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In business, time is everything

ClockAmong all of the diverse challenges faced by business owners and executives today, one that consistently presents itself across all industries is the time scarcity problem. Having coached executives in time mastery over the past decade, I’m convinced that no matter how skilled an individual becomes at time mastery competencies, he or she will be running into walls with those techniques unless the organization he or she works in also supports healthy time usage. And with constantly changing technology making increasing demands on our time and our businesses, the problem will only get worse.

A recent McKinsey survey showed that only 9 percent of executives are “very satisfied” with the way they allocate their time. A third are “actively dissatisfied” and more than half say the way they spend their time doesn’t match their organizations’ strategic priorities.

Regardless of the size of your business or industry you are in, there are some things you can do to improve the “time psychology” of your organization:

1. Develop, by all means, your own time mastery competencies and expect the same of your team. But realize time scarcity is an organizational problem as much as it is an individual one. It’s not just a matter of individual productivity; it’s also an organizational productivity issue.

2. Stop treating time as infinite for both yourself and your employees. Just as you make capital allocation decisions, ask yourself if you and your staff are spending your limited time on the highest return-on-investment areas of work. Treating time as limitless for yourself can lead to decreased productivity, lost creativity and ultimately result in health and relationship problems. Treating your employees’ time as limitless can have similar results, only magnified.

3. Balance where you spend time. The leaders most satisfied with their allocation of time split it between meeting with key customers and other stakeholders, meeting with their direct reports as a team and individually, meeting with other employees and spending time alone. (This last one often gets completely overlooked in the blur of information overload, but research is showing it to be critical for the creative process.)

4. Establish a work culture (starting with you) that respects time. This includes eliminating unnecessary meetings, keeping the necessary ones short and beginning and ending them on time. It also means not using email when it is not the most effective communication tool for the job. (Remember: each email produces four more on average.) Most importantly, respect the boundaries of your employees’ personal time and don’t bombard them with late night and weekend email and text requests.

5. Most importantly, most companies that have a time pathology don’t have clear roles, goals and measures of performance. People who work in companies with healthy time psychology know what their priorities are, what’s expected, who is responsible and how they’re doing. And part of structuring your business for time effectiveness is utilizing that endangered species of high quality administrative support.

Remember the words of management guru Peter Drucker: “Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.”

Ask yourself not only if you manage your time well, but also how would you score your company on its culture of managing time?