The typical manager’s schedule is jam-packed, yet a lot of their time during the workday is often wasted or used inefficiently.
A survey last year from AtTask (now Workfront) and Harris Poll found that U.S. employees only spend about 45 percent of their time on their primary job responsibilities. The remaining 55 percent is spent on busywork and cyberloafing (social media, stock trading, shopping, recreational surfing of news and sports) among other things. For senior level personnel especially, wasted time is most often time being used inefficiently.
Bill Trenchard, a partner at First Round Capital who has cofounded and run three companies, said in his experience, about 70 percent of a senior manager’s or executive’s time is “sub-optimal.” But it doesn’t have to be. These strategies will help ensure that every hour you spend at work really counts.
- Be militant about your email inbox. Email is a huge time sink for managers and executives, because most make it a priority to clear out their inbox. Keeping your inbox open all day may make you extremely responsive but doesn’t let you focus well on other tasks. Instead, compartmentalize your time on email by setting aside two-to-four specific times during the day to look at email, which is known as “batching.” If you work with an assistant—one that’s in your office or a virtual assistant—have them sort through your mail to flag what’s important, what requires action, what can be saved for later reading and what you never need to see.
- Create a roadmap for your day. If you start your day without a plan for what you need to accomplish, you’ll likely work aimlessly. Instead, create a list each morning of what you would like to have done by day’s end. Then prioritize those tasks and list the order in which you’ll tackle each one. You’ll have a list of what must get done that day and what needs to get done, but not necessarily by day’s end.
- Stop interruptions. If you’re the type of manager who is so accessible people feel free to pop in at any time, you are actually inviting distraction into your workday. Those interruptions sap your productivity and your ability to work through your list of priorities. Control interruptions by putting aside two times each day when you close your office door and ask not to be interrupted. Be clear with your assistant about what counts as urgent and truly warrants an interruption. Leave a note on the door for coworkers and direct reports about your limited availability during closed-door times and then shut down your email, disconnect from the Internet and give your undivided focus to the top priorities on your list. Start with two non-interruptible hours each day and if you can, work up to three.
- Say “no” more often. Warren Buffet once said the difference between successful people and very successful people is that the latter say “no” to almost everything. You may not have to say no to everything, but learning to say it more often will allow you to use your time on tasks that are worthwhile and move your agenda forward. People often say yes to things that bring little or no result just because it’s easier than saying no.
- Manage your energy. Try to tackle your highest priority tasks when you are at your most creative and energetic– for many people, that’s the morning. If that applies to you, handle your high priority tasks then and push off email and routine meetings until later in the day. If you’re more productive in the afternoon, do the opposite. Build breaks into your day, because no one remains highly productive for hours on end. Take a walk, listen to music or do something else you enjoy, as long as it’s completely unrelated to work.