You can’t manage your time. So what can you do? Manage yourself! Nothing separates successful people from unsuccessful people more than how they use their time. Successful people understand that time is the most precious commodity on earth. As a result, they know where their time goes. They continually analyze how they are using their time and ask themselves the question, “Am I getting the best use out of my time?”
Even though most people would acknowledge that time is finite, I think the majority of them don’t really understand its value. In his book What to Do Between Birth and Death: The Art of Growing Up, Charles Spezzano writes, “You don’t really pay for things with money, you pay for them with time. In five years, I’ll have put enough away to buy that vacation house we want. Then I’ll slow down. That means the house will cost you five years—one-twelfth of your adult life. Translate the dollar value of the house, car, or anything else into time, and then see if it’s still worth it.”
Good Leaders Can’t be Bad Self-Managers
People squander their time when they do things that bring them little or no positive return. That’s bad enough when followers do it, because they waste their lives and squander their potential. But when leaders do it, they not only hurt themselves—they squander the potential of their people!
I’ve noticed that people who manage themselves poorly often are guilty of the following three things:
They Undervalue Their Uniqueness Doing What Others Want Them to Do
Poet Carl Sandburg advised, “Time is the most valuable coin in your life. You and you alone will determine how that coin will be spent. Be careful that you do not let other people spend it for you.” As I mentioned in chapter 7 [of Leadership Gold], early in my career I allowed others to influence how I spent that “coin.” As a result, I was busy but terribly ineffective. I was fulfilling others’ expectations instead of doing what I was gifted to do!
As a leader, I want to make a difference. I want to make an impact. Don’t you? My leadership went to a new level when I focused more on fulfilling my vision than fulfilling other’s expectations. I believe I have been put on earth to do some specific things. I can’t do those if I’m trying to be what others want me to be— and doing a poor job of it at that. I need to make my own unique contribution. No one else can do that for me.
People sometimes don’t understand why I protect my calendar so fiercely and why I refuse some requests. I’m not just being contrary. I am very mission-minded. I know what I do well and what I don’t. My time is limited, and I want to make the most of it. I won’t let others put me in the box of their expectations. If you want to be an effective leader, you need to keep others from doing that to you!
They Ruin Their Effectiveness by Doing Unimportant Things
Essayist Henry David Thoreau wrote, “It is not enough to be busy. The question is, ‘What are we busy about?’” How do you judge whether something is worthy of your time and attention? For years I have used this formula to help me know the importance of a task so that I can manage myself effectively. It’s a three-step process:
Step One: Rate the task in terms of importance:
Critical = 5 points
Necessary = 4 points
Important = 3 points
Helpful = 2 points
Marginal = 1 point
Step Two: Decide the task’s urgency regarding when it must be done:
This month = 5 points
Next month = 4 points
This quarter = 3 points
Next quarter = 2 points
End of year = 1 point
Step Three: Multiply the rate of importance times the rate of urgency.
Example: 5 (critical) X 4 (next month) = 20.
I then judge when I should complete the task according to the following scale:
A = 16–25 Critical task to be finished by end of month
B = 9–15 Important task to be finished by end of quarter
C = 1–8 Low priority to be finished by end of year
One of the things you’ll notice about this system is that there are no tasks that must be completed by the end of the day or week. Why? Because I am always trying to plan my time at least a month in advance. Leaders should be looking farther ahead than others in the organization. If leaders are always reacting to crises in the moment, the people and the organization will suffer.
They Reduce Their Potential by Doing Things Without Coaching or Training
Anything worth doing is worth doing better. I am always amazed when people try to accomplish anything without benefiting from the wisdom of someone who is ahead of them in the journey. Training, coaching, or mentoring can make a huge difference in how productive people can be with the time they have.
Robert Zemsky and Susan Shaman of the University of Pennsylvania did a study of 3,200 U.S. companies. What they found was that a 10 percent increase in spending on capital expenditures led to only a 3.8 percent increase in productivity. However, a 10 percent increase in spending for training led to an 8.5 percent increase in productivity. If you want to make the most of your time, make the most of yourself. Find someone to help you improve your abilities and those of your people. As communicator and friend Zig Ziglar says, “The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is not training them and keeping them.”
There really is an art to managing your life and making the most of your time. It’s something you have to grow into. I don’t meet many people who start out life doing it well. Most people don’t ever learn it. Those who do develop it over time. Life management begins with an awareness of time and of the choices we should make to be a good steward of it. Those who do well at it do things that
- Advance their overall purpose in life—this helps them grow.
- Underscore their values—this brings them fulfillment.
- Maximize their strengths—this makes them effective.
- Increase their happiness—this gives them better health.
- Equip and coach others—this compounds their productivity.
- Add value to others—this increases their influence.
They understand that there is no such thing as time management—just life management. When you have a strong sense of purpose, enjoy life, and possess an awareness of how brief life really is, the days always seem too short. That’s why you have to manage yourself effectively. Everything you do—in your career, in your personal life, and in your leadership—depends on it. That’s a lesson I hope you learn earlier rather than later.