Time. It’s one of the world’s most plentiful commodities, yet one of its scarcest. We all have it, use it, waste it, and want more of it. And even if we spend more than 40 hours behind our desks in any given week, we still have just 24 hours of time in a day. There’s only so much we can do.
That’s why knowing how to budget your time wisely can mean the difference between a streak of short-term wins versus long-term successes.
Take myself, for example. I manage a series of large national projects, spend at least 100 days on the road each year, and still find the time to author or co-author one book every four to six months. Efficient management of my limited time is the only thing that makes that kind of craziness possible.
No matter who you are, what you do, or how hard you work, there’s always a better way to get things done. It’s all about taking small steps to improve your time management. The following are some helpful strategies I’ve learned along the way that can help with that:
- Don’t play from behind. Think ahead — way ahead — by creating a kind of statement of the future in terms of what you’d like to achieve. Divide what lies ahead into long-, medium-, and short-term goals, and budget your time by drawing up a road map to provide a visual reminder that will keep you on course and chart your success.
Start with an annual plan that accounts for long-range projects and establishes specific dates for completion. Mark them all on your calendar, then revisit them each month to see what you want to accomplish, monitor your progress, and determine the next steps for getting things done. Update your calendar from there.
At the start of each week, build out your plan for the next seven days. List out all that you want to accomplish, referring back to your annual and monthly goals. Break these weekly goals into daily objectives to compile a “to-do” list for the week. Each day, refer back to your weekly goals, and build out your day by starting with high-priority tasks and moving on from there.
- Compartmentalize your tasks. Confusion, as they say, leads to chaos. Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be. Instead, consolidate what needs to be done. Decide what’s in and what’s out, what can be done together, and what must be done on its own. There’s always a logical order to your work, and it’s best to determine this upfront than during execution.
But it isn’t always your work that leads to chaos in the brain. Sometimes, it can be those stray thoughts of what must get done at home. Relieve some of your stress and create a bit more balance between the two by devoting time for personal duties. Five minutes is often more than enough time to schedule that oil change, respond to a buddy’s text, or make a dinner reservation.
- Prioritize everything. Take these compartments and list them in order of importance. Break larger tasks into smaller ones, and determine which will have the greatest impact for the effort.
Weigh each task on its impact versus its effort, and use your findings to rank them in order of importance. Plus, by getting those high-impact, low-effort goals done first, you establish a momentum for your day, which can make it easier to complete high-impact, high-effort goals.
As you build out your day, don’t fill it up. Always build in a “cushion,” as there are almost always things that go awry. How much cushion you’ll need will vary, but the most effective way of doing this is to estimate three scenarios: best-case, worst-case, and likely-case. It’ll ensure you set realistic expectations for what you can get done by what target deadline.
- Prevent those bottlenecks. A great way to be efficient is to ensure that as many tasks as possible occur simultaneously. To do that you must remove any potential bottleneck by making sure that projects that have critical timelines, or that can be undertaken by only a specific person, receive timely action. And, of course, monitor the progress throughout the projects.
- Last but not least, be decisive. And I definitely don’t mean being arrogant or having that superior know-it-all attitude. I’m talking authentic decisiveness, which requires you to do your homework, get the facts, and once you have the info that matters most — as well as planned and prioritized those tasks — you move forward. Don’t question the resolve. And don’t look back. Way too much time is lost to indecisiveness, hesitancy, and revisiting decisions already made.
But decisiveness doesn’t always come naturally to everyone, and one way I’ve found to address this is to identify potential problems before they occur. Explore different solutions, and gather data in advance. Also, remember that not everyone around you has done this, so rally the troops with the additional info you have.
There are only so many hours in the workday — even if you make yours longer by squeezing in a few extra hours. Maximize your time by always allocating time to think strategically.
Stefan Swanepoel is the chairman and CEO of the Swanepoel T3 Group. Swanepoel is a The New York Times bestselling author; a business, leadership, and motivational speaker; and a real estate trends strategist.
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