How to Protect Your Most Valuable Resource: Time

How to Protect Your Most Valuable Resource: Time

As they navigate their companies’ destinies, executives find few resources as scarce as their own time.

A survey commissioned by Harvard Business School illustrates what c-suite insiders and leadership speakers know from experience: running a business makes heavy demands on time. A week at the office might mean ten or twelve-hour days. About four in five CEOs work through the weekend. Even vacations bring little respite. Respondents averaged three hours a day on getaways.

Long hours remain part of the job description for executives, so their overladen schedules aren’t exactly a revelation. They’re responsible for charting the company’s course. They meet with the stakeholders. They make the decisions that keep the business in the black. If anything goes wrong, they’re the ones called in to perform triage.

That much comes with the territory. This state of play means there’s a vanishingly small margin for waste. Extraneous meetings, meandering phone calls, and staying on top of email inboxes all extract costs. With responsibilities so expansive and time so scarce, leaders have to protect their schedules from time sinks that destroy productivity at all costs.

How does a busy corporate leader do that? A consensus is developing around time management that suggests five key strategies for managing time while managing your business.

1. Treat time as an investment.

Suppose you continued pouring money into a venture that consistently failed to yield profits, or kept paying premium wages to an underperforming employee. Sooner or later, you’d tire of squandering your resources. You’d freeze investments. You’d replace the struggling worker with a strong one. That’s just common sense, right?

What’s easy to see in the financial realm isn’t so evident on our calendars. Business leaders regularly channel their energy into unproductive pursuits. They schedule meetings that don’t need to happen. They waste time responding to crises someone else could have handled. And they rarely devote the time they should to grand strategy.

Time, goes the adage, is money. Executives need to start seeing it that way. Before saying “yes,” they need to think twice about the expected return on their investment of time.

To determine whether blocking off the schedule is worth it, consider asking the following questions.

What’s the cost? Be sure to consider both short and long-term commitments. Think, too, about counting your opportunity costs — what doors you’re closing to leave this one open.

What’s the outlook for the investment? Will it fatten your bottom line or position your brand? How?

Are there better alternatives for investment you should be considering?

2. Automate.

We live in an age of technological marvels that can cut our schedule down to size. Nonetheless, many busy executives fail to leverage these tools to their full advantage.

That’s too bad, because automation is becoming an important way for executives to save time. Experts suggest automating the following areas.

  • Email
  • Managing documents
  • Publishing social media posts

Consider tools that were made specifically for these assets, like a contract management software, or a platform that allows you to schedule social media posts. Both great options to think about utilizing. Not only will they save time, but they will create a streamlined workflow that is easily manageable.

3. Stick to your agenda.

It would be so much easier to navigate a corporate schedule if there weren’t so many opportunities around. Everyone wants an audience with the big boss. Knowing when to say yes and no is the better part of managing any executive schedule.

Treating your time as an investment is one way to decide whether it’s a good idea to keep your commitment. But what if, like so many financial investments, it’s not clear whether a schedule item will drive profits?

Then it’s time to stick to your agenda. Every CEO should have a prioritized to-do list. A fraction of tasks are truly mission-critical—not performing them will sink the company. When these appointments arise, you have to drop everything and attend to them.

Another class of obligations, while not do-or-die, contributes to the well-being of the company. Sometimes these can be deferred, but they can’t be suspended or neglected. If you’re not in crisis mode, these need to be at the top of your agenda.

Everything else becomes optional. Really. That’s not to say activities that fall into this third category aren’t important. Maybe it’s a good idea to show up for the occasional office party or stop by to greet a new cohort of employees personally. The point is, don’t attend to these things if there are more important matters on your docket.

4. Delegate.

If you’re like many busy executives, you take your responsibilities seriously. So seriously, in fact, that you like to take matters into your own hands. After all, who better than you to make sure something important gets done?

If you’re running a startup, that logic might hold. But if you’re steering a large corporation, that kind of do-it-yourself attitude is no virtue. Your time would be much better spent on higher-level activities.

Employees exist for a reason. They’re there to take care of the things you don’t have time to do so you can focus on the things that grow your operation. Delegating work to them is a far more sustainable and scalable solution than picking up the slack yourself.

5. Streamline

We easily become addicted to routines. Running out to the local coffee shop, compulsively checking our emails, gathering the crew for Monday standup meetings. These traditions can be great — touchstones of familiarity help create predictability and stability.

But our addiction to these commonplaces sometimes blind us to more efficient ways of doing business. Think about that old laptop you haven’t replaced for five years, or your nasty habit of hitting “reply all” when you should send a private message over Slack. Those habits waste what little time you have.

One way to see this to apply a technique developed in logistics called “process mapping” to your schedule. This involves cataloguing the various parts of your work into constituent parts, quantifying how much time you devote to each of these procedures, and then ruthlessly eliminating waste. Try it. You’ll be surprised at the time you can save.

For business leaders, time is tight. That makes managing this scarce resource imperative. Effective management starts with valuing your schedule as you do your investments, and following your priorities. Seeing things that way will make it easier to delegate things you could do — but shouldn’t. And it will provide the kind of incentive you need to streamline and automate tasks that consume your time.

Executives will always be busy people. But working smarter rather than just harder will help ensure they’re doing the most they can with the resource they lack the most — time.