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How to Control Your Time Bandits
July 21, 2014 | By Neil Ducoff | 3 Comments
You worked hard all day on a bunch of stuff. There were emails, phone calls, tasks, interruptions – and some fires that would have burned out of control had you not stepped up to play fireman.
You’ve had a busy day, but what meaningful work did you truly accomplish? How much progress did you make on those gotta-do projects scattered all over your plate?
Fact: being “busy” does not translate into being productive and making forward progress.
Being busy can mean you’re procrastinating on work you should be doing.
Being busy can mean that you’re doing work that others can and should be doing.
Lastly, being busy can mean that you’ve set yourself up to be an easy target for time bandits.
There are all sorts of time bandits just waiting to rob you of your precious time. And they don’t even need to pick a lock to rob tiny morsels or big chunks of your time. Leaders make it easy by leaving their time fully exposed and unprotected. The only way to protect your time is to manage and defend it. But managing your time is like going on a diet or strict workout program. It requires a system and the discipline to be steadfastly accountable to it. Only then will the time bandits be held at bay.
If you’re tired of being robbed by time bandits, lock on to the following No-Compromise Leadership time management disciplines:
- It’s you against the time bandits: Managing and defending your time is a deeply personal commitment to get your work done while fulfilling your responsibilities as a leader to those you lead. Controlling your time and how you use it is a solo act that is 100% dependent on your thinking and behavior. You can hire someone that is highly organized to help you manage your time … but you’ll drive that organized person crazy if you continue to free-float through time by doing what you want, when you want. Time bandits will rob you blind while you bounce around your busy day accomplishing little to nothing.
- Build a “Time-Flow Plan”: At Strategies, we are relentless when it comes to coaching owners and leaders on how to build and live a cash-flow plan. There’s little difference between planning expense allocations and planning how to allocate your time. You begin by determining how much time you have to allocate in a month, week and day. Begin with the gotta-do’s like meetings and high-value events that you must attend. Next, schedule time, even if it’s an hour or two every other day, to work on high-value projects. Essentially, you are booking time for yourself to work on new systems, innovations and growth projects. Just make sure the time you’re booking for yourself is the time of day that’s most productive for you. I like early morning for writing and projects. Live your time-flow plan. No compromise.
- Deadlines and milestones: If a project or initiative lacks a deadline, it rarely crosses the finish line. If it does, it’s often over budget and a little too late for the party. Deadlines create urgency. Milestones are mini-deadlines that break up a project into manageable pieces. If you’re not using a project management system to structure and drive your projects through to completion, you’re leaving the door wide open for the time bandits. There are many powerful, affordable and easy to use web-based systems available – but they only work if you and your team are disciplined to stick with it. (Hint: Strategies is building a web-based system for you.)
- Filter interruptions: Interruptions are part of leadership simply because you are a decision maker. People want and need you for advice, guidance and solutions. But in that flow of interruptions coming at you, some are essential and urgent. Likewise, there are interruptions that are non-essential and nothing more than cleverly disguised time bandits. Filtering interruptions can be as simple as asking how urgent the issue is. If it’s urgent, deal with it. If it’s not urgent and non-essential, you can either schedule a date and time to address it, or direct the person to someone that can. The rule in filtering interruptions is to be respectful without compromising your time commitments. And yes, there will be times when an issue or crisis can, and should, blow up your schedule.
- Protect your plate by keeping other people’s stuff on theirs: Leaders are problem solvers. But a leader’s true role is to develop those they lead to achieve their full potential. If your open-door policy has a bright flashing “Problem Solver” sign over it, you are giving an open invitation to any and all time bandits to enter. Simply put, if you’re the self-proclaimed problem solver, you are enabling others to easily move problems from their plate to yours – problems that in most cases, can and should be solved on their own. The moment you say, “OK, I’ll take care of it,” the transfer to your already overflowing plate is complete. The best response is, “I understand, so what do you think your best options are?” Coach, guide and encourage the employee to find the solution on their own. That’s how you develop talent and innovative thinking … and keep other people’s stuff on their plates and off yours.
- Never be your own time bandit: I keep using the terms discipline and commitment because that’s what it takes to control, manage and defend your time from the time bandits. But the worst time bandit of all can be you. As leader, it’s easy to fall into that entitlement thinking that you can do what you want. Quite the contrary, your boss is the company. Your job is to drive The Four Business Outcomes: productivity, profitability, staff retention and customer loyalty. Your job is to keep the company’s vision shining bright and its culture pure. Your job is to take the company and its people to a better place. There is little time left on your schedule for wasting time and goofing off. No compromise.