Business leaders often hear it said that “time is your most precious resource.” For many SME business leaders time is definitely their most scarce resource. I could achieve so much more if only I had more time. I’m not sure whether finding more cash or finding more time is the biggest challenge facing entrepreneurial leaders today. Both can be sources of a great deal of stress.
Most business leaders have, at some stage, come across the time management principles of keeping a ‘To Do’ list, considering what’s actually important and what’s just urgent using the Covey grid (explained here) ensuring important and urgent tasks are completed to deadlines, and making sure that strategically important tasks are scheduled appropriately. Most business leaders will also have encountered the stress management principles of taking time out for yourself, breathing deeply, and promoting positive mindsets.
In this article I’d like to share two things I’ve learnt that were little lightbulb moments for me, helping to focus my time while simultaneously reducing the stress I feel as a business owner.
Good managing directors have infinite ‘To Do’ lists
Recognise that as a business leader your job is infinite. If you were to wake up tomorrow and complete your entire business task list, there would always be more tasks, more responsibilities, more business development and outreach opportunities outside of the business that need your attention. Who doesn’t want to be overloaded with opportunities?
Indeed, one of the things I learnt in the middle of my career was the importance of resisting the temptation to “tidy up” things internally, instead ensuring that I spent enough time getting out and about, finding and taking opportunities.
The insight here is simple but powerful. I used to try hard to clear my ‘To Do’ list, then get frustrated and stressed when, no matter how many hours I worked, I couldn’t. The realisation that my job was infinite and therefore impossible to finish was incredibly insightful.
How my 'to do list' helped me
- The ‘To Do’ list is a means to capturing all my bright ideas and things I’d like to achieve. By putting these on my ‘To Do’ list, I can relax knowing that when (usually if) it is the right time for that task to be done, I will do it. Writing down thoughts and ideas in this way relegates them from your memory, freeing you up to concentrate on higher priority tasks without having to worry about forgetting that great idea.
- The ‘To Do’ list is also a means of prioritising. Each morning I look at the list and mark one to ten in order against the most important tasks for completion that day. Then I try to focus on getting those tasks done, avoiding other distractions like emails, which would otherwise permanently compete for my time. And if all I get done are tasks one to three, as long as I’ve prioritised well and worked to the best of my ability, I can be happy that I’ve had a productive day.
Trust your subconscious instincts for time management
The second major learning point is one I’m ashamed to admit I only recognised thirty years into my career. This is that our subconscious minds naturally try to help us prioritise. One day, I realised I had been worrying about a particular task for weeks, thinking about how I was going to do it and trying to find time to work on it.
On realising this, I said to myself “I’ve had enough of this stress, let’s just get started on doing it, even if I don’t know quite how I’m going to do it.” A couple of hours later, when I’d finished, I felt pretty good! I realised I’d just completed something quite important and, after weeks of stress, it had only taken me a couple of hours.
The lightbulb moment was realising that my subconscious mind had been trying to help me to prioritise, and my stress was because I’d been adhering to logic and rational processes too rigorously.
Managing Director - Indium Corporation"MD2MD, it’s no longer lonely at the top they said.. Before MD2MD, sharing my business discussions and challenges were largely limited to people in my own company, and to lesser degree people in my own industry. Then I saw the light. The diversity of views, opinions and experience I was able to get from the peer group sessions on a multitude of challenges took my capabilities to a whole new level. My greater surprise though was just how my own experiences were able to help others. "View full case study
Bob is a specialist in running high value added service businesses, having run five such businesses as General Manager, Managing Director or Chief Executive. His last employed role was as Chief Executive of a £16M, 200 person family owned business having previously been Chief Executive of an AIM listed company for which he raised £5M funding and which he grew from £4M to £12M in three years through two acquisitions and organic growth, and a corporate PLC subsidiary where he was Managing Director responsible for delivering £10M profit on £45M turnover through 450 staff.
Bob is now following a portfolio career providing entrepreneurial business leaders with mentoring and coaching around business leadership, business growth, merger integration and exit planning.
Core to his portfolio is MD2MD. Having experienced for himself the value of having a strong sounding board of fellow Managing Directors he founded MD2MD in 2004 to provide groups of business leaders with a confidential environment within which they can support and challenge each other to raise their game as leaders and by doing so improve the success of their organisation.More about Bob