I’m not an expert on time management, but over the course of 10 years in leadership, I have never had an assistant manage my schedule or emails. I squeeze a lot of goodness into jam-packed days. Students, new leaders, and those I have the privilege of leading often ask me how I get so much accomplished between work, family, volunteering with numerous organizations, church, and hobbies. Here are a few tricks I’ve incorporated into daily work to help optimize my time:
1. Always have a blank notecard and envelope on-hand. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve needed to write a quick, special note. Sometimes it’s because I’ve forgotten an occasion; other times it’s because I just learned of something happening quickly. Because I have the tools on-hand, I can always contribute in meaningful ways that align with my leadership style. Hand-written notes are rarities these days, which means anyone who gives them is quickly set apart from others. It’s an incredibly easy way to differentiate yourself. Popping a few blank notecards and envelopes into your briefcase, outer purse pocket, or work binder takes little effort with maximum opportunity.
2. Easy-access reading material is a must. There will be downtime in your day no matter how hard you try to avoid it. You should always be reading a book or a journal, no matter how long it takes you to finish it. Learning never stops. So, carry journals with you, have audio books downloaded for travel between off-site meetings, make sure you have an e-book ready for a quick chapter read when you can fit it in. You’ll whiz through your reading pile in no time…all during your “downtime.”
3. Incorporate post-meeting follow-up time into your calendar. This little jewel of a tip has been a sanity saver for me as I’ve grown in leadership and in responsibilities. Some days are continuous meetings, and if you’re not careful, you can end up with 40+ hours of meetings and equally as many evening, early morning, and weekend hours of desk work resulting from those meetings. No thanks! Make sure you schedule follow-up time immediately after most meetings to complete your action items. This tactic can help you seek clarity throughout meetings in anticipation of completing actions following meetings, and it can also help expedite work that can easily get dropped through the proverbial leadership cracks. Even better? Complete low-level action items during the meeting as you discuss them.
4. Schedule your to-do list. I used to keep a list of everything I needed to accomplish. It worked at one time in my career, but now I cannot manage the moving pieces and deadlines of numerous strategic initiatives via a to-do list. I’ve learned that my daily calendar is the best way to set a deadline and work backwards, actually scheduling the milestone work. Covey’s “begin with the end in mind” always delivers.
5. View your calendar one week at a time. If there’s one thing nursing has taught me it’s that priorities change. The same is true in any kind of leadership. The days never look the same, so as meetings get delayed or something else needs attention, I can attack portions of the schedule later in the week or move around daily work to readjust for unexpected moments.
6. Prioritize your day the day before. The last thing I do each day is look at my calendar for the next business day. I often number my scheduled items for the day to ensure I take care of the most important work first whenever possible because – as number five pointed out – priorities change, and what sometimes feels like a priority may not be one at all. Viewing my calendar prior to the next business day helps me refocus. In addition, I often set my desk up so I can jump right into work – separating files and projects in order so I can more easily move throughout my day and work.
And while all of these hacks are great at the office, they most certainly work at home, as well. I am not quite as scheduled at home, but I always have blank notecards/envelopes with me, I am never without reading material, and the next school/work day is always prepped the night before with clothes, lunches, and backpacks. It just makes for a happy and productive day.
So, hack away and have a happy day! What tips do you have that help keep your days humming along?