We work with many busy executives who continuously have to decide where to spend their time. As we observe those who are the most successful, our conclusion is that they know what is vitally important and they have the discipline to stick to it. We have also realized that there is no magic time management system, no matter what the consultants promise. Successful executives all have different systems — some are sophisticated, others are quite simple.
Our longtime mentor amazes us because he knows exactly where to spend his time. As we have studied him and others we respect, have read countless books on the subject, and have attended our share of presentations, we have developed the following opinions.
Why Is It So Hard?
First, it is important to understand what the problem is. It may not be obvious.
We hate to use clichés, but in this case it may be appropriate to quote Benjamin Franklin, who said, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” Presidents, CEOs, business owners and other executives are busy people. They are like enormous magnets that attract big problems that need to be solved.
Second, we need to understand a phenomenon called the “Tyranny of the Urgent,” identified by noted author Charles Hummel. He challenges us to not allow urgent matters to drown out the important matters. We find that many people do not properly value their time — every minute of it. They come to us for help but then shoot down every suggestion we offer with the phrase, “Well, it only takes a few …” Actually, some of the urgent items are activities the executive loves to do (we will talk about that subject another time).
Finally, it is hard to say “no,” but it is a requirement for those who want to achieve their best. We love to hedge our bet. Read about a guy who had the courage to focus and made millions in our May 14, 2012, blog.
So What Should We Do?
- Know what is an important priority for you and write it down. We have not met with one executive who has told us they do not know what to do. Usually, within 15 minutes they can clearly articulate what they should be focused on. Bill Hybels, the leader of a global nonprofit organization that’s growing exponentially, writes down the six most important things he needs to focus on for the next six months on a 6x6 index card he always carries in his pocket. In Andy Stanley’s book, Next Generation, he quotes Dr. Howard Hendricks — a notable professor, speaker, and author — who said, “There are many things I can do, but I have to narrow it down to the one thing I must do.”
- Learn to say “NO.” When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he cut the product line from 350 to 10. Based on market capitalization, Apple went on to become the most valuable company in the world.
- Have a trusted advisor(s) who speaks the truth. This may seem like self-serving advice, but we have found, for a variety of reasons, that even a Board of Directors/Advisors do not provide the tough, tailored messages that are necessary at times.
- Measure your progress. In his book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?, Louis Gerstner Jr. says, “People do what you inspect, not what you expect.” That applies to us leaders, too. Review your 6x6 card (or whatever your system) regularly. Depending on your routine, consider doing this consistently at the beginning or the end of each week.
Keep it Simple and Just Do It!
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