One of the biggest challenges I witness constantly with entrepreneurs and senior leaders is they have so many things to do in such a short space of time. They are constantly battling with using their time working in the business and trying to get time to work “on the business”. A major effect of this can often lead to frustration, long working hours, pressure on their personal life and burn out on themselves. Sound familiar?

I’m often asked advice on how to manage time better, and my response is always the same – you can’t manage time. The one thing that every single person in the world has in equal measures is time. So, I ask you to reframe it, and think about it in a different way. Rather than how do you manage time better, think about how you manage you’re actions and activities to produce the best results. Change the phrase “time management” to “getting things done.”

Recently I was in conversation with two business owners, one who has owned their business for 20 years, and the other a new startup. The new business owner was enjoying the buzz and excitement but explained they had been working 7 days a week for the last year. This year to sustain their health and maintain their business they needed to adapt this and become more efficient. The other owner proudly announced they had been working 7 days a week for 20 years, as if they were more successful. Now I’m not advocating at all being lazy and not putting the hard work and effort into starting and running your business, but I’m blown away by leaders who think success is the hours you work rather than the actions and results you produce.

I have experienced amazing leaders, who get so many effective actions done in such a short period of time as well as leaders who work long hours, run around like headless chickens and achieve very little. Not only is this really ineffective, it creates unnecessary nervous energy among teams and leaders eventually burn out. Being efficient is a skill I’ve constantly had to work at, and I’ve shared my tips on what I’ve learnt.

1. Goals
The famously publicised 1979 Harvard study showed the 3% of MBA graduates who had written goals with clear plans earned on average 10 times more than other graduates. Write out goals, with a clear simple plan on the easiest way to achieve these. Do activities that contribute to achieving that goal. When you’re doing anything and unsure if you should be doing it ask yourself, is this contributing to moving me forward towards my goal? In my experience without goals, your day will slip through your fingers just like running water. If you want to be in the top 3% of successful leaders, they are in action each day before the masses even get up. Set you clock one hour earlier and get up and into action. You will gain nine working weeks in a year.

2. Small tasks
Bunch small tasks such as emails, phone calls together and get them out of the way early in the morning. This frees up your mind to be able to work on bigger more effective projects, and you will be able to focus properly on these.

3. Action lists & just get it done
It’s not the number of things you get done. It’s the efficiency with which you do them, and the importance of the impact of each. I’m often asked how you separate the important tasks from the unimportant. Write a to do list every evening for the next day. Prioritise the importance of each action, and then start at number one until you work through getting them all done. The most effective leaders I’ve experienced work on one thing at a time until it’s finished and then onto the next. This is one thing I struggle with as I have so many things going on at one time. But your mind is more effective when you focus on one key thing at a time.

4. Just start
Sir Water Raleigh who built the great Tobacco empire was asked how he achieved so much in such a short period of time. He said, “when something needs done I just start.” Don’t imagine it’s too hard, just start it. Don’t put it off until tomorrow. Don’t pretend you must think it over. Don’t start it half-heartedly. Put your full energy and commitment into it and start it immediately.

5. Over estimate the time you think it will take
This is my biggest challenge. In everything I do, I predict it will take for less time than it actually does. My advice is if you think something will take 1 hour to do, give yourself an hour and a half. If you finish it in less time, move straight on to your next action point.

6. Prioritise work you need from others
Projects are often delayed because people are waiting on getting information or work back from other people which holds them up. Hard working driven leaders in my experience always get the work done they have to do themselves, it’s when they’re relying on others input it creates problems. I always focus on chasing up things from others first, and also when my team need things from me, I prioritise this as I don’t want to hold a whole team up from delivering what they need to.

7. Delegate – Play to your strengths and call in the experts
As leaders become more senior, or the business gets bigger I often witness the difficulty they have in letting things go and delegating to others. Great leaders grow and develop themselves constantly so they can effectively delegate freeing them to work on more impactful actions. They also constantly build their own self awareness and understand what they are really good at. They bring in experts who are much more efficient and produce better results than the leader would themselves.

8. Plan meetings effectively
I remember when working in London I heard stories of a retired executive who took all his meetings standing up. I thought there was certainly something in that to keep everyone focused and not waste time. I don’t know anyone who enjoys meetings that are not productive. Plan the start and finish time for meetings, and my experience is to have them at the beginning or end of the day. Use meetings to make decisions & take action, not to go through minutes from a previous meeting. This should be done outside the meeting. Start meetings with updated actions completed from previous meeting.

9. Don’t let distractions knock you off
Don’t let the hundreds of little distractions each day that try to get you off course bother you. Pay no attention to them, shake them off and stay on track focusing on your goals. In business things go wrong, or plans get changed. But before you jump in to work on it, ask yourself is this more important than continuing to work on my goal. Sometimes it is a bigger priority and must be dealt with, but often it isn’t and can wait.

Two habits I’ve always used that have served me well. I carry a small notebook and write down any tasks I need to do. I have work, reading material or podcasts to listen to during times I unexpectedly end up somewhere with free time for example if someone is late for a meeting. This prevents me wasting any time I have.

In my experience success comes to entrepreneurs and leaders who are self-starters, get things done and see things through to the finish.

I’d love to hear what tips you use to getting the most out of your time