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7 time management secrets of the most productive leaders

Training expert Jim Sullivan shares tips to help you and your team get more done. Plus, get his picks for top apps and books for maximizing your time

Jim Sullivan is a popular keynote speaker at leadership, franchisee and GM conferences worldwide. This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News.

As you unspool your business strategies for 2020, be aware that the most critical success factor relative to achieving goals is not planning, it’s prioritizing, and then investing the time to execute. If you don’t spend time working on the right things you’ll surely be wasting it on the wrong ones.

Time is a foodservice leader’s greatest ally or biggest adversary, so this month let’s consider seven basics for investing our time and improving our productivity.  

Time is ephemeral: We claim to save it, rob it, waste it and spend it. We even talk of killing time when, in fact, time kills us. Time is transient, and surely flies: We are now closer to the year 2095 than we are to the end of World War II, nearer to September 11, 2040 than we are to September 11, 2001, and 1990 is thirty years ago. Unlike other resources we have at our disposal, time can’t be bought or sold, borrowed or stolen, stockpiled or saved, manufactured, reproduced, or modified.  All we can do is use it.

We get an identical allotment: 24 hours in a day, 1,440 minutes between midnights — no less, no more. So why do some people get more done than others? First, they don’t make the same mistakes twice. Worrying about time wasted is more wasted time. Second, they’re intentional and focused about how they spend this precious resource.

Be clear, be brief, be calendar-specific.  Targets are missed when clarity, cohesion, and communication is vague. Limit annual or quarterly goals to three.  Make decisions and move forward as soon as possible; done is better than “perfect.”  All tasks should be ascribed to a daily calendar, not a “list.” Let your calendar run your day, not vice versa. 

Be effective then efficient.  In the interest of “managing time” we strive to be efficient in the performance of our duties. But sometimes efficiency — in the name of “saving time” — will undermine effectiveness if we’re efficient at things that don’t much matter. (Being really good at unimportant things doesn’t make those things important.)  For instance, assigning an e-learning training course to managers may efficiently impart knowledge. But did the course effectively transform their behavior? We want our teams to “do,” more than “know.”

Be organized. The managers who complain loudest about time scarcity usually have the most disorganized calendars. When someone tells you “I didn’t have time,” what they’re really saying is “It wasn’t important enough to me.” They spent their time on something, just not the most crucial things. Everyone “has” the time, they just don’t manage it well. Performance-wise, 80% of your results will come from 20% of your activities.  Figure out which 20% of your activities are the most important and focus your time improving those things. If your management teams are chronically under-performing, assess how they’re allotting and spending their time by requiring they keep and share a time log for one week.  

Be disciplined.  In addition to creating a to-do list, also create a stop-doing list. Allow only necessary and productive tasks into your days. You, not “circumstances,” is what allows extraneous things into your day. We fill our time with either necessary tasks (like training, coaching, reports), or unnecessary tasks (like random web surfing, Facebook status checking, pointless Tweeting). Be judicious about what gets your attention.

Be able to say no. Get to know “no.” One of the biggest time thieves is saying yes to everything. “I’ve made more money by choosing the right things to say no to than by choosing things to say yes to,” said Danny Meyer, owner of New York City’s Union Square Hospitality Group. “I measure it by the money I haven’t lost and the quality I haven’t sacrificed.”

Be a delegator. Attempting to micromanage your team and then saying “I’ll handle it” to every problem they share with you are common time traps of the inexperienced leader.  In the long run the best leaders get more things done in less time by delegating tasks with clear direction and assigning stretch goals to the people they supervise.  

Be able to identify and eliminate obstacles. Before you begin any key project — financial report, manager development, LTO rollout — take the time to first list all the barriers that could potentially impede or block the successful attainment of that project. Ask yourself which obstacle, if removed, would make most of the other obstacles disappear.  Now determine how to eliminate that obstacle first.  As author Pete Drucker put it: “Eat a roadblock for breakfast.”

Three free apps I recommend to help are Road Warrior Route Planner, Free Pause Gmail and SMS Organizer. Four good books to read relative to becoming more productive in today’s workplace: Getting Things Done by David Allen, Essentialism by Greg McKeown, The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss and Fundamentals by yours truly.  There aren’t any timeouts in business. The clock is always running.

Jim Sullivan is a popular keynote speaker at conferences worldwide. Companies using his products, programs and services include Starbucks, Chipotle, Texas Roadhouse, Panera and McDonald’s. His two bestselling books Multiunit Leadership and Fundamentals are available at Amazon or Sullivision.com. He has over 400,000 social media followers on LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube. He can be reached at [email protected]

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