Successful executives (and people for that matter) understand the difference between an interest and a commitment. An interest is something they’d like to do if time permits. A commitment is an item that absolutely must be done regardless of the circumstances. For those executives who struggled to find the time to develop their businesses, every single interruption that popped into their day instantly became a commitment and their single focus shifted from running the business toward handling interruptions.
The successful leader understands it is absolutely impossible to get everything done and every day ends with incomplete items on the “to-do” list. What’s critical is the most important commitments are complete when you leave the office at the day’s end. It doesn’t matter who puts in the most hours; what matters is if the essential tasks were completed.
As Dr. Stephen Covey pointed out in “First Things First,” you need to develop the habit of spending your time on the important and not just the urgent. Here are a few fundamentals to help you begin the process. First, plan the week in advance. And, yes, it is as easy as it sounds. Take 10 minutes on Monday morning and put together a list of the commitments that must get completed by Friday at 5p.m. These are the items you’ll finish regardless of unpredictable fires that pop up throughout the week.
Next, consider setting aside time during your day to work on specific items. Blocking your schedule helps you stay focused on what’s really important. The best place to practice this exercise is with your e-mail. Despite what you may have heard, having two monitors sitting on your desk with e-mail open at all times is killing, not helping, your productivity. When you are working on a task that requires your concentration, you should turn your e-mail off.
Even the most successful time-management experts struggle to keep the “main thing the main thing.” As a result, my final piece of advice in this area is to take time at the end of each day and reflect. Look back at your activity and ask what you’d do differently if you could go back to 8a.m. and start over. These reflections will help you make better decisions in the future. As with everything, you goal should be to make improvements each day.
As with most things in life, the solution is simple. All you need to do is execute.