Executives know that in order to best leverage your effectiveness, you need to be working on your business, not working in your business.
Time is our most valuable and most scarce resource. Making the most of our available time, regardless of the endeavor, is always smart. For example, we all try to balance work and family time, time for ourselves pursuing hobbies or exercise, and other interests or endeavors.
Having read a number of great books on the subject, and implemented a number of strategies and tactics to maximize the efficiency of my time “at work,” I want to share some things that have worked well for me and are easy to implement.
Strategy #1: Get four hours of your workday back in one step: Treat email as a task in and of itself.
This was first suggested to me by a popular personal finance and business leader, who has a syndicated radio program, probably a decade or longer ago.
In essence, the idea is that by definition, as a busy executive, you have nearly unlimited demands on your time, and much of that demand comes in via email because of the low cost and effort required to burden you with it.
Treat your interaction with email as a scheduled event in and of itself. Personally, I allow myself to check, read, and send emails two periods per day, usually about 90 minutes maximum per session. I read email mid-morning, and again in the late afternoon. If I’m expecting something important from a client (or maybe your boss if you have one), I check it around the time I’m expecting it, then close email. I might check it late in the evening to see if any major grenades rolled in at the end of the day.
The rest of the day, those 21-plus hours, my email is closed and I don’t look at it unless I need to look at it for my purposes or send a note.
This is a major change for most of us, but when you think about email, it is really an interruption to your most important work. Email is convenient and efficient for senders; it is often a burden for the recipient. Very quickly, people that have traditionally just sent or CC’d you on relatively low-priority things, will learn to filter their email communication to only actionable information. They will find other means, such as a phone call or face-to-face, to communicate critical or time-sensitive items.
The much higher perceived “interruption cost” of those methods automatically filters information to only the most urgent issues. The barrier to pick up the phone and call the CFO or CEO, or walk into their office, is exponentially higher than a casual CC on an email.
Takeaway: Use email twice a day for less than 90 minutes per session.
Strategy #2: Spend part of your day planning it and working on the most important goals of the day.
When in an office environment, I keep my calendar blocked out and unavailable from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. every day. I refuse to take meetings prior to 10 a.m. unless I’m traveling for that specific purpose.
I do this in order to accomplish the two most important jobs of the day: First, planning my day. I make or update a prioritized list of things that need to happen today, things that need to happen in the next two weeks, and then I delegate everything else on the list.
Second, I spend the rest of that block of morning time working on the top priorities from my list. By definition, the top priority is where your time should be spent. Not in meetings, not reading or responding to emails, nor being a passive participant in endless Powerpoint presentations or conference calls.
Takeaway: Plan your day and focus on your most important tasks. Measure every interruption (email, phone call, walk-in) against your most important task of the day. If it’s not more important than that, don’t get sidetracked.
Strategy #3: Step back and think strategically.
With all of this new-found time and efficiency, you now have some time to think strategically. Some call this working “on” your business instead of working “in” your business.
What are you doing that you could delegate? If you can’t delegate most of your work to your direct reports, they need training, or they need to be replaced. Bake delegation into the fabric of your organization; it is the key to an efficient company.
What are you or your team doing that you could just stop doing? Do you really need all of those reports, or can they be culled down to a few metrics that surface major problems? What is your business doing just because it’s always done it? Revisit tired, inefficient activities.
Spend time mentoring and coaching your team, in person, by walking around. Email, social media, and the internet have reduced the costs and improved the efficiency of communications, but in my opinion they have not improved the quality of communication. The effectiveness of communication is often inversely proportional to the amount of effort required to distribute it.
Think about your team, your business, your customers, and your competition. Who is beating you? If you’re winning, who is on your heels? How can you get or stay on top? Who is on your team that needs some training or needs to leave? Where do you have holes in your organization? Where are you over-staffed? These are questions every C-level should ask themselves every day — it’s the best use of your time.
Takeaway: Find processes that don’t need to be done, and get rid of them. Encourage your teams to do the same. Your job is to create the environment for success, have the best people in the right seats, and keep the train headed in the right direction. Spend time every day thinking and acting on these topics.
Jason Worley is president and CEO of Asset Drone, which provides cutting-edge drone surveying, mapping, and inspection services.