Time management for leaders is a critical skill. Time is precious, and unless you want to spend your whole life at work, you’d better learn to manage it well.
Leaders often struggle with time management. Not only do they need to worry about their own their task list, they also need to be available to support their teams and resolve issues.
So, here are my top 5 tips on time management for leaders, to help you get your work done without spending your whole life at work or burning out.
Time Management for Leaders: Tip #1 – Understand Your Priorities
Priorities are critical. Without them, you have no concept of what work you should start first, and what can wait.
Generally, I like to set up to three priorities per day. Any more, and *everything* starts to become a priority, which is not helpful.
When you have too many priorities, you can’t make trade-offs about what to work on.
After you have set your priorities for the day, you can use them as a guide to how you spend your time. Some tasks take longer, so rolling these up into weekly and monthly priorities can also help.
Now when something lands on your plate, you can ask the question “Is this work contributing to my priority tasks?” If not, then you need to decide whether to push back on it, or accept it as one of your new top priorities, which will bump something else down the list.
What to Do If You Can Never Complete Your Priorities
We can’t always work on our own priorities. Often other work comes in from your boss or other teams. This is what makes time management for leaders so difficult.
However, if you find you are always working on other people’s priorities instead of your own, it’s time to make a change.
Some leaders struggle to complete any of their priorities. They are constantly disrupted by other incoming tasks which consume their time.
If this happens all the time, then you have a few options:
- Remove the tasks that are never completed from your priority list. If they were important, wouldn’t you be focusing on them?
- Push back on the work. Have a conversation with the person who is overloading you and work out a solution to the problem you’re having. You can learn more about pushing back in this podcast episode.
- Make a case for more resources. If all of this work really is important, then you’re going to need some help.
- Work longer hours to clear the backlog. Sometimes this can be a good strategy to get ahead. However, it’s not a sustainable option!
Learn More: 5 Ways to Say No Without Getting Fired.
Time Management for Leaders: Tip #2 – Work Offline
Working offline is one of the amazing time management tips to focus your effort and complete your priority tasks. In this digital age, we are often bombarded with an extraordinary number of distractions.
Smart phone or watch notifications, emails, social media, phone calls or unexpected “pop-ins” at your desk are common examples of the distractions we deal with every day.
Unfortunately for us, The Muse tells us that it takes almost 30 minutes to refocus after being distracted. That’s a big risk to your ability to get your work done.
To work offline, try the following approaches.
Work In “Offline Mode” In Your Email Client
Many people do a lot of work with email. If this is you, then switch your email “offline” for 30 minutes at a time.
This way, you won’t see any notifications and be tempted to check that new email.
After 30 minutes you can always go back online to check what has happened. However, I can guarantee that in most leadership roles, being away from emails for 30 minutes is not going to kill you or anybody else.
If people demand that you pay immediate attention to their emails, it’s time to start educating them that email is not useful for urgent communication.
Email is actually an asynchronous method of communication, which means it is designed not to be responded to in real-time. This is not effective for urgent matters, so suggest another method.
Work Away From Your Normal Location
Book a meeting room just for yourself, work from home for the afternoon, or sit in a coffee shop for an hour. People won’t be able to find you so easily. Often in workplaces, people will interrupt you because they know exactly where to find you.
Some people will also bother you because asking you for help is easier than solving a problem for themselves. When people can’t get your advice so easily, they may actually try harder to fix their own issues.
When you can’t be found so easily, you have a much better chance of experiencing fewer distractions and remaining focused on your work.
Ditch the Technology
Need to sketch up a plan, strategy, or a to-do list? Get rid of your laptop or your iPad, which have many distracting features.
Go to a quiet place with a notepad and pen and have some thinking time, with far less chance of distraction. Not everything needs to be recorded electronically. Sometimes the thinking process is more important than the end result.
Time Management Tip #3 – Create Calendar Bookings to Do the Work
I find one of the often underrated time management tips is to book time in your calendar to complete specific tasks. This helps you segment your day and ensure you’ll get the time you need to work on your priorities.
It’s important to be careful not to book your whole day like this – it could make you seem unavailable. It will also make it difficult for others to meet with you, and collaboration is important.
But, when you really need to focus, block out your calendar for that important task. If people try to book over these calendar entries, it’s time to have a conversation and push back.
Remember that people throwing bookings over your own are probably trying to get you to work on their priorities, rather than yours. You do need to be helpful and work with others, but if this becomes a recurring pattern, you need to make a change.
Learn More: Setting Boundaries at Work: Why It’s Crucial.
Time Management Tip #4 – Match Your Effort With the Value
There is no point spending three weeks working on something that your boss spends two minutes reading. You need to match the effort you spend with the value that your work brings.
For an important, highly visible piece of work, you might need to spend more effort. But it’s important that you don’t fall into the perfectionist trap of spending far too long on something that nobody really cares that much about.
If a task is taking up too much of your time and you suspect it brings little value, it’s time to start thinking about how you can eliminate it or do it more efficiently.
One way to help this process is to have a conversation with your key stakeholders to understand the level of quality they require, before you spend too much time on it.
Learn More: How Being a Perfectionist is Killing Your Leadership.
Time Management for Leaders: Tip #5 – Think for the Longer Term and Avoid Shortcuts
The last, but certainly not least of my time management tips for leaders is to remember that taking shortcuts usually leads to a lot of wasted time, in the long run.
Let’s look at an example.
You know you need to delegate some work to somebody in your team. But you’re busy, so what you do is send a quick email, briefly explaining what they need to do.
You skip a lot of the details and assume they understand what you need, because you don’t want to spend the time explaining it.
The person you delegated to is confused. They might send you a follow-up email asking for clarification, which you will need to respond to.
Even worse, they may take your poor instructions and go in the wrong direction, making mistakes along the way. Then, you’re going to need to tidy up the mess, which will waste even more of your time.
Sometimes taking the time to do things properly in the beginning can save a lot of time in the long run. So be sure not to avoid planning and preparation. It may not feel valuable, but you might just avoid a problem down the track.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #58: Why Leaders Should Do More Planning (and Why They Don’t).
Had enough of feeling overwhelmed and disorganised? Try my Online Course.
That’s why I created the Time Management for Leaders Online Course, to help you focus on what matters, feel more organised and get your important work done well.
The course is self-paced and contains tools and techniques to help you manage your workload, improve productivity and achieve better outcomes for your team. Click here to learn more and enrol.
Good post with some valid points.
I think that one of the most under-valued tips is #4 in your list. Perfectionism can be an admirable trait, but there is a time and a place for it and as you say, many perfectionists fall into the trap of spending way too much time on low value tasks instead of just getting it done and moving on to the next thing.
Thank you for posting and wish you a successful year ahead!
Thanks for the comment THH, wish you all the best.
Very timely tips to guide us during this pandemic. There’s so much time in our hands, yet being productive is a challenge.
Thanks for the comment Nora – I agree – many people have a lot more time at the moment!