Four ways to stop wasting time

Any good business leader knows policies are essential to effectively manage resources. There are policies and quotas for hiring new people, protocols and limits to making large capital investments, spending limits that vary by management level – the list goes on. But one of the scarcest and most valuable resources of organizations often goes largely unmanaged.

Your time.

Reflect for a minute about how you’ve spent your time in the office this week. How much time has been spent responding to emails? How much time have you spent with your team? How many meetings and conference calls have you participated in?

According to CMOE, a CEO spends about two and a half hours a day in meetings/on conference calls and about two and a half hours on emails/texts. That’s a total of five hours per day. If we assume that 50% of those meetings, conference calls, emails and texts legitimately need the attention of the CEO to progress, that leaves two hours and thirty minutes of a CEO’s work day taken up by non-essential activities.

If we think of time as money (and we absolutely should), that two and a half hours equates to about $900 per day for a CEO making $750K (the approximate median CEO salary according to salary.com).

That $900 per day equates to about $234,000 a year – and that’s just the CEO’s time. That number multiplies quickly if we also consider time other executives, managers and employees spend on non-value-added activities.

Let’s say we have a team of 10 highly paid executives (making $200K annually) and each of those executives has eight direct reports (at $60K annually each). If we assume the same amount of time is allocated each day to activities non-essential to their work, the financial investment becomes over two million dollars annually.

Two million dollars. More than enough cash to hire another leader who could take your place in all the unnecessary meetings you attend. Also keep in mind that this does not consider other costly distractions or time-wasters (browsing the web, social media, chatting at the water cooler) that happen in every office across America every day.

Now armed with the above information, reflect again on your work week. What have you been involved in that would have been perfectly productive without your presence?

Leaders often catch themselves doing things that can be considered a waste of our time. It’s something that we all struggle with – and something that recently I’ve taken steps to remove myself from for the benefit of our company, our clients and my sanity.

Our time is not our own

I first analyzed why this was happening. My first observation was that for the most part, leaders aren’t in control of their own schedules. We allow room for all sorts of activities that do not require our level of authority and expertise. We should be left out of meetings set for a team to gain alignment. Any meeting invitation that uses the words “preliminary”, “ideation” or “brainstorming” should receive a polite declination. A leader should be involved only when there is to be a structured discussion, a decision to be made or their feedback is necessary for the team to progress.

It is a much better use of a leader’s time to edit or review material that’s been created by their team than to be involved in the creation process.

If this sounds harsh, it’s because it can be. Rejecting a request for your time can project the sense that you 1) don’t value the activity taking place and/or 2) you don’t value the person(s) requesting the time. This exercise can be a challenge for leaders who are especially personable and genuinely like their team. It’s difficult to say “no” to someone you are friends with – and many of us have both business and personal relationships with the people on our teams.

Time is not treated as a financial asset

The second observation is that we don’t treat time like a financial asset of the company. When we spot an area of financial waste, it’s immediately put to a stop. But this is not the same as when we notice ourselves or others wasting time. Think about how many times people have been in meetings where they were not needed, but included because of office politics or personalities. Inclusion should not be the motivation behind sending meeting invitations. This is not to sound contrary to the spirit of developing people by exposing them to new information or processes or to stifle team building. It’s simply an objective observation that we are much more inclined to waste time than money.

Not enough time is spent with our teams

I would argue that very few leaders would say they spend an adequate amount of time coaching and developing their teams. People are the single biggest asset in most organizations and time spent on wasted activities is time that could have been spent on people. This activity has an exponential effect on a leader’s time. The more time spent coaching and developing people, the more decisions and activities they become experienced with and can be trusted to perform, the more time you put back on your calendar.

Regardless of the level at which you are currently serving your organization, employee empowerment can be the key to the personal success you experience and contribute to the overall success of your organization.

Empowering people allows you the time to lead.

How to reclaim your time

As leaders, we need to carve out time to be reflective of the business, consider decisions we’ve made, future actions and assess whether strategies set in place are happening. But to do this, we can’t be so busy that we lack long-term visibility. We were made leaders of our companies to maintain a strategic, long-term vision of the company and time is critical to doing that successfully.

Here are some tips to spending more time on truly value-added activities:

1. Follow the concept of zero-based budgeting. Every day starts anew and only put the things on your schedule that are required. If you are not required at a meeting, cancel it or delegate it.

2. Remove the sacred cows that exist around meetings in company culture. There’s an element of politeness to accepting a meeting invitation that should be squashed. Your team should exhibit as much courtesy when requesting time as they display when agreeing to attend a meeting. Set a new policy that requires the following when requesting your participation:

  • The purpose of the meeting
  • Decisions to be made in the meeting
  • Your role in the meeting

It’s important to note here that when enacting this new policy, you can communicate to the team that the purpose of the policy is to gain control of your schedule so you can be a better leader and better serve the organization (not because you’re a jerk who isn’t a team player).

You can coach your organization to consider the financial investment involved when planning a meeting. In 2016, Harvard Business review released an app for this precise purpose that makes it extremely easy to view the cost of a meeting and weigh the benefit to having it.

3. Push decisions down to your direct reports. Anything that does not need your expertise or input should be left at the hands of your team. If an employee is bad at decision-making, coach them on making good ones – or find someone else who can make good decisions. For this to work, you need to be surrounded by smart, capable people who can be trusted in their roles.

4. Identify the top ten time wasters in your organization. Look beyond your own schedule’s time wasters and while thinking of time as money, identify which activities in the organization are sucking productivity and efficiency. Many times, reports can be huge time wasters – as can be a lack of simple processes and procedures.

At a basic human level, time is precious and you can never recoup time wasted. Wasting time often leaves a person feeling guilty and vowing to be more productive and cautious. Many organizations waste millions of dollars every year on activities that are an unproductive use of their people’s time.

How will you spend the next hour?

Richard Spoon is ArchPoint Chairman of the Board and President of Management Consulting. Richard helps ArchPoint clients reach strategic goals and leads them through large organization change efforts. Click here to contact Richard.

 Blaze Petersen is a consultant with ArchPoint Consulting and contributing writer for the ArchPoint blog. Click here to contact Blaze.

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