Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Everyone hopes for a better future, but hope by itself is a bad strategy. Regardless of your future goals, you have to get control of your time today if you want to create a better tomorrow. I'm going to show you a time management hack to increase the speed of how fast you learn, evolve, and innovate by applying an easy-to-adopt daily routine. There are three critical concepts:
Working on your business
Working in your business
Getting control of your time and guarding your access
The first portion of your day (45-120 minutes) should be spent working "on" your business before you work "in" your business. For most people, this usually occurs between 6:30-9:30 am. While working on your business, NO time is spent on current clients or prospects! This time is used for individual development and/or increasing the capacity of your business, team, or enterprise to perform at increasingly higher levels. Do I expect that you will be perfect and do this every day? No, but over time you should be averaging 3-4 days. It all depends on how badly you want to achieve your goals!
NO ONE improves at anything passively, so you must dedicate time and focus to actively improving specific parts of your game. For example, professional golfers don't improve their golf scores by playing 18 holes every day. While not playing a tournament, they dedicate time to physical conditioning, working with swing, strength, diet, psychology, and flexibility coaches. They spend countless hours at the driving range, chipping and putting practice areas improving each dimension of their game. Golfers work on their business during the week and work in their business on tournament weekends. Typically, pro golfers spend 3 times more time practicing and conditioning than they do playing tournaments.
In 2021 you are basically a free agent athlete and as such it’s your responsibility to own and drive your professional development. Much like a professional golfer who hires strength, mobility, technique, nutrition coaches, you must dedicate the time, and utilize specialists and related resources you need to improve your ability to perform at increasingly higher levels.
Working "On" Your Business
So, what does working on your game look like for you? Some examples of working on the business include developing strategy, refining messaging, perfecting a pitch, taking a class to improve financial acumen, creating marketing campaigns & marketing materials, developing market research, recruiting, reading a book, an article, or watching a video on anything that directly improves you, your business or your team’s capacity to perform. You can’t control outcomes, but you can improve your capacity to perform that influences outcomes and performance. The competitive market is evolving at an accelerated rate, and it’s not kind to static executives or professionals stuck in old ways of thinking and performing.
The following graphic depicts where you should be spending your time, where you should limit time spent, and the things you should attempt to eliminate altogether.
Time Allocation Matrix
Depending on your role and level in the organization, the amount of time you spend working on the business will vary. The difference in time allocation and focus basically comes down to if your role is primarily strategic or tactical in nature. No role is all one or the other.
Senior executives add value and spend most of their time working "on" the business in strategic development initiatives, alliances, large transactions, and M&A. Depending on the strength of their team, a small portion (25 percent) of their time is typically spent on tactical daily operations and client/customer outreach.
Mid-level executives spend most, but not all their time, working "in" the business on tactical daily operations, and a smaller portion (15-25 percent) on working "on" the business.
Sales professionals spend most of their time working "in" the business with clients and prospects and a smaller percentage (10-15 percent) of the time working "on" the business.
Depending on one's role, working "on" the business can be most of the time or a small fraction of one’s total work time. The more senior the role, the more time you will spend working on the business.
Working "In" Your Business
If you are to become optimally efficient and impactful you need a strategy to guard your time and access so that you spend the majority of your time on high-impact activities and high-impact people.
The Vital Few
I call your high-impact people the “Vital Few” and they comprise direct reports, some peers, leaders, and family members. The vital few have almost instant access, while others receive a delegated response or delayed access. The idea is to give hyper attention to the few people who can move your business needle forward and to keep the operational typo high as to not become a bottleneck for decisions and action. If you’re not an accelerant to your direct reports, you aren’t doing your job! Operational speed is a critical element to building a high-performance organization and speed begins and ends with a leader’s ability to offer timely and effective coaching, decisions, and perspectives. It’s also the leader’s job to build and repair relationships within the vital few. Peer conflicts rarely work themselves out by themselves and unlike wine, they don’t improve with time. The vital few should have high functioning relationships, be highly interconnected, and have highly frequent interactions.
Your phone has two important features to protect your time and guard your access:
Do Not Disturb
The first function is the “Do Not Disturb” function in your phone’s settings. This allows you to block calls when you don’t want to be disturbed. This feature will become your best friend once you see how it cuts down on unwanted and untimely intrusions.
The second function is called “Favorites”, and it allows you to assign people to a speed dial like list and to allow those people's calls to get through even when you have "do not disturb" engaged, which should be most of the time. These two features allow you to stay highly connected with the people that matter most and guard your access to all others. People who call you who are not on the favorites list will go directly to voice mail. Later in the day you can check your voicemail, and respond delegate, or schedule a time of your choosing.
The Three-Hour Rule
As mentioned above the leader plays the most important role in creating a high-performance team. It should be your goal to respond to your vital few requests for information, perspectives, and decisions within three hours of their request, 7X24, unless you’re on vacation. If you’re getting a lot of late-night and weekend requests from your Vital Few, you either haven’t empowered or coached them to make decisions, or you have the wrong people in critical roles. When you have the right people in key positions neither of these issues should be a regular problem.
Cascade These Concepts Through the Organization
You will start to see the benefits of employing these time strategies almost immediately and once you have some reps and time under your belt, you can begin to cascade these concepts throughout your organization beginning with your vital few.
It should also be an expectation that your direct reports will cascade the vital few, do not disturb, and the three-hour rule down to the lowest level manager. If everyone is following these protocols, you will see improvement in responsiveness, operational speed, and business performance. It’s much easier when everyone utilizes the same strategy and nomenclature. The system will also illuminate the people whose work habits add value to the collective team and those who don’t.