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Updated: Aug 24, 2023

Are you time bankrupt? For entrepreneurs, professionals, and busy executives this is a major issue. There just is no more time in the day. I have struggled with this issue for years. I have read more books and listened to more talks trying to find the “silver bullet” to help me maximize my time. Part of my problem is that I want it all. I want to be successful in my career, a good husband, father, friend, etc., and engaged in my church and community, all while trying to be in good health physically and spiritually. I get tired just thinking about it!

However, I am inspired by a quote from James Michener who said, “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him, he’s always doing both.”

Time management is essentially self-management, so my approach today is really about managing myself and investing my time wisely. I have summarized below some of the most effective principles that I have found to be helpful personally.

Stop the Email Madness!

By far, email is the biggest time killer for most executives. We often know how to do it better yet we just can’t! It is like a drug that hooks us in. A few key ideas to stop the madness:

Send fewer emails and copy fewer people.

Every email you send has a multiplier effect. The late Martin Lomasney, a Massachusetts politician, had a famous quote on discretion in communication, “Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink.” Pause before you send an email and think about whether you really need to send it. Remember the motto – “Send less, get less.”

Don’t use email for conversation.

Unless you are a glutton for punishment and particularly enjoy being tethered to your email 24/7, don’t carry on conversations via email. Successful executives I have observed don’t fall into this trap. They limit their accessibility via email to a few times a day.

Politely request better emails from your colleagues.

Many people shoot out an email every time they have a random thought on something. They move it out their inbox into yours – yuck! Ask your colleagues to try and “batch” their email information flow to you, or better yet do them in person. I also tell my colleagues that if you want me to actually do something put “Action Required” in the Re: line. Otherwise, I assume it is for information purposes only.

Outsource Your Email.

The mere thought of this is enough to shift some executives into panic mode. This is the holy grail of email management. For those that can, have an assistant filter email and limit your email inbox to those few emails that truly require your attention.

Bottom line: For most people, it is hard to make much progress on self management until they stop the email madness. The good news is that when these principles are followed you will have significantly more time to deploy in other more productive activities.

Have a Mind Like Water

Time management guru David Allen teaches about having a mind like water. This is a principle from martial arts about having a mind of perfect readiness. While this may sound a little Zen for you, I have found it to be a powerful concept. Allen describes the affliction that so many of us have with open “loops” in our head. We spend all of our time trying to remember what we are trying not to forget. I am a huge fan of his recommendation to do a data dump to clear your head of all of those open loops. I keep a list handy at all times so I can write things down. This process has the powerful effect of “de-cluttering” your mind and allowing you to be fully present in the moment – a mind like water!

Don’t Overdraw Your Account

When I was young, stupid, and broke in college, I remember I got my first ATM card. I would go to the bank machine and illogically hope that my account would show some money in the account. Somehow, I thought that if I wasn’t balancing my checking account more money would somehow magically appear in my account. Unfortunately, too many of us treat our time commitments the same way. We say “yes” too much and make promises that we just can keep. As my wife Nicki likes to remind me, “Don’t let your alligator mouth overload your hummingbird rear end!”

Practically, this means creating a “to-do” list that is reasonable. A best practice is to plan each day in advance. I recommend daily referencing your core values and big goals to make sure that your daily list is in sync with what is most important. What are the priorities for the day? Make sure you tackle the big priorities first. It is a great practice to budget your day to include interruptions and unexpected activities. I even go so far as to book meetings with myself just for thinking and planning time, otherwise I am subject to the tyranny of the urgent. Consider how long tasks will take and make sure that you are not overdrawing your time bank account!

Don’t Be a Hog

One of the biggest challenges particularly for entrepreneurs in fast growth companies is the ability to delegate. Many founders and busy executives don’t turn loose of tasks that they are used to doing themselves. This can choke the growth of the organization. I subscribe to the idea that each of us has a “highest and best use,” and when I find leaders who are mired in the details my alarm bell goes off.

I am not saying it is easy, but it is a very necessary task to learn the power of delegation. This involves hiring people you can trust, investing in the relationship, and creating points of accountability. There is no need to hog all of the tasks yourself. Utilize the strengths of those around you to get things done. Even if you can’t afford full time help, most people can at least get some part time assistance. At one time, I was getting part time assistance from staff in India, Arizona, Georgia, and Massachusetts. You have to love the internet age!

I am inspired when I come across leaders who are centered, focused, and “on task” with the priorities in their life. They don’t appear hurried or flustered. They have obviously learned to avoid time bankruptcy and are living highly intentional and purposeful lives utilizing principles like I have described above. I hope some of these concepts will help you in your own journey to be your very best!

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