Do you feel that there’s never enough time in the day? Are you missing deadlines? Do you have a reputation for always being late? And, are you overwhelmed and stressed out? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, then time management is a struggle for you. And, that can impair everything from the success of your business to your relationships to your overall health.
The good news is that it’s never too late to correct this problem. And, I think a great place to start is to manage your calendar like a CEO. After all, if they can do it all, then you have no excuse for properly managing your time.
Consolidate your calendars.
CEOs wear multiple hats. On top of being a leader, they’re also a mentor and coach. They may also be a board member, investor, parent, and captain of their softball league. How can they possibly manage all of these various roles?
It may be tempting to have multiple calendars for all of these various responsibilities. But, this can lead to scheduling conflicts. It can also make planning difficult. And, using just one calendar means that all of your tasks and appointments are in one location.
At the same time, if you place everything in just one calendar, it can become a cluttered mess. So, what’s the solution?
You can create multiple calendars. But, you should be selective. Even though you could create as many as you like, keep things simple. Maybe just have one for your professional life and another for your life outside of work. For example, you can Google Calendar at work and Apple Calendar for home. Just sync them so that you have one master calendar so that all of your priorities in one spot.
You don’t have to literally bulk up — unless that’s something you want to do for your health. What I’m actually talking about is batching similar tasks together. The reason you want to do this is that it prevents multitasking. More importantly, it stops you from constantly switching between tasks throughout the day.
As an example, you would schedule all of your meetings on Tuesdays. With that out of the way, you can focus on your other priorities during the rest of the week. It’s a better option than having to stop what you’re doing to attend a meeting.
Master calendar shortcuts.
Whether you’re using Google, Outlook, or Apple calendar, master their specific keyboard shortcuts. It will help you manage your calendar much more quickly and efficiently.
Schedule downtime, regular activities, and planning.
Even when you’re not at work, you’re always a CEO. How many times have you read about a leader putting something controversial on their social media accounts? Backlash ensues and they may even lose their position.
However, CEOs also realize the importance of downtime. After all, they’re not robots!
To remain energized, focused, and motivated, you need to schedule breaks throughout the day. You also need to make time for your hobbies, friends, and family, And, you also need time to plan and prepare.
If you don’t schedule these activities into your calendar, then you’re never going to get around to them. Why? Because something else will take precedence in your already busy schedule.
Make meetings shorter and more effective.
“CEOs attend an endless stream of meetings, each of which can be totally different from the one before and the one that follows,” writes Michael E. Porter and Nitin Nohria for HBR. “Their sheer number and variety is a defining feature of the top job.” In fact, HBR found that the average leader “had 37 meetings of assorted lengths in any given week and spent 72% of their total work time in meetings.”
To counter this time-drain, it’s imperative to only schedule meetings that are necessary. In most cases, there are better alternatives like email, Slack chats, or a quick phone call. If a meeting is needed, then it should be as short and effective as possible.
You can achieve this by having a clear agenda, minimizing repetition, and inviting fewer attendees. In a perfect world, your meetings should be around 30 minutes.
Include realistic buffers between meetings.
Speaking of meetings, don’t schedule them back-to-back. Include a time buffer, like a half-hour, so that you can catch your breath, travel, or prepare. It’s a safe way to avoid running late or going over the allotted time.
Just make sure that these buffers are realistic. If you have an hour between meetings, and you only needed 20-minutes, then that’s 40-minutes going to waste. The same is true if you underestimate how long it takes to commute from one location to the next.
Use “no” templates.
Warren Buffett once said, “the difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.” Is this because your selfish or have a heart as cold as ice? Maybe for some. But, the main reason is that if you say “yes” to everything, you won’t have time to attend to your priorities.
At the same time, you don’t want to offend people. Thankfully, there are ways to decline certain requests without ticking anyone off.
The most obvious is to be direct and honest. The other person may be a little disappointed. But, it’s better than lying to them. You could also alternatives, like meeting at a different time or scheduling a phone call instead of a face-to-face. You could also have policies, such as never working on Friday nights because of family game night.
You could also generate some email templates for various situations. One instance would be declining an invite to a social event. It almost puts saying “no” on cruise control while protecting your time.
Don’t hide your calendars away.
Cloud-based calendars have made it effortless to share your availability with others. They can also be used when scheduling meetings and keeping your team or family on the same page. As a result, you’re more organized and less likely to double-book. Most importantly, it saves you time since you’re eliminating those perky back-and-forth communications.
Regardless of the calendar that you use, most of them just allow you to share it via email. You could also share publicly by placing it on your website. If you pair these calendars with scheduling tools like Calendar even better. Calendar uses machine learning to make smart suggestions on how to schedule future events.
Color code it.
Besides sharing capabilities, most online calendars let you assign different colors to various entries. As an example, red could be used for work-related activities, while blue notes personal time. Green could represent meetings and yellow for items like exercise.
Color-coding your calendar allows you to quickly view it and identify where your attention and energy need to be.
Juggle external constituencies.
HBR also discovered that a good chunk of CEOs time is spent externally. Examples include customers, business partners, investors, bankers, lawyers, and suppliers. “Everyone wants to talk to the CEO, and dealing with external stakeholders is time-consuming,” added Porter and Nohria. “It often involves longer workdays and time away from headquarters and from home.”
To combat this, CEOs “systematically schedule time with customers.” Some make it a point to meet face-to-face with customers daily, while others chose to do this twice a month. You could even do this while traveling to kill two birds with one stone.
CEOs also limit the time spent with investors and outside commitments. Ways to do this would be through quarterly calls or an annual investor day. Or, they delegate others to represent them at events like conferences or charitable events.
Be proactive, not reactive.
Being proactive is all about preparing for the unexpected and becoming more self-aware. And, it’s focusing only on activities that are tied into the big picture. Because of this, it’s vital to time management and productivity.
CEOs are known for being proactive instead of letting that drip in the sink become a burst pipe that’s gushing water. And, they do this by:
- Having a “hunter” mentality where they focus only on the most important task of the day.
- Scheduling all of their time wisely.
- Creating and sticking to a routine.
- Focusing on their inner circle of influence.
- Never feeling pressured.
- Overcoming Murphy’s Law.
- Not becoming complacent.
Plan for world domination the night before.
Finally, CEOs go to bed knowing exactly what tomorrow is going to look like. They review their calendars and identify their most important tasks. They have their meals, wardrobe, and presentations all laid out. When they wake-up, they’re more than ready to tackle the day.
As Sun Tzu wrote in The Art of War, “Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”