Every leader, founder, entrepreneur I know is time-stretched, working beyond their capacity. Too little sleep, not eating the right food, eating too quickly (ok that maybe more about me!), fueling up with caffeine, back-to-back meetings, no time to think, to-do lists which never get done and always ‘on’.
If someone asks how you are doing, how many of you answer, “Good, I’m busy.” Busy doing what? These days we think we should get a Blue Peter badge just for being busy!
You could say welcome to the world of being an entrepreneur. But I think there is a better way. You need to work hard to succeed as an entrepreneur but if you want to sustain your success you need to work smart.
I have set out below six behaviours many of my clients use to help them manage their time and more importantly, their energy.
1. Managing Energy Is The New Paradigm
Everything we do requires energy – making important decisions, interacting with colleagues, negotiating with a customer, running a meeting or deciding what to prioritise.
All behaviours, activities, emotions and thoughts to a greater or lesser degree require energy.
We cannot increase the number of hours in the day but by managing our energy in the right way it can make it feel like we are. The more we take responsibility for our energy and what energy we give to the world around us, the more empowered and productive we become.
High performance is less about how much time you spend on something and more about the quality and quantity of energy that you put into it.
We build our energy levels by making sure we are fit in all the different domains – social, emotional, mental, existential and physical. If one is out of sync this will have a detrimental effect on our overall fitness and energy levels and hence how effectively we optimise our time.
Energy management and the Five Pillars Holistic Approach is at the core of my coaching methodology.
2. Figure Out What Your Big Rocks Are
If you haven’t heard about Edward Demming rocks and jar story, here it is:
A professor walks to the front of his lecture room, reaches under the desk and gets out a large glass jar, placing it on the table. He then pulls out a bucket with a few chunky rocks and he fills the jar with them. He asks the class whether they think the jar is full. Most of the class say it is. He then brings out a jar of gravel and pebbles and pours the contents into the jar. He asks the class again as to whether it’s full; the majority nod their heads and proclaim the jar is full. But the professor hasn’t finished. He gets out a container of sand and empties it into the jar. The sand finds its way around the gravel and the rocks and settles into the jar. The class is now fearful of answering the professor’s question about whether it’s full. They were right to be. Because out comes a jar of water and the professor pours it into the jar. Now the jar really is full.
The point of this story is that you can fit a lot of rocks, gravel, pebbles, sand and water in a big glass jar. But you have to fill it with the rocks first. If your first move is to fill it with sand, no rocks will fit in.
When we think about scheduling our time we often let the sand and the pebbles crowd out the rocks, the big priorities. Sure you can still get a lot done with a jar full of everything but you will be spending less time on your most important priorities.
3. Work On Your Big Rocks Every Day
Once you have figured out what your big rocks are, you need to make sure you spend at least 10 minutes on each of them every day.
The big rocks give you clarity on what to work on but you have to create habits which ensure you make incremental progress on them every day.
So imagine this. You wake up in the morning, you know what your big priorities are in your work and your life, and you know that every single day you are going to make progress on each one of them. Now how satisfying and productive is that?
So remember to touch those rocks every day!
4. Plan The Day Ahead And Time Box Your Work
“An unscheduled day isn’t freedom. Rather, it’s a recipe for regret.” Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable.
As humans (not sure why I needed to confirm I am writing from the human perspective but you haven’t all met me and I just wanted to confirm this!) we are generally pretty awful (well I am or was!) at predicting how long a task will take. One way to get better at it is to time block your actions for the day in your calendar. It builds in a time constraint and will encourage you to stick to it.
This is much better than just adding to your to-do list. Nir Eyal reckons we spend on average three times longer than we think on tasks.
5. Take Control Of Your Diary And Pre-Commit Your Time
Many leaders I coach have someone else manage their diaries and/or their team members are able to schedule a meeting into their calendars. As a result their calendars happen to them rather than having control over them. Back to back meetings, no space in between, very little time to work on the big rocks, the priorities.
Your calendar should reflect who you are, what you value and what is most important to you. It should flow from the big rocks.
The key to this is to pre-commit time. Deliberately block out time in advance when you are going to focus on your big priorities.
Your team members will try to persuade you to come to a meeting but, if you have pre-committed your time, they are more likely to reflect on whether the meeting is needed and whether you need to be there. You can always change your mind but the important thing is you are in control.
6. Get A Tomato Shaped Timer!
Buying my red (unfortunately not really tomato shaped) timer has transformed my time and energy management.
I say tomato-shaped because I’m referring to the Pomodoro Technique invented by the Italian, Francesco Cirillo. He used a tomato-shaped timer to help develop his time management skills whilst he was at university.
The technique is very simple. You set the timer for 25 or 45 minutes and you focus on the one task. All notifications and distractions are turned off – this is obviously key. Once the alarm goes off you stop, I then like to note down the next thing I will do when I come back to my desk, and then I take a 5 minute break.
In that break I might do some exercise or make myself a cup of tea. The break is where the energy management comes in. The recovery in between the focused work, like Roger Federer does in between points (his heart beat drops up to 20 beats a minute unlike most of his less successful competitors thereby allowing him to play at his peak for longer), allows you to be in flow for an extended period.
I think about doing my focused work in terms of how many Pomodoros I am going to do. I don’t usually do more than 4 or 5 consecutively and I usually do it first thing in the morning when I am fresh and naturally when there will be fewer interruptions.
Summary – managing your time effectively gives you time to lead and increase your team’s performance
The challenge of time management comes up in every coaching relationship I have.
How you spend your time each day defines who you are, what you value and will ultimately be a key differentiator in your success.
Using these 6 behaviours:
- Managing Energy Is The New Paradigm
- Figure Out What Your Big Rocks Are
- Work On Your Big Rocks Every Day
- Plan The Day Ahead And Time Box Your Work
- Take Control Of Your Diary Pre-Commit Your Time
- Get A Tomato Shaped Timer!
… with energy management as the foundation has transformed my relationship with time and my productivity. Give it a go!
Keep well. Give > Take.
Founder and CEO Coach, Entrepreneur, Business Builder and Angel Investor
Mark is known for his scale up expertise having been part of multiple successful exits over the last 25 years as a founder, business builder, coach, mentor and investor.
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