Recent research by McKinsey & Company has shown that four kinds of behavior account for 89% of leadership effectiveness: skillful problem-solving, a results-oriented process, seeking different perspectives, and supporting others.1 However, none of these things happen by accident. A business leader must effectively manage their time to ensure they embody these values for their employees day-to-day, even while alone at the helm during periods of rapid growth or big change. Read on to learn time management strategies that support effective leadership behaviors, and how you can apply them to lead your team to success.
Strong leaders guide their teams through challenges by first gathering all the information they can about the problem. Then, they apply that knowledge to remove the barriers between themselves, their employees, and a satisfactory resolution. However, that delicate process of analysis and strategy doesn’t always yield the best results when it’s done under pressure. These time management strategies can help give you room to think:
For a business leader, better time management is ultimately intended to make more room in your schedule to accomplish your vision.
- Limit Small Decision Making: Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, who studies decision fatigue, points out that for every decision we make our brain grows more tired, with the biggest slump around 3 p.m. each day.2 By then we’ve made so many big and small decisions that our attitude becomes complacent. This challenge is why some of the world’s most renowned entrepreneurs wear the same outfit to work every day: Eliminating small decisions keeps your brain spry for the big issues. While you may not want to get that extreme, let go of small details so you can focus on the big picture. You can’t sail a ship across the ocean worrying about each passing wave.
- Block Off Time: Interruptions can take up 40% to 60% of the work day.3 When you need to give some serious attention to a problem, block your calendar off with “no interruption” time. If you let your team know what you’re working on during that period, they are likely to understand why you need to focus so strongly.
The most effective leaders are known by the results of their leadership. A results-oriented process simply means prioritizing the highest-value work, establishing a clear goal for its completion, and maintaining efficiency and productivity toward it. However, sticking to the timeline and holding yourself accountable isn’t always easy, especially when you’re the leader keeping everyone else on course. Here are some tips for optimizing your schedule for maximum productivity:
When delegating tasks to your colleagues or employees, do so with an eye to their strengths as compared to yours. Maybe they won’t approach the task the same way—and that might be exactly what you need.
- Make a To-Do List: Today’s to-do lists don’t need to be scratched on the back of an envelope. Free apps like Todoist, Google Keep, and Any.do support task management with varying levels of detail and integration with other tools. The benefit of list-making is that it helps clarify the steps that must be taken to achieve the end result—even if you don’t complete all the tasks, you’ll still have better perspective. Neuroscience indicates that it might even help to put personal errands or tasks on the to-do list, to help your brain ground itself.4
- Group Similar Tasks: According to research conducted by the Journal of Experimental Psychology, people take roughly 25 minutes to switch from a task like leading a meeting to writing a report.5 This adjustment period may be avoided if you complete similar tasks in succession. Book all your meetings back-to-back if possible, so you can focus elsewhere once they’re done. Challenge yourself to check your email at set times throughout the day, rather than constantly monitoring the feed and letting small distractions claim attention.6
As a business leader, you have the vision that sets the course for the entire team, and you have to stay true to it. However, even in the biggest time crunch it’s important to stay open-minded about different paths that can lead to the end result you desire. Though you may not have time to consult with every member of your team on each issue that arises, these time management strategies can help you get important input when you need it most:
- Delegate by Design: Delegation is an important part of a leader’s time management. Effective leaders can identify what they are uniquely suited to do, and therefore prioritize those activities, assigning other tasks out. When delegating tasks to your employees, do so with an eye to their strengths. Maybe they won’t approach the task the same way you would—and that might be exactly what you need. For even better time management, experts like Don Jacobson recommend scheduling any necessary check-ins or follow up conversations during the meeting when you initially delegate the task. That way, both you and your employee know exactly when you’ll talk again, and can manage your schedules accordingly.7
- Take Team Breaks: Meetings are a good time to get input from team members, but the formal atmosphere might cause some to hold back. Taking breaks in small groups or as a team is one way to collect more organic perspectives. You might be thinking that more than one member of the team taking a break at once is counter-intuitive to time management, but studies have shown that team breaks actually increase productivity.8 While no one should be forced to socialize or share, the more relaxed atmosphere can lead to a totally different set of revelations, insights, or ideas.
Some of the biggest challenges to every person’s time management abilities are their emotions and energy level. Ultimately, an effective leader understands that everyone has good days and bad days, even themselves. Leaders must support individual members of the team while still keeping the project and the group a priority. Luckily, if you’re in a position to apply these scheduling and time management strategies, this task can become easier than it sounds:
- Overestimate Your Timeline: One common time management challenge is estimating how long it will take to complete a task. Many people optimistically underestimate how long something will take them, then get more stressed as the deadline looms.9 As a leader, you have the opportunity to offset this issue by slightly overestimating how long a project will take the team. Even a few hours of buffer time can make a critical difference for a team that is close to the finish of a project. Of course, extreme overestimation is its own time management issue. Make sure you’re not giving the team too much time, or they might lose focus and procrastinate.
- Share Resources: One of the best ways a leader can support their team members is by helping them better manage their own time. If you see someone struggling with time management, help them by sharing these tips, or other methods that have worked for you. You can also share more concrete resources like pitch decks, research tools, or even email templates, which can save a lot of time if you’re in a business where you feel like you write the same email over and over.
For a business leader, better time management is ultimately intended to make more room in your schedule to accomplish your vision. By taking intentional steps to structure time-intensive processes like problem solving, delegation, and collaboration, you can make more of every minute you have. That, in turn, will lead to employees that feel supported, a more productive work environment, and a stronger bottom line for your business.