I should start with the bad news – I haven’t invented a time machine and I don’t know how to make a day any longer than twenty-four hours!
However, the good news is that almost all of us are not making the best of the twenty-four that we have been given.The real challenge is not making more time, but making more OUT of the time we have.
For those of you who don’t know me, I have grown from Finance Director to VP of Sales and Managing Director at several multinationals including Honeywell-owned Elster Group. Today, my partners and I run a management consulting firm to help other CEOs and managers be more productive, lead more effectively, minimize losses and improve the overall performance of their businesses. My ability to maximize time has been a key factor in my success across all of these roles, and today I mentor other CEO’s on how to achieve more in the same length of time.
In this blog, I share 5 of the ways I talk about in my mentoring sessions of how you can give yourself more time – or, more correctly, to achieve more in the same length of time. And remember – they work best when you apply them all together, rather than selecting one or two.
Time-Making Technique #1: FOCUS
What’s stopping you?
It’s worth spending a moment looking at some of the things taking time away from us, and we all have them. Some of these things masquerade as time-saving devices, seemingly allowing us the ability to communicate widely at any time, and to access all the information we could ever need. That’s right, I’m talking about your phone!
How many times have you set yourself a task, only to be diverted by an email or text someone has sent you, or have searched for some key information on the internet and have been drawn off to look at a completely different, but equally interesting, fact?
What we’re seeing here is the loss of FOCUS. That diverting email is actually putting someone else’s priorities above yours, and the interesting internet site is demonstrating that you’re not fully focused on your task.
So how can managers “FOCUS”?
If all you want is to be busy and work hard all the time, then read no further. If you want to achieve something more with your time, then this technique is for you. When we speak of “FOCUS” here, we’re not referring to “concentrating on the task in hand”, but rather to “focusing on specific objectives”.
Focus is something that should be present for the whole business, but it is at least as important for each individual within the business, especially if you sit at the top
For a business owner, it is vital that you align your business’ objectives with your own personal objectives. Are you looking to exit the business in five years? Then the business plan must be set in such a way as to achieve that.
In a similar way, if you are a junior manager in a company and your personal objective is to rise to the top in that company, you need to know where the company is aiming to go, and then tailor your plans so that you are indispensable to the company’s success.
Once you are clear about your objectives – and there should be a maximum of five – you should keep them in mind at all times. Write them down in a clear, no nonsense, way without “management speak”, so that they could be clearly understood by someone not involved with your business. At the start of every day, remind yourself of your objectives. Everything you do should be in some way key to achieving your objectives.
If you get emails or calls or see something “interesting” on the internet, ask yourself: “How does this get me closer to my goal?” If you can’t answer the question, move on. If it’s something you know you will have to deal with at some point, then look at Time-Making Technique No. 5. However, if you think someone is asking you to do something and you can’t see how it is in the interests of the business, challenge them to justify their request.
Time-saving specialist Matt Turner has written an article on how professionals can spend less time on email every day, and he mentions the following statistic from McKinsey: 28% of workers’ time each day is spent on email. With such a substantial amount of time being dedicated to email, making sure you keep your business objectives in mind becomes even more crucial to your ability to create time.
Time-Making Technique No. 2: Adopt the right attitude
Attitude is one of the most important subjects in business (and possibly in life), and obviously is worthy of much wider consideration than one section in this article. However, having the right attitude can save you time!
I have seen so many hours wasted in businesses by pointless discussions about what should have been done and the mistakes that were made in the past. We have all seen it over the last nine months in the media: “What should the government have done differently to handle the pandemic?” The answer is that it doesn’t matter. I’ve already confessed that I haven’t invented a time machine (and nor has anyone else, sadly), so we can’t go back and correct past mistakes or make different choices. To state the obvious, we are where we are. There may be a time to look at cases where something was done so badly that there should be legal consequences etc, but generally speaking, time should be used to look at how we move forward – back to the focus on our objectives.
A side benefit of this is that it improves the morale of everyone in the business if the mood is generally positive, rather than continually going back over old ground and criticizing people for their decisions. That just causes people not to make decisions, creates inertia, and uses up time trying to get things moving.
So, what should the prevailing attitude within the business be? I was once lucky enough to have some cello lessons with an international soloist, Alexander Baillie. I knew I had some problems with my technique and didn’t play well in front of him. However, he didn’t utter a single negative statement the whole time I knew him. He pointed out the positives (there were some!) and he suggested ways in which I could improve some areas. It instantly made me feel that I could do it.
This can easily be translated into a business environment. Keep people thinking about moving forward in every discussion, every meeting, every report. I’ve heard many discussions start with a recital of the difficulties in winning orders, the complexities of the market, etc. It’s not that these should be ignored, but the conversation should be about how to achieve your objective, taking the difficulties into account. If the objective is absolutely impossible to achieve with a particular plan, either change the plan or maybe you need to look again at your objectives.
I came across this interesting graphic which shows that besides eating up our time, Blame actually reduces the flow of information, which is a consequence business leaders must avoid.
Time-Making Technique No. 3: Communicate!
Yes, I know that Communication is trotted out as a ‘must-do’ for all business, but I’m talking about communication to help very specifically with Time-Making techniques, particularly with the ability to maintain Focus.
Imagine an organization where all managers are trying to focus on their objectives, but (a) they don’t know the overall objectives of the business and (b) they don’t understand how the other business functions really work (although they may think they do!). Believe me, this is the case in a fair number of organizations around the world, in every sector.
