Taking the lead on a project or assignment can be intimidating—who has the time for all that responsibility? I’ve spent the last ten years building a reputation of leadership and rapid growth, but I started by freeing up my time.
Here are three essential strategies I discuss in my upcoming time management book. They will help you maximize your time so you’re free to take the lead on important projects.
Step 1 – Understand how you currently spend your time
The first step in freeing your time is to understand how you spend it. Start with a time log; simply create a table in a workbook or Excel. Write columns left to right as follows:
- Estimated time to complete
- Actual time to complete
Fill it out for a week. The ‘Why’ column is for tasks that take longer than expected; these reasons may include a phone call that requires you to re-read a document you were halfway through. Be honest, and be specific—include coffee breaks, TV, and work tasks. Once you’ve done the log, you will probably see some obvious places where you may be wasting time. Resist the urge to make changes—that’s the next step.
Step 2 – Free up your time
Let’s eliminate those time wasters. To do so, I use Steven Covey’s four-quadrant method. The top left quadrant is for important and urgent tasks; the top right quadrant represents tasks that are important but not urgent; the bottom left quadrant are tasks that are not important, but are urgent; and finally, in the bottom left, we have not important and not urgent tasks.
Analyze what you see: Which tasks in the “not important” categories can you drop altogether? Next, look at tasks in your urgent and important category. These “fires,” are stressful and usually occur due to a system/procedure failure or incorrectly managing our priorities.
Finally, look at your not urgent and not important tasks. Most people are quick to eliminate these, but they tend to seep back into our lives. Working from home, I used to catch myself mindlessly watching my favorite show during (and past) my lunch break. Despite deciding to eliminate this TV time I found it crept back into my life, I realized I needed the change of pace on my break. So, I swapped shows for video seminars on topics I wanted to learn about, making lunchtime relaxing yet productive. Obviously, you can’t and shouldn’t maximize every second, but doing so will have dramatic effects to your schedule.
Step 3 – Delegate and outsource
Recognize that you don’t have to do everything by yourself so learn to delegate and outsource. When delegating, make sure to take the time to explain the task thoroughly. Give them ample time to finish the task, and inform them of the best way to ask you a question should the need arise. Often, people delegate to a coworker 24 hours before a task is due or with little instruction; when this goes poorly, they mistakenly resolve never to delegate again.
If there’s no coworker to assist you, utilize various sites where you can outsource work. My favorites include Fiverr.com (where talented professionals will do small jobs for just five dollars), 99Designs (where for $99, hundreds of designers create work for your project and you can award the payment to the best design), eLance (for all sorts of freelancers), OnlineJobs.ph (to find a remote assistant located in the Philippines), and Virtual Staff Finder (which will shortlist applicants in the Philippines based on your requirements).
It takes some work to free yourself up to lead, but the benefits are endless. Take the time now and prepare yourself, or you will find you are left in the dust while others take your place in the spotlight.