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The Most Powerful Time Management Question You’ll Ever Ask

September 29th, 2015

clockSusan is a business owner who loves to innovate.

She generally makes good business decisions, except when she’s under pressure. A week before the most important trade show of the year, Susan decided to create a holiday-themed video. She spent several 20-hour days working on the video, pulling staff away from important show preparation.

At the trade show, the video got only passing glances from attendees. Susan was too exhausted to work the company’s booth effectively and hadn’t prepared her staff to step into her role. The company’s show orders decreased 30 percent from the previous year.

Maybe you’ve been in Susan’s shoes. You have a significant project to complete, a month-end quota to meet or a looming deadline. Just thinking about the work overwhelms you, and your knee-jerk reaction is to focus on something else – anything else. The decision you make in that moment will move your business forward, or set it back.

You can break this bad-decision cycle with one simple question:

What is the best use of my time right now?

Here are three simple ways to manage your time for the results you want.

Reviewing Your Goals

Write down your goals in an easily accessible format. Two options are to store them on a mobile device or keep them on a card in your wallet. As you review your goals, ask yourself: What is the best use of my time right now? Identify actions that will move you toward your goals.

Setting Your Daily To-Do List

Chances are that the tasks on your daily to do list exceed the time you have to accomplish them. Start by categorizing your list by:

  • Tasks that maintain your current business
  • Tasks that grow your business
  • Tasks that simplify your business

Review the tasks in each of these categories and ask: What is the best use of my time today in each of these categories? Then select the most important items for the day.

Using the Gaps in Your Schedule

Every business day has schedule gaps. Some are intentional windows of time between meetings; others take shape due to cancellations or unexpected adjustments. Examine how are you using those gaps in your schedule, and ask yourself again: What is the best use of my time right now?

Fifteen minutes between meetings can be a coffee run, or a time to connect with a high-value customer. Having lunch with a friend could be time better spent having lunch with a new business contact. That 40-minute task could be halfway to completion in 20 minutes

Deciding to take action is not the issue. Deciding to spend your time wisely is. Using this simple, powerful question on a daily basis can help you manage your time for results.

Working Hard on The Smart Stuff

June 20th, 2014

Work smarter, not harder.

We’ve all heard the mantra. And when you read it or hear it after a long day, you may wonder if there’s a shortcut or workaround you’ve missed. Is there a cadre of smart people out there that manage to do in three hours what others need eight, or ten, or twelve hours to complete? Is there a silver bullet that they know about?

Working smart or working hard is more than simply working long hours. The smartest business professionals are those who take the time to figure out what their smart work is, and then work hard at the smart work. 

One of the best “smart workers” I’ve ever known was a former boss who had laser focus on his goals. All of Tom’s activity was centered on two things:  Producing results that grew the company, and building positive relationships with the people he interacted with while producing those results.

Tom taught me and everyone else in our business unit to ask ourselves questions. How will this activity produce results for the company? With whom do I need to collaborate or communicate? What effect will this activity have on our customers? My colleagues? Our partners and stakeholders?  Is this the best use of my time right now?

I worked hard during those years I spent in Tom’s business unit – and I’m grateful for all that hard work. I learned to work smarter because I learned to benchmark the value of my activity.

Smarter, harder. It’s not a question of being busy or working less. The return you get on your time is measured in results and relationships. It’s working hard on the smart stuff.

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

– Carl Sandburg