I worked with a CEO who traveled — constantly. Whenever he had the chance to fly somewhere for a meeting, he would jump on the opportunity and say “I’m there.” He simply enjoyed the experience of going places, seeing new things and eating fine meals. He took every opportunity he could to hit the road. The problem was that he accomplished very little.
Although he spent time connecting with colleagues and partners, there were significant consequences from these activities. He was not around to provide meaningful leadership to a team that needed him to. He was also losing out on valuable sleep and often was a shell of himself when he was actually in town. (Lack of sleep leads to irritability, if you have not noticed.) By flying off to places he did not really need to be, he was squandering his time and the time of others.
Everyone wants to better manage their time, but it can be a daily struggle if you do not approach it correctly.
You promise yourself that you will not fritter away a single precious moment — and then blow tons of them the very next day. You struggle for a sense of “work-life balance,” but never seem to achieve it. You look to others who juggle everything beautifully, frustrated to think that could never be you. The reality is that even those with the big CXX titles struggle with time management too.
As the co-founder and CEO of Aha! I am fortunate to interact with hundreds of successful leaders at companies around the world every month. I see firsthand what works and what does not. Over the years, I have picked up a thing or two about managing time, and I have tried to apply those lessons to my own life.
I have learned that good time management is not simply a byproduct of their success. Leaders who achieve the most are successful in large part because they have learned to make good use of their time. They have the same 24 hours a day as everyone else, but they accomplish a phenomenal amount in that space of time.
That is because they take a strategic approach to how they order their days.
They know that time is their most important commodity and they guard it carefully from intrusions. They do not let others or events determine the course of their day. If you want to better manage your time, here is where you can start:
Learn what matters most
Achievement-oriented leaders have figured out what is worth their time and attention. If you want more control of your time, consider what is most important in your life. What deserves to be your top priorities, and what is currently being shortchanged? Not everything is going to make the cut, so identify the big time-wasters that could potentially fall off your schedule and free you up to work on what matters.
Set strategic goals
Develop a goal-first approach to how you will spend your hours. Your goals should match those priorities that you identified. They can be anything that is important to you: Spending more time with your children, finishing a big project, whipping up a surprise dinner for your spouse. Whatever the goal is that you set, just be intentional about making time for it.
Beware of busy-ness
Like my CEO who filled up his time with needless travel, you can say “yes” to many things that will consume your days. But successful leaders recognize that activity is not the same as achievement. Being busy all the time can lead to exhaustion and a feeling of emptiness. It’s better to focus your attention on reaching your daily goals rather than filling up every possible moment.
Reclaim personal time
Once you start turning down things that are simply not a priority and gaining some control over your time, you will find that your hours are no longer filled with back-to-back engagements. You will be more available and responsive to others. You will be able to carve out small moments in time to do whatever you want — taking a bike ride, enjoying a sunset, or simply reading a book — whatever makes you happy.
We can learn plenty by studying the world’s most productive leaders — both the good and the bad. They may not have all of the answers, but they have discovered something many of us have yet to control.
They have simply figured out how to master the time that they are blessed with.
I encourage you to set a strategy to take back control of your time. Trust me, it will be well worth the effort.
How do you successfully manage your time?