Time is the only perfectly even, nonrenewable resource leaders have. Courtney Lynch shares the truths and best practices for making your moments count.

Courtney: One of the most popular topics that we’re always asked questions about is time management. And if you think about it, time is a non-renewable resource, almost everything else we have at our disposal as leaders, we can get more of, if we really need to. We can earn more money if we really want to, we can get an advanced degree, or get another technical certification. We can get more education, but time’s finite. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. So, it leads to why we’re very focused on helping leaders become intentional with how they manage this very precious resource.

There are four fundamental truths that are very important to get on board with, as I say them to you, you might not think they’re true, but as I share them, think about how you could get on board with them because they make a big difference when it comes to managing your time. I’ll share these four truths, then I’ll share some best practices that if you use them work really well to help you be more productive as a leader.

So, let’s talk about the truths. The first thing about time is it is the great equalizer. There are only 1,440 minutes in a day, and everybody’s got the exact same amount of time. This is the only resource where it’s completely even. Someone might have a different IQ or a higher net worth, but we all have the same amount of time and leaders really work to leverage that.

Another key time management truth is to remember that how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. Think about the last two weeks. Did you feel rushed? Were you hurried? Were you tense? If that was your pattern of existence for every single day of the last two weeks, that’s going to be what your life adds up to. Now, we all have busy times. We all have surge moments, but we have to be cautious as professionals. If every day is an emergency or every day feels like a surge, we probably need to make better choices when it comes to making decisions.

Another time management truth is as we build capability, we can do pretty much anything, but none of us can do everything. Focus is so important in today’s world. Early on in our careers, perhaps we keep saying yes, and we keep saying yes, and we take on additional responsibilities. But as we cross that divide and really get to the more mature seasons of our career, what we say no to becomes so much more important. Again, focus, think of a large rain barrel of water. If you wanted to get a drink you wouldn’t necessarily lift up the entire barrel. All that wasted water would spill out over you. You would take a ladle, dip it in, and get just as much water as you need. I think that’s the key with our decisions. We have to be cautious. It’s so easy for us to fill up our calendars. The real challenge is saying no to opportunities and having discernment and focus.

Now the last time management truth, and this one can sometimes seem unbelievable, is to think about this. I don’t think you should call me and invite me to this party and take out your visa card and just share it with everybody and say, “Hey, if you want to do some online shopping while you’re here today, now feel free. It’s on me, right?” We would never give away our money that freely, but we do that all the time with our time. We say yes to meetings that really might not be valuable for us. We say yes to activities and commitments that really don’t connect with our true priorities. And, instead, we have to be more focused on that truth. You control your time. We might keep a tight grip on our finances if we’re really into managing our money. But do we really act in ways that show we believe we have control over our time? Certainly, our boss is going to ask us to do things or people are going to have demands on us. Things that we feel like we have to do. We have to recognize that that’s a choice. And of course, sometimes there are things we do need to do, and we want to make those choices.

But the key is that we put ourselves in the driver’s seat when it comes to managing our own time and making decisions about how we spend that very limited, very precious finite resource of time. So those are the truths. What are the practices?

At Lead Star, we’ve spent over a decade helping professionals develop time management habits, so we’ve come up with a couple that if you practice them, they are very effective.

The first, at the end of your current work period, let’s say you’re at the office and you’re going to leave at 6:30, those last 15 minutes before you leave, think ahead to the next time you’re going to be at work and create what we refer to as a realistic to-do list, not a list of everything you need to do the next day, because the average professional will complete over 50 tasks in a single day. What we’re asking you to do is to take your opinion into consideration and list three to four things that are must dos. Maybe that phone call that needs to be returned or that expense report that needs to be completed. What are the three to four things that you have to do to be productive the next day?

And then you leave, right? It’s important to do this at the end of work, and then you head off and you do something else. Then, the next time you come to work, take a look at that list. Three to four things. Maybe you put it in your phone. Maybe you put it on a yellow sticky like I do just look at it and say, which of these things do I want to do the least, and then do that one first. When you do the worst thing first, the momentum it gives you of completing an undone task and getting it done is amazing. As humans, when we get momentum and the wind at our backs, great things happen. But when we procrastinate, that task can weigh on us all day long. So worst first, look at your list, get one thing done that you least want to do, and then keep moving forward.

Another practice is to resist the urge to over-communicate. Sometimes we can get in this mode of checking, responding, checking, and responding on our emails. And, basically, we’re just following other people’s priorities. We’re like a dog on a choke collar, getting pulled in every different direction. The key is that we’re intentional with our action. Maybe we only check emails several times a day, or we have special blocks in our schedule where we spend time returning them again. Everyone knows their jobs, what they need to do to stay on top of things and be a high performer. The key is you’re intentional with how you’re using your time.

Another important practice is to plan white space into each of your weeks. What’s white space? It’s just one block potentially, or two or three. If you get really good at time management, it’s about two hours of time where you plan nothing to do, you just allow this to be the margin in your life. So, when the inevitable emergency happens, you have something to catch the other work or the other activities that will pile up while you attend to something that’s truly urgent.

And lastly, if you’ve got something significant to accomplish, begin with the end in mind. Reverse plan – by March in three months, I need to complete this. So, I’m going to go backwards. And I’m going to think about, well, the milestone for February, the milestone for January, and before the holidays in December, I definitely want to make sure I get these things done. That allows you to stay on time and to stay on task and to stay on deadline.

These are all simple things and simple truths that if you believe and practice them, you’ll be amazed at how much they will impact your productivity as a leader, and certainly improve your credibility as well.