One of the things that frustrates most CEOs is never having enough time for the most important things. Yet it's their own bad habit that leads to this frustration.
The bad habit is this: they take on way too much. Most chief executives spend so much time doing things they shouldn't be doing that they starve themselves of the time needed for what truly matters.
This not only frustrates CEOs but damages their businesses. From my own experience as a CEO, I've learned that allowing non-essential tasks to eat up big chunks of your workweek turns you into a bottleneck that holds up crucial decisions. I've also learned that—unless you're content to let your company languish at its current size—you have to become ruthless about protecting the time you require in order to lead the growth of your business.
For the sake of your firm's future, you need to stop doing things that you shouldn't be doing
It's not easy to give up trying to do everything. Most people tend to overestimate what they can accomplish in a day—I know I do. But for the sake of your firm's future, you need to stop doing things that you shouldn't be doing. And the key to that is to replace the bad habit of attempting to do too much with a set of new good habits. Here are eight that have worked for me:
- Maintain a short list of goals that you use to drive your to-do list: It's crucial to keep your list of goals short. I limit mine to just three to five at any one time. For example, now that I have become a partner in a venture-capital firm, one of my goals is to sell one of our portfolio companies—an important objective because that's how VCs make money. I review my goals daily and keep them in a prominent place: right at the top of my to-do list. I use these goals as a filter to determine which among the many potential tasks I could do will contribute the most to achieving my goals. I put the five most useful tasks at the top of my to-do list—and then, I start with these tasks.
- Use a time log to spot your lower-value activities: Periodically, I sit down with pen and paper to log the tasks I've worked on over the past several days, plus the time I've spent on each one. Whenever I do this exercise, I'm appalled at how much time I've spent on tasks that haven't helped me achieve my goals. Just seeing the wasted time steels my resolve to substitute higher value tasks.
- Find out where you excel: To identify what you should stop doing, first, you need to figure out what you should keep doing. These are the activities in which you have the greatest positive impact on your business. My experience has taught me that these also are the areas in which you have superior skills.
I enlist other people, both inside and outside the company, to help me identify these skills, simply by asking, "What do you think I am especially good at?" Often, other people can see your greatest strengths more clearly than you can. You may find that you're good at things that come so naturally to you that you underestimate their importance.
When I've asked people where I stand out, they've said that I'm highly creative in an entrepreneurial way. This has made it clear to me that I'll add a lot more value by spending my time refining business ideas than, say, reviewing quotes on insurance coverage.
I also have used another method to identify where I excel: reviewing past occasions when I have accomplished a great deal. Listing a few such instances often reveals a pattern that suggests where you should focus your time.