How often do you apologize to others for being too busy? How would you like to have more time for your team?
As CEO of a growing early-stage startup, I spend my time touching nearly every aspect of the business. Employees on every team constantly rely on me for my input. And while they know that I am stretched thin, they have very real demands for my time. I want to be available so that important initiatives don’t bottleneck and to fulfill a deep commitment to supporting my employees in achieving their personal and professional goals.
While time-management programs and techniques are extremely useful for balancing and prioritizing an entrepreneur's schedule, the most valuable tactic is to reframe the understanding of time altogether.
Time is not a separate external phenomenon, but rather something that you can actually generate. The key is to intentionally focus on what you want, instead of constantly focusing on how much time you don’t have.
Time is fluid. Einstein said that time is an illusion. But unless you are moving near the speed of light, chances are you are still stuck with the standard 24-hour day, seven day week and so on. People slot their various tasks into this construct, but it's possible to have more control than you think. There is also a subjective quality to time, and it is your relationship with it that determines that reality.
Your perception of time and how much you can accomplish during a fixed period can vary widely. For example, when an automobile crash seem to be imminent, everything seems to slow down. Then in one fraction of a second you may able to swerve away from impact and then regain control. That tiny span of time can seem to stretch on for several seconds or more.
The same is true when you are performing a task. For elite athletes who run a 30-second sprint, time seems to stretch on forever. That elongated perception can be replicated regardless of the task, based on how focused you are.
Don’t let time manage you. Have you ever maintained absolute uninterrupted focus until you completed a project? Afterward you marveled at how much high-quality work you produced in just several hours. This flow state can be accessed at will.
The feeling that there isn’t enough time is an illusion. Once you renegotiate your relationship with time through dedicated engagement to any task, you can then follow these techniques to pare down your to-do list and keep your commitments to your team:
1. How do you feel? The way we breathe, eat, sleep and relate to others all have an impact on our ability to perform at peak levels. When all your needs are met and you feel healthy and at ease, you can focus, be more productive and master your time.
2. Prioritize your most important activities first. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey provided the analogy of placing rocks into a jar. Just like your day, the jar has limited space. If you begin by adding sand and then add pebbles (the small tasks), you will not have room for the large rocks (the more important, time-consuming tasks).
To make everything fit, you have to put the rocks in first, then the pebbles, sand and water. Always start your day with your most important tasks first. You can then generate the necessary time for all the smaller, less important things.
3. Stay in it. The most time-consuming and bumpy parts of a flight are the takeoff and landing. But while the plane is at cruising altitude, you experience a smooth ride.
If you constantly look away from tasks that require intense mental concentration, you will waste time reimmersing yourself into your flow. By repeatedly giving into distraction, your day will get away from you. Instead, establish a period of time when you will multitask, taking care of emails and other small items. When those things come to mind during your focused work, jot down a quick note to handle them later.
4. Commit to hard stops. At any moment you can be creating structure for the future or be totally present. When you have open-ended meetings, you will forget the important things that still need to be done and will become stressed. Don’t look at the clock while you should be fully engaged in a task or conversation. Create boundaries and use external reminders like setting an alarm, so that you can stay in the moment fully and then move on to other tasks.
Cyril Parkinson said, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” By focusing, prioritizing and setting boundaries, leaders can control time instead of always feeling overwhelmed. Shift your strategies for time management, discover more time for your employees and stop apologizing for being too busy. Because what they are actually hearing you say is “Sorry, this task is more important than you.”