Working smart #1: Time management & setting priorities

In my consulting work with CEOs optimizing their early stage tech ventures, and with expert consultants maximizing their practices, I train my over-committed clients to “work smarter.”   Here begins a series of articles sharing some of those tactics.

Time management & setting priorities

I completely understand the pressure of time, the need to prioritize tasks, and the cycle of exhaustion and exuberance that comes with building and growing a venture or a consultancy.  I used to work more hours and less smart too.

We all need the discipline of time management and prioritization to move us beyond “putting out fires” every day, so we can focus on the important stuff.  If we can gain this focus, hopefully well before a deadline, we have time to refine the task and then feel confident in its value.  Here are some ideas to try.

  • Restrict and schedule pro-bono or “non-margin” meetings into a couple of hours during the week’s least-pressured time on your least-pressured day.  That is, set that time aside on your calendar, and put these “giving-back” meetings into that time-slot on a first-come, first served basis, and restrict it to two hours each week on that same day.
  • If you have multiple clients (or investors or direct reports), set a schedule when they can rely on your presence and/or full attention.  Work around other requests from them as best you can, and always inform them when they can expect a response for each of their requests.
  • Also, train them to make their requests clearly, and to specify what level of response they need and when they need it.  This will allow you to plan your time of response (say, later in the week?) and not jump to put our their fire when it pressures you.  This allows you to focus on your own priorities and deadlines.
  • For product proposals, allow yourself adequate “buffer time” to prepare a bid, if it is not time-sensitive.  Ask your prospect directly when the proposal is needed. (And then, of course, do not leave the work until just before the deadline!).
  • Book at least two hours at the end of the week, or the beginning of the week, with no interruptions (none!) so you can organize your week’s priorities.  List these priorities in descending order of urgency.
  • Each day, give yourself 15 quiet minutes to plan the day’s priorities in the same way.  Do not distract yourself– just plan the day’s work.
  • Use technology and personal support as best suits you to offload the tasks  you do not do efficiently, to free up your time for your unique skills.
  •  Establish simple templates for email responses, promotions, responses to proposals and other recurring tasks.  Of course you can personalize them, but learn to use your own templates to save time and energy.

Sometimes my clients outdistance me in my own smart-work.  One of my clients has built his own intranet for the two of us, and every system we have developed is captured in a template.  I have seen him send out a proposal on any of his various pricing models in less than 3 minutes!

This time management and organization takes more discipline than it takes time to actually do.  And it can keep you calm throughout the day, and more efficient than your earlier mode.  And you can get more of your “other” life back too.

 

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