The best time managers won’t read this article. They already manage their time for effectiveness instead of efficiency. Efficient time managers try to do more in any given period of time. Effective time managers focus on fewer activities, spending more time on each, with more time to relax, think, prepare and follow through so they can get more done with greater impact.
On the one hand, you already know this. Whenever there’s something you have to get done, you clear your day, assemble the people, information and resources you need to complete the task and give it 100% of your attention until it is complete. That’s the epitome of fitting fewer things into your day – as in one thing.
The models abound.
As CEO of Disney in the 1990s, Michael Eisner refused to schedule anything more than six weeks in advance and always kept two hours free each day.
As described in “The 40-30-20-10 Rule of Time Management” people focused on getting three things done each week will complete more of them than will the same people working 10 projects at a time.
At the most senior levels, you can’t do anything on your own. This is where Two-way Time Management comes into play, making sure others accept accountability for things you delegate to them.
Consider these guiding principles adapted from Finland’s schools. Children there spend less time in school (as in 3-5 hours/day), have fewer classes with more breaks to give them time to digest what they’ve learned, cover fewer topics in more depth and have less homework than most other countries. Yet, they are consistently on the top of the global performance tables. They are learning more by doing less work. As school principle Leena Liusvaara said in Michael Moore’s documentary, “Your brain has to relax every now and then. If you constantly work, work, work, then you stop learning.”
1) Fewer meetings.
The trouble with internal meetings is that they tend to take on lives of their own, especially if they are regular standing meetings. No one wants to be the one to suggest they are less than useful, while almost everyone in the meetings know that to be the case.
2) Fewer people attending.
The optimal size of a meeting is seven people +/- two. With more than nine in attendance people have to fight for airtime. Having less than five sacrifices diversity of thought. This flows from the average size of human families over time and is one of the reasons why Google’s Nested Approach to Office Space works as well as it does. If you value your people’s time, help them spend it where they can have the most impact.
3) Fewer items on the agenda.
Finnish students learn more by covering fewer topics in more depth. So should you.
4) More time for preparation, breaks and follow-through.
Build in more time for pre-reading, pre-work and pre-thinking, more breaks during the actual session and more time for reflection and focused action afterwards. For our CEO Connection CEO Boot Camps we start distributing pre-reads six weeks in advance. Then, during the 23 hours of the boot camps we schedule only 5 ½ hours of work sessions. The rest of the time is devoted to eating, drinking, sharing ideas and sleeping.
Relook at where you spend your time
If you follow the 40-30-20-10 Rule you will spend 90% of your time on your top three priorities. Recently surveyed CEOs reported spending 66% of their time on their top three priorities, split 38% operational, 23% organizational, and 5% strategic – meaningfully different than how CEOs best lead strategic, organizational and operational processes, so there’s room for improvement even with them. Think hard about how you can stop doing the multitude of things others ask you to do so you can free up time for the few things you already know will have the greatest impact on what matters most.