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Stop Looking for the 25th Hour: Here’s A Better Use of Your Time

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While struggling to balance the demands of a hectic schedule, one of my friends recently confessed “I just need to make more time for the people and things that are important.”

To that statement I was reminded of a question I once heard by Vanderbilt professor Mark Cannon, Ph.D. He said, “We’re all confined to the same 24 hours each day, so how realistic is the expectation that people can make more time?”

We sometimes operate under the belief that we can fit all of our activities into our schedule if we just manage our time better. But what if we actually have just too many things on our to-do lists? Instead of managing your time, what if you tried managing your tasks?

Effectively managing tasks involves setting realistic expectations of what can be accomplished within the confines of time.

You must give yourself permission to delete things from your to-do list, then reallocate the hours to each remaining task in an order of urgency and importance. This is where many people struggle.

With so many competing priorities, it can seem like all action items are important and worthy of staying on your list. Perhaps that’s true. But if you overcommit, those important priorities won’t all get done anyway.

time01Shift your focus from doing things, to ensuring that things get done. This may involve delegating certain responsibilities or renegotiating the amount of time allowed to complete others.

How you spend your time is a direct reflection of your values. By working extended hours to complete your assignments, you are telling your boss and coworkers that you are committed to finishing your work. This is a good thing, but be aware that you may unintentionally be telling your family and friends that your job is more important to you than spending time with them.

Working overtime is not inherently bad. The key is communicating with your other stakeholders and adding time-based expectations. Instead of avoiding the subject, consider proactively telling friends and family that you plan to work several nights and weekends over the next four weeks, but you look forward to spending more time with them after your project is completed.

As ethical business leaders, we are accountable for our words and actions. We’re expected to honor our commitments. And it’s our responsibility to monitor¬† progress and provide advanced notice to others if we’re not be able to keep our commitments.

Consider using these three tips to help you accomplish time-bound goals:

  1. Identify the single item on your to-do-list that must get done today, even if nothing else gets accomplished;
  2. Estimate how long it will take to complete that task and build the remainder of your priority list by repeating steps one and two; and,
  3. After you complete your list, go back and add 15-30 minutes to each project. Tasks often take longer to complete than we anticipate. This step helps lower your risk of falling behind schedule.

You must also account for unexpected interruptions. If an emergency arises that alters your schedule, assess which item on your to-do-list is less urgent or important than the emergency and communicate your new plan and timeline to your stakeholders. Ask them which they prefer: to have someone else complete the assignment, or to renegotiate the amount of time needed to complete the project. Having this conversation gives them the option to explore alternative solutions for meeting the original deadline.

Although time cannot change, the way you operate within its constraints can. Allocate some of your time to select a task management system that best suits your needs. The clock is ticking.

Always remember, Leadership is a Lifestyle.

– Ryan W. Hirsch
Program Manager, NASBA Center for the Public Trust