Combining “Focus” and “Communication”, it’s essential that the owner and senior leadership team spend time communicating, very simply and clearly, the objectives that they are focusing on as a business. This is then cascaded down through the organization so that everyone understands what they are focused on and how that feeds into the overall direction of the business.
Some important things about this communication are that it should be:
- Simple – The message should be communicated in the first 30 seconds, in simple, clear, language. People at every level and in every location should be able to understand it.
- Frequent – Give the message as often as you can. People forget if they have to wait for a quarterly or 6-monthly bulletin. Learning is done by constant repetition.
- Consistent – Don’t vary the focus message. You can (and should) give progress updates, but don’t switch the focus message. As soon as you do this, the focus itself has gone.
These three things are equally important whether dealing with employees, investors, customers, or suppliers. It’s about human nature, how we learn and remember things; it’s not about education levels, experience, or technical background.
The second point about communication is that it is the basis for the understanding of, and respect for, the work of other departments within a business. When times are tough, it’s very common to find that valuable time is wasted by each department criticising what other departments are doing. In many cases, this stems from a lack of understanding of what those departments are doing and how their world works, and it also shows a lack of respect for fellow team members. It’s the 10-year olds’ football team syndrome: you assign everyone a position, but as soon as the ball’s in play, they all chase after it!
So, the lesson here is to ensure there is appropriate communication between functions to ensure understanding, and to make sure each function is focusing on their area of responsibility. Healthy discussion and debate are fine, but don’t allow time to be wasted by second-guessing.
Time-Making Technique No.4 – Have a good reason for every meeting and report
I know – meetings and reporting are favourite time-wasters, right? Well, yes and no.
There are endless pages written about how to hold meetings, with them being held up as a prime example of the waste of time. But, as in all things, you have to ask yourself “why?”. Why should I hold a meeting? Many people say that meetings should only be there as a forum to “make decisions”. While decisions can be made in meetings, they are not necessarily the best vehicle for decision-making, as they necessarily lead to a sense of management by committee, which can be very inefficient.
A regular management meeting is an ideal forum for each function to communicate to other functions what it is doing. It is also a forum to communicate how the overall business is doing in its progress towards its objectives, but beware the 10-year olds’ football team tendency.
Another, less well recognised, purpose of the management meeting is to hold each person to account. They should present their actual performance against targets (ideally, numbers, not words), what they’ve done and what they’re going to do. The knowledge that a person has to stand up in front of their peers and be held accountable can be a powerful motivator.
However, we should remember Time-Making Technique No.1, Focus, when holding a meeting. The meeting itself should be used to maintain everyone’s focus on objectives, and to maintain that forward momentum. Every report and presentation in the meeting should be aligned in that way, otherwise you risk it becoming an unfocused chat, and that really is a waste of time.
Exactly the same is true of Reports, and you should remember the points around good Communication from above. They should be as short as possible, focused on the objectives, infused with forward momentum and positivity (if performance is not on target, how will it be corrected?) and there should be clear takeaways and actions flowing from each report. No reader of a report should be left thinking “so what?”. If they are, you have wasted your own time preparing it, and their time reading it.
Time-Making Technique No. 5 – Set a disciplined way of working: the Professional Operating System (POS)
This technique brings all four of the other Time-Making Techniques into an integrated framework. You are basically setting out how you want to work on a day-to-day basis.
Any factory production manager will tell you that one of the biggest causes of inefficiency is long set-up times. The shorter the production run, the more the changeover and set-up time impacts efficiency and productivity.
Well, it should come as no surprise that the same is true of almost every activity within a business. If you’re working on something, an email comes in and you break off from your task to deal with it, then you have a phone call, before finally returning to your original task, you will have lost your train of thought and will waste time getting it back. And by the way, multitasking is a myth. Your brain cannot think two thoughts at once, so it is merely switching between two subjects very quickly, and not operating at peak efficiency on either subject.
The POS is a method of structuring your working time, just as a production planner would plan the production for each shift. Clearly, you need to be somewhat flexible, but if you don’t start with a basic structure, you will waste a significant percentage of your time. Things to consider in your POS are:
- Plan regular reports, calls, and meetings
- Allocate a specific time in each day when you do not check emails or receive incoming calls. Remember – other people may think their email or call is urgent, but it is unlikely that it cannot wait for an hour or two until you deal with it. If they’ve left something to the last minute, then that is their fault and you should make them aware of it.
- Maintain easily accessible measures of your performance, e.g. daily Order Intake or Production Output and schedule a time each day to review it.
- Schedule 1:1 meetings with your team members and maybe specific peers. This will lessen those ad hoc interruptions.
- Block out an hour or two every day on your calendar (actually put it in your Outlook calendar so people don’t put a meeting in) so that you are uninterrupted. At least once a week you should use this to look at your business from the outside ie ‘work on your business, not in it’. Too few of us take the time to do this.
I hope this article gives you some ideas about how to make more of the twenty-four hours we each have in our day. It’s best to employ something out of each Time-Making Technique, but just the process of thinking about how you spend your time will inevitably make you change your habits and create more time. Definitely worth doing while we all wait for that Time Machine to be invented! And once you’ve carved out more time in your day, the big question you’ll have to consider is …how are you going to spend it? Keep reading our blog to make sure you invest your time working ON the business, not just in the business.