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"Only plan for 4-5 hours of real work per day." David Heinemeier Hansson, partner at software development firm Basecamp

In our hyper-accelerated business world, leaders cannot afford to spend only a mere four to five hours on "real work." The competition is breathing down your neck; your best employees are shopping their resumes with other companies; your clients are searching for better service, better products, and better prices. If anything, you can pencil in four to five hours - if you're lucky - to sleep. You don't have time to waste. Bottom line: you need to put on your big girl/boy pants and get to work.

Time Management Tips for the Busy Leader

Manage time? No, you need to crush it, and bend it to your will. How? Take note:

  1. Appeal to your social network for help. Just as top pharmaceutical companies ask Internet sleuths to solve complex chemical formulas, you can crowd source your time management problems. Take to Twitter and Facebook to ask connections how they suggest you use your time more wisely. After you quickly update your status, see what’s trending, and pop over, briefly, to BuzzFeed, you'll be equipped with a variety of fresh ideas that will keep you on track.

  2. Say "Yes" to as many opportunities as possible. This will solidify your position as the "go-to" guy or gal - the sweet spot in any organization. You may have to juggle to meet all your commitments and jettison some of the lesser important tasks (see number 4), but "no" is for those who need sleep, those who lack ambition. Once you are promoted (or burned out and force to leave), you should see a decline in time-consuming responsibilities.

  3. Schedule a retreat with upper management to discuss effective time management strategies for staff. A half-day in the conference room is barely enough time to scratch the surface of this issue. Take it, and your executive team, offsite for an intensive examination of strategies to eliminate distractions and increase productivity. While there, delegate management work to direct reports so you don't fall behind. Be sure to hold them strictly accountable for task completion.

  4. Limit time with friends and family. With personal relationships, it's all about quality not quantity. With that in mind, then, limit the quantity of time you spend with your children, partner, family members, and friends. If you do it right, 20-30 minutes per week is more than sufficient. Research shows that this has no negative impact on anyone, particularly kids. Exhibit A: "Cats in the Cradle." Great song - because a dad went to work instead of playing catch with his son. Case closed.

  5. Rethink meetings. Name the biggest obstacle to effective time management. Meetings. No question. Leaders spend between 35 and 50 percent of their time in meetings, and 67 percent of the time, those sessions are completely unproductive.

    Cole Perthkey, an experienced executive, faced this problem in his organization. In a memo to his people, he writes:

    ...let's plan to have a few ad hoc powwows next week to discuss the meeting situation, vis-à-vis the workplace. The prioritized goal of these meetings will be to draw up a comprehensive road map for what we should be aiming for while avoiding the stumbling blocks we've encountered in the past. The point here is to take a step back and re-evaluate how we do things here, on a macro level.

Exactly. Spot-on advice from a leader in the trenches.

I don't have time to go to this meeting. I don't have time to do this project. I don't have time to write this report or fill out this form in triplicate. Welcome to the 21st Century: excuses are no longer valid. The reality is that if you have time to sleep, eat, and breathe, you have time to tack on at least four more items to your to-do list.

...What are you waiting for?


Larry Hart

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