3 Questions To Diagnose Your Time Use
From the great Peter Drucker.
Last month I wrote this post about Peter Drucker and "The Effective Executive", and what consultants leading their own practice can learn from it.
Most discussions of how to increase our effectiveness - making more without working more - start with the idea of planning and prioritizing tasks. For Drucker, effective executives don't start with their actions - but with their time. Instead of listing tasks, they list their time.
A couple of partners asked me then: How exactly can we find the nonproductive, time-wasting activities to get rid of? Drucker recommends a curious 3-step process:
- Check if your activities contribute to the business.
- Check which of your activities could be done by somebody else.
- Check which of your activities are wasting somebody else's time.
Is It Contributing?
The first step to improving your effectiveness is to, from time to time, actually record where your time goes to. How exactly you do this doesn't matter. What's important is not to rely on your memory or intuition.
Once you have this time log, Drucker suggests we ask all activities in the record: "What would happen if this were not done at all?" If the answer is, "Nothing would happen," then obviously the conclusion is to stop doing it.
If what you are doing during your working hours is not contributing to your well-being or the success of your consulting business, all you need to learn is to say no. I know that's easy to say and hard to do. But there's really no other way to increase your effectiveness.
Must It Be Done By Me?
For those activities that contribute to the success and growth of the business, the next question is: "Which of those could be done by somebody else just as well, if not better?"
Drucker published the book in 1966, when automation was neither an option nor a reality in the business world. So his main focus was delegation. Here's one of my favorite passages on this topic:
"There has been for years a great deal of talk about "delegation" in management. Every manager (...) has been exhorted to be a better "delegator." In fact, most managers in large organizations have themselves given this sermon and more than once. I have yet to see any results from all this preaching. The reason why no one listens is simple: As usually presented, delegation makes little sense. If it means that somebody else ought to do part of "my work," it is wrong. Once is paid for doing one's own work. And if it implies, as the usual sermon does, that the laziest manager is the best manager, it is not only nonsense; it is immoral."
The goal of delegation is not to work less, but to work on what's most important. And the only way we can get time to do that is by transferring responsibilities to others. When you delegate work to someone else, it's their work - they need to own their outcome, just like you do with your commitments.
Am I Wasting Other People's Time?
The last cause of time waste in your business is completely under your control. And that is the time you make other people waste.
Even though there's no symptom for this, it's easy to find out if it happens to you. All you need to do is ask other people: "What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?"
Asking for attendance in irrelevant meetings is the most common answer here. Many consulting partners know these are unproductive but are afraid to cut them out. Here's a suggestion: Make them optional ("Please come if you think that you need the information or want to be part in the discussion") and send a summary of the discussion and decisions made for your whole team to comment on afterwards. Tell me the results later.
We overrate our importance when leading the firm. Your time is scarce, and there are enough skills and talent around us for hire. Make time for the important stuff, or else you'll get forever stuck doing administrative and client work.