Learning To Be Intentional With Your Time
The key to reaching your goals is to shift away from reaction mode and toward intentional work.
I work with a lot of entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Most of the work that I do is about strategy and execution. Figuring out exactly where these CEO’s and business owners want their company to go. And the best map forward to get there. Sometimes that includes fundraising and partnerships. Other times it’s about giving the team the right tools and goals to bring the company where it needs to be. I love this work. And I am reinvigorated by several new clients who work outside my traditional scope of biotech.
But with this shift in clients, I’ve seen a shift in my work as well.
I am working with several small business owners who already have goals. Who know exactly what they want to do with their business. They’ve reached a certain level and they know exactly what they want the next level to be.
And yet they do nothing, day-to-day, to actually work toward those goals. And then are disappointed in themselves for not reaching them.
Choosing How To Spend Your Day Instead Of Reacting To The Needs Of Others
Marla owns a very successful small business. People love her product and she has an incredible reputation in her niche industry. She wants to sell more in 2019, and she came to me with a very realistic growth goal for this year.
First we did a strategy session to figure out exactly what steps could take her to that goal. It was intense and specific. We started with the big picture, the larger things to do that would move her product forward. And then we broke it down into individual tasks. We prioritized the tasks. She knew the 3 things she wanted to do in the following week that would help her inch toward this annual goal. (I have started giving my clients a #Top3 channel in our Slack communications. So that everyone has to type out and be accountable for what they choose to prioritize in a given day or week).
And then Marla returned to her day-to-day. She went to her office each morning and reacted to every email, every phone call, every customer need. And then the day was over.
A week later, she had not done a single thing related to her Top 3 priorities. She was surprised and beat herself up about it quite a bit. She wasn’t sure exactly what happened. She used this as evidence to me that she was undisciplined and bad at time management.
But I don’t see it that way.
Marla is far from lazy (if such a thing even exists).
I realized that I had missed one thing in my scope of work. One important piece of strategy. A bigger priority than any one, single task.
I need to talk to my clients about being more intentional about their time.
Merriam-Webster defines an Intention as:
a determination to act in a certain way
Marla had some bigger intentions for her business. But she hadn’t made a specific determination about how to act to achieve those intentions. Even with specific, broken down tasks, she had not determined when she would do them. Instead of taking the reins of her day, she let all the outside demands around her dictate how she spent her time.
So, some of her time was productive. And some of it was a total waste, or spent on activities that could have been done days or weeks later.
Marla hadn’t yet determined how she was going to act and what she was going to spend her time on.
But I knew that working with her on this skill was the only way she’d be able to grow her business and reach her goals.
I don’t think there is any one way to be intentional about your time.
For Marla, breaking down how long each of her Top 3 would take. Giving herself specific hours (5 hours to do one thing, 1 hour to do another). And then scheduling those hours into her week. Blocking off time in advance to do these tasks. That was the lightbulb for her. She realized that midmorning was the perfect time in her day. After she got through the bramble of incoming information from the morning. And before her attention started to wane at the end of the day. An hour or two each day at midmorning spent intentionally working toward her goal made all the difference. And given the timing, she knew that there was still time in her day to respond to any new but important tasks that came in.
Creating Space In Your Week To Work On Priority Tasks
Bob was having similar issues. But his small business is structured in a completely different way. Marla rarely sees clients face-to-face. But Bob spends time out in the field almost every day, calling on clients or checking on job sites.
Bob also felt that he was reacting each day. He didn’t know what to do about it. The goal that he had set for his business 2 years ago still seemed out of reach.
For Bob, he had a formula of working in the office in the morning and then going out to visit clients in the afternoon. But when he was out with clients, he felt like he should be working in the office. And when he was in the office, he felt like he needed to be face-to-face with clients.
So for him, we talked about prioritizing on a daily basis, every morning before he started any work at all. Which actions would be the most high value in a given day? For him, we started by focuing on ways to more efficiently plan his time out of the office.
The idea was to think about the value created by each action at each point in the day. So Bob started by writing down exactly what he did every day. As a first step to seeing and understanding how he spent his time. And Bob realized that he felt he “had” to adhere to his schedule of calling on clients almost every day. But it was often not the most efficient schedule. That creating an arbitrary structure for his day was actually reducing his efficiency. So we worked together to create more flexible time in his day and less rigidity. So that he had more time at his desk if he needed. But he could also use it toward a client call, if the value was there. And that flexibility opened up space, a few times a week, to work proactively toward his goal. When it was the most valuable use of that time.
There is no one perfect way to be intentional about your time. Every business, every job, has different demands. But there is always a way to de-prioritize low value work. And say yes to higher value work. But you have to take the time to understand which is which. And stop reacting to other people’s “urgent”, and realize that it isn’t always your “important.”