There are two great myths surrounding time, in the world of management and productivity.
The first myth is that you can manage time. You can't. Rough news for the self-help industry right?
The second myth is that the ultimate goal of time management is to get more stuff done. It isn't.
Time management is priority management. You can't manage time, only your priorities.
We don't practice priority management is not to get more stuff done. We practice time management is to get less stuff done.
As business owners our task is to do what matters. And nothing else.
Much of the time management literature talks about the urgent versus the important, but then drifts back to the productivity tools (checklists, software, biorhythms) that carry the implicit message: this is about getting more stuff done. The literature only briefly (and in the case of many writers, never) touches on 'why'. Why are we doing all this? The answer to that question is the most important thing in priority management.
- If we can't manage time but can manage our priorities, what we are doing is priority management.
- We manage our priorities to grow our businesses.
To grow our businesses we must move from doing more to doing less.
In their early days our businesses are 'owner-scaled'. We do almost everything: marketing, sales, human resources, janitorial services, and counselling. At this stage, whatever the experts say, a lot of priority management at this stage is about the urgent. We go to bed most days with not everything done that needed doing; often not even the important stuff. Everything feels, and in reality often is, urgent and important.
The distinction between urgent and important in the early chapters of a business is academic.
To move our business to 'enterprise-scaled' we have to find ways to do less. We have to find ways to move more slowly. We have to spend increasing amounts of our time on one thing: growing the business.
This is not the same as growing sales and revenue. Saying your business grew from 800K last year to 1.2M this year is not what we are talking about. We are talking about the growth of the business as an enterprise: employees, team members, management, partnerships, divisions, markets.
To get there you have to slow down, and do less. Busy leadership is poor leadership. That is the 'why' of priority management for business owners. That is the one thing that matters.
People talk about 'working on the business instead of in the business', but it isn't always clear what that means. This approach to priority management is what that means.
To understand the connection between growing your enterprise and slowing down, read about the Great Performances Three Cycles.
The Three Priority Management Tools
If slowing down and doing less is a requirement for growing your business, here's what that looks like as a process.
One of our rules is "Everything [in a business] needs doing; but you don't need to do everything."
To slow down and do less implies that we are delegating the high frequency, urgent, operational tasks ('the view from the engine room') in favour of lower frequency, important, enterprise-scale tasks.
To do that successfully we have to be clear on what matters; on what will grow the enterprise most effectively. The answers are different for every enterprise, but there are some common filters to use:
- Your Mission - the whole organization should be driven by your mission, but as the owner your activities should be the closest to the epicentre of your mission.
- Independence - whether it is training, overseeing the creation of your Standard Operating Procedure manual (SOP), or developing the management layer, anything that decreases the dependence of your business on your daily presence is your job.
- Productivity values - If you have to work 'in' the business what are you best at? What of the things you do in the business add the most value? Are you it's creative centre? Are you the analyst? Are you the closer? If you have to work in the engine room, only do work that creates maximum value. Delegate the rest as fast as you can.
- Income value - If you are still working directly with customers, have you put in place pricing and value models that support that? Your customers value you because you are the heart of your business; you are "it". But you cannot afford to work with every customer. Do that and you can't work on growing your business. Ensure that you work directly only with those customers who generate the highest profits or will play a role in the long term life of the enterprise, or ideally both.
- Future value - is the activity you are considering something that yields current value or future value? All things being equal the greater the long-term value the more it is an owner's job.
Chunking is the process of grouping activities. A ‘chunk’ is a related group of things: marketing, creating, financial time, networking, etc.
When we chunk what we do it forces us to look at our work objectively. It forces us to identify classes, groups, and priorities.
Aggregate all of your networking activities: BNI, Chamber of Commerce, cups of coffee with business associates, etc. and decide:
- how much they matter;
- how much time each week or month you should commit to them in aggregate.
Bounce the chunks against your enterprise vision: is the activity something you as the owner should be doing? What is the long-term payoff?
Drive the growth of your business by delegating chunks. Using the filtering tools described above assess each chunk and decide if and how soon it can be delegated.
Padding is the process of slowing down.
While minions must arguably work to the clock and be as ‘efficient’ as possible, that approach is counterproductive for the leader of an enterprise. Padding creates space to think and plan and listen. As the owner your primary search is not for efficiency, but for effectiveness.
The opposite of ‘padding’ is ‘busyness’: the very toxin of sustainable growth and health.
Find a way every month and every year to do LESS not more; to find a way to take LONGER to do what you have decided matters, not to cram more stuff in.
Decide what matters, see if it can be chunked, and then pad it or delegate it.
A Small Example
Networking is one thing that most owners retain as a focus for a long time. If they are good at it, they network for the duration. Chunk your networking activities together. Then pad: forget 1 hour lunches. Take 3 hour lunches. If those build your core network, and they are building a foundation for your enterprise, those are 3 hours well spent.
Time spent slowly and generously is usually time spent thoughtfully, productively, and profitably.
Watch the truly powerful and successful around you. Moving slowly is both a condition and hallmark of power and success.
Want to learn more? Download our free blueprint for growth:
It Works Like This - The Story of Your Business!