Where Do Managers Find the Time to Get Everything Done?

A reader asks:

Where do other managers find the time to do everything on their plates? I feel like I’m constantly running from one meeting to the next, putting out fires, talking to my staff members about their own work, and getting pulled into work that I hadn’t planned on, so I never have time to just focus on some of the things I’d really like to get done. I’ve read stuff on time management, but none of it has told me how to get more time in the day!”


Our answer is the opposite of getting more time in the day — it’s about getting realistic about how little time you really do have, and making sure that you’re spending it on the things that matter most …

1. Be relentless about asking, “What are the most important things for me to do to drive my work forward?”  How often have you agreed to spend an hour at a meeting that wasn’t crucial, when your to-do list was filled with high-impact items that could more powerfully drive your work forward, like figuring out a new approach to a funder or talking to an employee about a performance problem? If you’re like most managers, you fall into the trap of spending your time on what’s immediately at hand, rather than what’s most important. So start being obnoxiously disciplined about always asking yourself if what you’re about to do is the most important thing for you to spend your time on.

2. Make a to-do list that reflects your obnoxious discipline. You know how it feels at the end of a day when you realize that you didn’t accomplish any of the things that you wanted to get done that day? You never have to feel that way again (well, almost never) if you start each morning by getting really clear on what you’ll need to accomplish for the day to be a success — and then put those items at the top of your to-do list and do them first before other things have the chance to intervene. Here’s a sample daily to-do list to get you started.

3. Free up time in your calendar to work on your list. If you let your calendar fill up with meetings and other obligations that don’t reflect your real priorities, this plan will crash and burn. So deliberately schedule work blocks into your calendar — at least two three- or four-hour blocks of time per week to do your most important work. And once you set up these regular blocks, make sure others know that it’s protected time where you shouldn’t be interrupted.

Bonus points if at the beginning of the week you note in your calendar the specific things that you’ll take care of during the work blocks, so you’re even less tempted to schedule over those times.

4. Accept that you’ll need to delegate more. If you’re like a lot of people, you’re thinking, “It sounds workable in theory, but what about all those other items I’ll be neglecting?”  And that’s where delegation comes in: to focus on your most important priorities, you’re going to have to delegate anything else that you can.

If you’re anxious at the thought of letting go of things that you feel you do better than your staff, keep in mind the principle of comparative advantage. Ask yourself, “Where do I add the most value?”  Not just some value, but the most. For example, maybe you’re better at answering emails from the public than your assistant is, but — by virtue of your position if nothing else — you’re probably far better than she is at, say, raising money, talking to the media, or managing your team’s work. Your time should go to the work where the gap is the biggest — where you add much more value than your staff, not just a bit more, because the pay-off will be greater. This can be tricky, so here’s a worksheet that uses this principle to identify what items you can delegate.

Put the four steps above into action, and we promise you that you’ll feel like you found more time in the day … and most importantly, you’ll see the impact in your work.