We’ve all been there – scrambling to check the “to-dos” off our list, but finding that 24 hours in a day just isn’t enough. “My time just isn’t my own,” is common place in my office as clients describe how they’re being pulled in multiple directions and never completing to their “top priorities.”
Stressed, anxious, and frustrated – burned out leaders want to take back their time, but aren’t sure where to start. This begs the question, as a leader, how can you start controlling your time when everyone wants it?
Is it your time…or your choice?
First thing’s first, be truthful about whether it’s a time management issue or a choice management one.
Answer this: if given more than 24 hours in a day, would you complete the tasks you already have, or add more to your list? Ultimately, it’s about making the choices in how you spend your time that allow you to control it.
Once you determine that your choices are the issue, you need to know where you’re spending your time. For one week, track all your professional and personal activities and determine:
- Which were proactive or reactive tasks?
- Was “it” an effective use of your time? (Remember: being efficient does not equate to being effective!)
- Could a task be delegated?
- Did your proactive leader tasks (strategizing, critical thinking) take priority?
- Were you engaged in all tasks?
- How many times did you say “yes” and wish you said “no?”
By answering these, you’ll see how your choices impact whether you are effective or just task checking. The hard truth is that we are often the cause of our own lack of time because of our choices.
Choice Management Strategies
Once you recognize where your time goes, you can start making choices based on your goals, values, and priorities. A great tool I use with clients is the Eisenhower Decision Matrix, made popular through Stephen Covey’s Time Management Matrix. Using this matrix, you sort your tasks into four quadrants:
- Do: Important and urgent tasks. Such things include crisis management, deadlines, and solving problems.
- Decide: Important, but not urgent tasks. Examples include planning and critical thinking strategies, relationship building, and recreation.
- Delegate: Urgent, but not important tasks in relation to your responsibilities such as interruptions, activities, meetings.
- Delete: Unimportant and not urgent tasks, considered time wasters.
By understanding where your choices fall on this matrix, you can start to make decisions based on priorities in the Do and Decide quadrants, specifically by:
- Delegating tasks
Make decisions that support your priorities and schedule time for these. If there is a task on your list that does not support your priorities, delegate it. If you can’t delegate a specific task, look at the gap as to why not. For instance, do you need to develop a team member prior to handing off these tasks?
- Understanding your boundaries
Recognize what your critical priorities are and set boundaries around them. For example, you may need strategic thinking time, but can’t schedule it because you’re running between back-to-back meetings. By zeroing in on what your priorities are, you’re better able to assess which meetings are in line with your priorities, decline those that aren’t, and then schedule strategic thinking time into your now open timeslot.
- Setting expectations
Set expectations and give yourself permission to share them. Here, you must look at your priorities in relation to your goals and make decisions around them. To do this well, you must be honest with what your true priorities are. This will resolve a lot of the inner conflict as to whether or not you need to be doing something over another task.
An example of this is my client who had guilt over not being with her family because of her responsibilities as CEO of a prominent marketing company. When she determined her family priorities, such as attending the majority of her son’s basketball games, she partnered with her executive assistant and built her schedule around saying “no” to certain items that fell on game times wherever possible. She allowed herself the freedom to be engaged at his games along with releasing any guilt about being there because she consciously determined which choice was her top priority at that moment.
The biggest shift for my clients when they go from their time mindset to a choice one is that they end up with free time. They now have space to use for proactive thinking or making more choices with how to fill this open time in relation to their priorities. In addition, many:
- Let go of outside guilt
- Have less anxiety around free time
- Become engaged and refreshed in conversations and tasks
- Feel they have choice in controlling their time
- Are empowered to make changes in what to say “yes” and “no” to
While you can’t control time, you can control your choices and priorities. It can be difficult at first, but by being accountable with your choice management, you give yourself permission to say “no” to things that don’t support your priorities. Choice is about spending your time and energy on what’s important. And while you can’t have it all, you can have the things that matter most to you. Ask yourself: is it really a time issue…or a choice one?
This article was originally published by Forbes at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescoachescouncil/2017/04/19/if-theres-never-enough-time-time-management-isnt-your-real-problem/#135753ac23d6