How does a project get to be a year behind schedule?
One day at a time.
Besides active listening, the second most important skill for successful leaders is time management. A common refrain heard when talking about great leaders is "how do they manage to do it all?" The secret is effectively using every minute of every day. There are 525,600 minutes in a year. How well do you use each one?
I learned the value of a minute at the Naval Academy during my first year (Plebe) summer. Plebe summer is an intense training period when you are indoctrinated into the military way of life. During the two months, you are purposefully required to do much more than can be physically done in the time allotted. One of the favorite exercises during the summer is "uniform races." All the plebes are lined up in the hall. An upperclassman yells out a uniform and a time ("Dress Whites. Two minutes. Go."). You are required to race back to your room, change into that uniform, and return within the specified time. Sometimes, you are required to take a shower or shave in between changing. Other times, you will be given instructions to put on different combinations of uniforms. For the first few uniform races, very few plebes make it back in time. But, as the summer progresses, you learn how to optimize and shave seconds off each step in the process. You start off thinking that you could never change in two minutes, and end up finding out that you can do it with time to spare. You find out just how much you can do in two minutes.
The best use of your time is to take a great time management course. Lee Cockerell, former EVP of Operations for Walt Disney World, teaches a comprehensive and highly effective time management program. Lee is so passionate about time management that he taught the course to thousands of Cast Members when he was at Disney, and continues to teach the course to business leaders today. I encourage every leader to take this course (www.leecockerell.com).
A few of my learnings regarding time management are:
• Write down your tasks. The strongest mind is no match for the weakest pen and paper. My to-do lists when I led Epcot often had over 150 items. There is no way I could ever remember that many things. By writing them down, I could ensure that nothing slipped through the cracks.
• Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Some people use an "A, B, C" system, while others use different symbols or time periods. No matter what you use, you have to make decisions about what needs to be done first.
• Review your items first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. This gives you a plan for the day, and then feedback about how well you executed on your plan.
• Delegate and "automate." Create habits for the things you do daily. For example, you shouldn't have to think about working out or where you fit it in your calendar. You should have a daily habit of exercising at a particular time and just do it then. Morning and evening routines are a great way to simplify your life.
• Schedule time for the "important" as well as the "urgent." Oftentimes, urgent items crowd out important items, when the important items are more critical to your long-term career. You should classify tasks into Urgent-Important; Not Urgent-Important; Urgent-Not Important; and, Not Urgent-Not Important. Clearly, the Urgent-Important tasks should have a high priority, while Not Urgent-Not Important tasks can most likely be delegated or not even done.
• Schedule thought and "blank" time. Leaders need thought time to develop strategies and process plans. You also need blank time to take care of the urgent items. One of my leaders, Eddie Carpenter, who was the Chief Financial Officer for Disney Parks and Resorts, would typically schedule the day before and the day after his vacations without any meetings. This allowed him to get everything accomplished before he left, and have a day to catch up when he returned, greatly reducing his stress and increasing his productivity.
• Be ruthless about getting rid of non-productive time. Always have something to read or do with you. With smartphones, you can answer e-mails, read newspapers and make calls. Time is money, and work time is time that you could be spending with your family. Imagine that you are a lawyer that bills $500 per hour—over $8 per minute. Spending twenty minutes in an examining room waiting for a doctor would cost you $160. Don't read old magazines—spend your time doing productive work.
• One of the best pieces of advice from Lee's course is to "do something today that will benefit you in five years." Many people get so caught up in the moment that they don't do anything that will help them in the future. This might include taking care of your health, rebalancing your investment portfolio or contacting someone you haven't talked to in awhile.
John Lithgow said, "Time sneaks up on you like a windshield on a bug." His statement is both humorous and accurate. You need to take control of your time, or risk getting squashed by life.
• Recognize the value of time. A minute is a long time if you use it well.
• Take a time management course and use either a paper planner or smartphone software to plan your day.
• Prioritize and review.
• Delegate and automate.
• Use waiting time effectively.
• Do something today that will not benefit you for 5-10 years.
A full, rich, rewarding life with accomplishments beyond measure