Managing my time and making sure I’m focusing my attention in the right places is an ongoing challenge for me, just as it is for most business owners. Things come up, priorities get muddled, and sometimes you find yourself with the same to-do list you had yesterday, or even last week. You may even find yourself unsure of what to focus on because it all seems so important.
Trust me when I say: you are not alone in this. One of my favorites for overcoming this obstacle is Stephen Covey’s First Things First. (He also wrote The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)
Time management principles from the pros
In First Things First, Covey shares his time management matrix, which is essentially a grid that helps you prioritize your tasks by Urgent / Not Urgent / Important / Not Important.
In this grid, you organize your tasks in each of the four quadrants and then prioritize from there. For example, tasks in Quadrant 1 are “must-do’s” for the day, while tasks in Quadrant 4 can either be delegated or scheduled for another day.
I’ve found that approaching my day in this way is the best way to identify where I should be spending my time and what actually needs my attention. It’s also served as boundary reinforcement for me; if something comes up and it’s not important and urgent, it can wait (or be delegated).
Planning to prevent setbacks
In your business, you’ve got deadlines, pressing emails, and things you need to accomplish to move the needle forward each day. Your team also has tasks that they need to finish, but likely rely on you to hand off a piece of the puzzle. All of these tasks need to get done, and you need to make sure you’re not the bottleneck slowing down the rest of the team.
To help get things done for me and my team, I create a to-do list that includes what people need from me each day. Not only do I get things done, but I make it easier for my team to get what they need to move forward, as well. Generally, I create a “top three” list of things I need to accomplish (based on my Covey time management matrix), and whatever else I have on the list will have to wait until those first few tasks are complete.
If you adopt this habit and work to strengthen it, you’ll start to find that you can filter out what requires your response (DMs and texts can wait, I promise) and which “fires” are actually worthy of your involvement. This means less decision fatigue and an increased ability to focus on the “Big Picture” – which is deserves your attention just as much as the daily work does.
As business owners, most of our “job” is split between managing a team and growing the business. Personally, I try to commit 50 percent to managing the team and our daily work, and 50 percent to the “big picture.” This could include marketing, business development, community outreach, product launches, etc. It could also mean considering the trajectory you’re on, and evaluating whether that’s in line with where you want to go. Without focusing a large chunk of your time and attention on this important element, your business can float off-course, or even stagnate.
We’ve all see this happen with fellow business owners who are doing everything, all the time; they’re not able to focus on the things that get them where they want to go, and ultimately, they burnout. Putting out other people’s fires, or spreading your time and attention too thin, will have this effect eventually. It will also distract from your original vision, muddy your path, and make things more difficult as you try to grow.
That’s why it’s just as important to focus on “big picture” tasks. Set aside time to think about long-term needs, goals, and priorities — maybe even schedule this time into your daily calendar. Keep in mind that long-term doesn’t have to mean 6 months or 6 years down the road; it can be this week or even this month. You just need to see beyond today so you know where you’re going.