during downtime other than to let your body and brain rest. Buffer time is used to allow your brain to switch gears in between meetings or events. It can be as long as an hour or as short as 10 minutes. It all depends on your needs.
For me, downtime means I spend time with my family and, as I have written before, find a balance between my work life and my home life. Downtime has been shown to improve productivity, focus and creativity, and it offers your body and mind time to reconnect with what matters most to you.
Your downtime should have clear boundaries. If you are spending time with your kids, you don't want your phone going off every five minutes with new emails, Slack messages or calls. Treat your scheduled downtime with the same respect you'd treat meeting with your boss or scheduling an important appointment. Whatever brings you joy and relaxation, continually schedule time to enjoy it.
Buffer time is slightly different in that it is a period of time I generally schedule between events or meetings to allow my brain and body to recharge and refocus. We all need short breaks now and then, and I find that by scheduling them at regular intervals, I can become even more productive. Buffer time is a great tool to use if you feel overscheduled, because it can give you that little breathing room you need to get back on track.
The bottom line – time is precious.
There's no question that time is a valuable commodity that should not be squandered. Successful CEOs know that the only way to get through all of the things we have to do in a day is to have strategies for time management. If you apply the three mindsets I've listed above, I promise you'll find lost time and truly step into your power as the CEO of your life. Time is the one thing we never get more of, so don't waste it.