Apple WatchAs a lead partner in Spark Global Business, I spend a lot of time meeting with business leaders to discuss entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship and leadership development.

One of the common issues facing leaders is simple: it’s a question of time.

Time to think; time to plan; time to reflect; time for family; time for friends… some leaders that I have met with have simply discarded aspects of their life in preference to business whilst many others strive for the fabled ‘work-life balance’.

One thing that I have learnt is that time is pretty much everything.

Consider this: when royalty or a politician or senior business leader is due to meet with you… who does the waiting?

I am pretty sure that it is you that does the waiting – your time is being ‘spent’ (wasted?) whilst the other person works to their timescale. At the higher levels, such people will have someone to organise the diary, sort the transport, prepare all notes for the meeting… at these levels, people walk in, have the meeting, and walk out again.

A pure time-efficient exercise.

And how was it for you?

How does it feel being made to wait? Who has the perceived upper hand?

According to the American entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker Jim Rohn, “the difference between poor people and rich people is that poor people spend their money and invest what’s left over; rich people invest their money and spend what’s left over”.[pullquote]If you looked upon time as an expenditure, the successful leader looks for the ROI.[/pullquote]

And the same applies to time.

The successful leader prioritizes their tasks and responsibilities better – whether this is for high impact, high profit, or whatever.

As with any management theory, it’s obvious and simple: prioritize your activity, do the activity, move onto the next one – in the 1990s, I worked with an international software house that paid thousands of dollars for a training company to tell their people exactly that.

From speaking to successful (and less-successful) leaders, here’s a few points that seem to be common themes for you to explore:

Set a maximum of three ‘big’ tasks per day
There’s no point kidding yourself that you’ll do more than 3 – if you investing everything into a ‘big’ goal then you need to take time out between each one and so…

Schedule breaks into your calendar (and stick to them!)
Research suggests that our brain can work solidly and deeply on a task for a maximum of 50 minutes – if this is the case, then accept that you’re not at optimum for anything beyond it – so take a break. Importantly, don’t just put this into your diary system as ‘busy’ and then not take the break… this defeats the point.

Be realistic
At the start of pretty much every leadership mentoring engagement, the first thing that I do is get the leader to take a look at their to-do list. Invariantly this is long. Too long. And the worst thing is that, in most cases, a fair percentage of the to-do list is the responsibility of someone else! Check you to-do list and sort out a ‘not my job’ list. Then go find the people who should be doing it… and get them on point.

A Question Of TimeDelegate & Trust
The reason why to-do lists are so long is that the leader feels that “if I don’t do it then no one will” or “if you want something doing right, then you need to do it yourself”. This is unproductive – a waste of your time and you should stop such a dysfunctional attitude. If your people ARE this inept… replace them; don’t do their work for them.

Remember Pareto
Is it possible that 80% of your success comes from 20% of your activity? If so, which activities are hitting the mark? By assigning a day a week on your highest priorities, how much can be achieved? If you could invest one day a week (7 lots of 50 minutes and 10 minute breaks in between), how much could be done?

YES this one is hard – but is it a coincidence that people working hard at what they do are also the successful ones?

So what to do on your impact day? Work with your top 5 clients? Cold call? Reflective thinking & strategy? What is it that makes you a success – and can you invest time into doing this not just better but exceptionally?

Get down to business
It would be foolish to go for impact days every day as this would be produce so much activity that then goes undelivered – promises made on an impact day would go undelivered which would erode your reputation. Partly-administrative, partly-delivery… this is a day for getting things done.

Again, in leadership mentoring sessions, I advise a minimum of two delivery days to support each impact day. As your trust in delegation comes to the fore, you will see that one delivery day supports one high-impact day.

Peaceful MindSpark PlayMakers - Peaceful Mind
I tend to ask leaders a few brain-stretching questions like, “are you happy?” as a way to get them thinking a little bit wider than their current remit. One of the questions that comes into this area is, “do you take time off?”.

Most leaders tell me that they don’t take their full holiday entitlement and even have days carried over from the previous year (that they have no intention of taking advantage of this time either).

Burnout, anyone?

Some leaders seem to feel genuinely anxious about taking the time off (will things be delivered? will people cope? will the team function without me?). The problem is that, to be a successful leader, you are to be nurturing the leaders of tomorrow – your replacement. How can you do that if you never leave your desk (unless taken out feet-first in box from all the undue stress)?

[pullquote]Leadership is what happens when you aren’t in the room[/pullquote]

Think about it: a good manager can take annual leave and all is well. So why does the leader hang around? All those years of hard work, dedication and commitment… for longer (less productive) hours.

There is a health warning here… bad leaders take their allocated leave and leave the business in disarray – and then, on their return, let people know that “this wouldn’t have happened if I’d gone away” – suddenly the bad leader is ‘indispensable’!

So, work less to be more productive; focus on what your impact areas are; keep your promises; seek out the next generation of leaders.

To bastardise Jim Rohn, “the difference between poor leaders and successful leaders is that poor leaders complete tasks when they find the time; successful leaders invest their time wisely and spend what’s left over doing what they love”.

OK; it’s unwieldy and I probably need to spend more… time on it. In this instance, I have reasoned that it is more important to get the message across than sit here wondering about the idea phrasing. I have better things to spend my time on.

If you are interested in how to develop the PlayMakers in your organization, then contact Neil for an exploratory discussion.

A Question Of Time