By Luke Sheppard
When I was working as a design engineer many years ago, with deadlines approaching to release a new product to market, I met with my manager and asked for his help with prioritizing my work. The design team had a lot to accomplish in a short time, and if we were to hit the launch-to-market date, we would need to either scale back the scope or increase the number of design engineers. I went into the meeting prepared—I had a list, prioritized tasks, and a time frame in which to complete each task. His shortsighted response was direct: “Do it all.” The response to my colleagues was similar.
Well, we went for it. Long days, evenings, and weekends. Unfortunately, although not unexpectedly, that strategy didn’t work. While some stretch in goals is good, unrealistic goals inevitably lead to a predictable outcome: failure. The project was subsequently delayed twice before finally getting to market 6 months later. Was this result inevitable? Maybe, but the human cost was hardly worthwhile.
The lesson for me? You simply can’t do it all. Good managers recognize this fact and manage their time and tasks, and those of their employees, with purpose and with the use of SMART goals.
The following list of guidelines, compiled from interviews with managers, entrepreneurs, customers, and executives, can be applied together for maximum result or individually, depending on your needs and the degree to which you manage your time today.
1. PRIORITIZE TASKS
Tasks should be prioritized based on how they align with your core values and business priorities. These values must come into play when you’re deciding where to focus your time. Every week (Sunday evening or Monday morning), write out your tasks for the week. Do the same on the first of each month. Assign a category and a priority, and work the list.
When I was the general manager for a large equipment dealership, my top priority was always employee safety, followed by customer and employee needs, personal items, and miscellaneous tasks. My daily tasks were then prioritized accordingly. Here’s a resource that I’ve found helpful to set up and use a bullet journal: bulletjournal.com.
2. SET SMART GOALS
Refer to your goals often. Ask yourself daily: Is what I’m doing contributing to one of my SMART goals? If not, why am I doing it? If it’s not SMART, it’s noise. (Check out www.smartsheet.com/blog/essential-guide-writing-smart-goals.)
3. MANAGE YOUR ENERGY LEVELS
Energy levels vary throughout the workday and workweek. For a typical 8–5 workday, peak energy is usually 9–11 a.m. and 3–4 p.m. During the workweek, Tuesday and Wednesday are often the days where your energy and focus are at their peak. Schedule demanding or critical tasks during these periods, and conversely, schedule tasks or decisions requiring less of your energy outside these core productive hours.
4. MANAGE YOUR COMMUNICATION
The enemy of time management is distraction. Nothing disrupts your focus quite like a buzzing phone or an email pop-up when you are trying to get something done. One way to carve out a communication break is to set aside your mobile phone (or set it to do not disturb) and avoid checking email and social media during core productive hours or when you really need to focus on a specific task.
5. MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF
When you’re an entrepreneur or manager, the demands on your time are significant, and I can state with absolute certainty that these demands increase the higher you climb the ladder of responsibility. Carving out time to unwind, decompress, or reset is as important as the job you do every day. If you want to be better at your job (with less stress), you need an outlet of some sort. Get a hobby! In addition, it may be beneficial to take a personal retreat once per year to disconnect from distractions and focus on the things that matter most, both personally and professionally. I have found this helps immensely.
6. TAKE GOOD NOTES
I was 10 years into my career before I settled on a note-taking format. I have experimented with engineering pads, pocket notebooks, bullet journals, Outlook calendar and task entries, OneNote, and a variety of iPhone apps. You might think, with all of this experimentation, that I eventually found the perfect solution. In a way, perhaps. The perfect solution is the one that works for you … consistently. Pick something and go with it. For me, my primary note-taking tool is a bullet journal. I like to put pen to paper (or consider a hybrid approach: see remarkable.com).
Luke Sheppard’s Thoughts on 2020
2020 was a year like no other for contractors. Between bouts of extreme busyness or exasperating idleness, time management took a backseat to project momentum. But with an economic recovery fast approaching, including major investments in public infrastructure, you need to be purposeful about where and how much of your time you invest in generating the greatest return for your business.
One thing is certain, though, as you review this list—your time is yours to allocate. Do so purposefully.
About The Author
Luke Sheppard is a former top executive at John Deere and Nortrax and founder of Sheppard & Company, a consultancy that works with a variety of top businesses and organizations. His new book Driving Great Results: Master The Tools You Need to Run a Great Business is available now through all major booksellers.
Modern Contractor Solutions, June 2021
Did you enjoy this article?
Subscribe to the FREE Digital Edition of Modern Contractor Solutions magazine.