3 Ways Business Leaders Lose Time Without Even Realizing It

Time is the one resource business leaders can't get more of, so it's essential to make the most of the hours you have in your workweek.

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The 40-hour workweek seems like a solid amount of time to be productive at work. But how many times have the tasks you identified at the beginning of the week been left undone by the time Friday afternoon rolls around? Business leaders in particular can easily fall victim to this predicament. One unexpected action item or out-of-the-blue phone call can derail your entire workday, if not workweek.

As a business leader, it's vital that you manage your time well. Your direct reports and team at large are looking to you as a role model, and you likely have a lot more on your plate than others. No need to stress, though. Here are three ways business leaders unknowingly waste time and what you can do about them.

1. They Let Others Dictate Their Calendars

As a leader, you need to be in control of your own calendar. Your time is precious, and your employees know this. As a result, they probably book time far in advance just to be sure they can get on your schedule. And while this may be flattering, it's impractical and actually a waste of time.

Taking control of your calendar is the first step to prioritizing your time. First thing on Monday, or before you wrap up on Friday, take a look at the week ahead. Are there meetings on your calendar that can be removed altogether? Are there awkward 15-minute snippets of time that can be consolidated so you have a larger amount of time to dedicate to your own work? Are there meetings with teams that can be combined to save time for everyone? These are just some of the questions to ask yourself.

You should also look into tools or apps for yourself or the entire company. Scheduling tools like Calendar optimize your calendar for you by learning about your day-to-day and prioritizing accordingly. You can block out certain chunks of time in advance for uninterrupted work, which will improve your productivity. And when people need to meet with you, your scheduling software will let them know what times work best for you and when you are not available.

2. They Let Their Inbox and Other Messaging Platforms Run Their Day

Email is both a blessing and a curse. Without email, it was much harder to communicate with teams or companies as a whole. On the other hand, emails can be sent 24/7, which means that people can be online working 24/7.

The same goes — perhaps even more so — for instant messaging platforms such as Slack, the real-time nature of which makes messaging almost too easy. Yes, it's convenient to be able to message someone anytime, anywhere, but that also creates the expectation of work being done anytime, anywhere. This always-on mentality means that these lines of communication can quickly — and easily — consume you.

Instead of opening your inbox first thing in the morning, take a look at your to-do list instead. See whether there are items you can accomplish easily or whether you have the time and energy to dedicate yourself to a larger task. It may even be helpful to remove your inbox from your personal phone to help keep you on track. After all, other people's action items shouldn't be your first priority.

If you're worried about how this change will be received, inform your team members of your new communications policy and the rationale behind it. Explain, for example, that you will respond to email at noon and the end of the day, so you can tend to other priorities the rest of the time. They will soon understand and find alternative routes to get the answers they need. Of course, you'll want to specify the method they should use to reach you when a critical, time-sensitive matter absolutely requires your input.

3. They Spend Too Much Time Tackling Smaller Projects

Being a leader comes with a lot of responsibilities. One of these is making sure the company is focused and aligned on long-term goals. However, when firefighting and unexpected priorities take up your time, those larger, strategic goals can be easily overlooked.

Instead of being the fixer of the organization's day-to-day issues, you need to be the course corrector. This means you need to keep your sights on the big picture. If you have a senior leadership team, make sure each member is focused on a goal that fits into that broader view. Meet with these senior leaders every month or so to discuss how you are tracking toward longer-range initiatives.

If a short-term project falls into your lap, assess the situation before diving in. You may be able to delegate it to another individual or have a designated project team take hold of it. Not only will this free up your time to focus on bigger and likely more financially relevant needs, but it also gives ownership to someone else. This is a leadership tactic that your employees will appreciate and learn from.

Time is the one resource business leaders can't get more of, so it's essential to make the most of the hours you have in your workweek. By taking control of your calendar, optimizing communication practices and focusing on strategic goals, you'll ensure you're using your precious time to maximum advantage.

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