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How are you spending your time?

Owners and executives of companies have numerous demands on their time, yet there’s only 24 hours in a day. No matter how much we can accomplish during any given day, we rarely respond to all the emails, calls, social obligations, fill our need to exercise, get enough sleep, eat healthfully, and address all of our family responsibilities.

Leo Babauta wrote, “The problem isn’t that we have too little time—we all get the same amount of time each day and each week. It’s the exact right amount of time, because it’s all there is. It’s possible that we have too many things to do. But the real problem is that we want to do too much in the time we have.”

I have found that it can be exceedingly difficult to differentiate between the “urgent” and the “important.” The fact that something needs to be done right away presents the illusion that it is automatically more important than whatever else you were working on. Those urgent tasks add to the list of things we want to get done and they get in the way of us doing meaningful work. 

Multitasking and checking things off a list gives us a shot of dopamine that provides a sense of accomplishment; however, the result is that we feel busy, yet not very productive. It’s like eating a candy bar that gives you a rush of sugar, only to make you crash later. On the other hand, the most important and meaningful work usually does not come with deadlines. Think about learning something new, training a team member, exercising, reorganizing, improving processes or scheduling preventative maintenance. These things can be critical, yet too often we tell ourselves we will get to those things when we have time, once we’ve done all the other things on our to-do list because we are not pressed by a looming deadline.

As industry leaders deal with an influx of customers wanting to do events again and struggle to hire fast enough to keep up with demand, they can get pulled even deeper into the day-to-day operations of the business. Charles Fred, a friend of mine and founder of True Space, has done extensive research on what it takes for companies to move into the middle market, and specifically where owners and CEOs should be spending their time. They asked top leaders to review their calendar from the past three months and identify what percentage of their time they spent in the following 11 categories:

  • Sales support: Guidance and help acquiring new customers

  • Operations oversight: Problem solving, measuring and monitoring results

  • Development of new services or products

  • Marketing support: Contributions to messaging, lead sourcing

  • Market research: Investigating and refining the target market

  • Talent development: Forecasting, selecting and developing people

  • Social/cultural building: Communication, reinforcement of values

  • Financial management: Measuring, assessing, decision making

  • Administration: Legal, security, benefits, compensation

  • Cash management: Planning, acquisition

  • Oversight: Spending time with stakeholders and advisors

They found key differences between how leaders spent their time in the companies that were able to scale, and those that could not breakthrough to the next level. For businesses to grow, the leaders must shift where they spend most of their time. Their primary focus needs to move from operational activities (problem solving, selling, marketing support) toward business building activities (talent development, cultural reinforcement, product development).

Execution can be easy to hang onto. Many times, it is what leaders know, or they worry that no one else can do it as well as they can. But if we don’t delegate responsibility for the operational activities to someone else, we will never have time to work on the things that will truly make a difference.

If you’re struggling, feeling like you are on an endless hamster wheel, it may be time for you to do the calendar exercise and evaluate how you are spending your time. Are you investing time in activities that will help your business tomorrow, or activities that will allow your business to thrive for many years to come? 

There will always be urgent things that pop up, but we must carve out time for the important tasks that don’t necessarily come with short-term benefits. The ability to trust that those tasks will make a difference in the long-term will separate the leaders that take their companies to the next level from those who find themselves stuck in the same spot year after year.  

Anthony Lambatos

Anthony Lambatos

Owner/CEO, Footers Catering, Denver, CO

Anthony Lambatos is melding the historic Footers name with new and exciting trends in catering. He grew up in the business, from scraping plates for his dad, founder of Footers Catering Jimmy Lambatos, to hosting his own concession stand at Parade of Homes in high school. He has worked full time for Footers Catering since 2004 as Vice President and became Co-owner and CEO at the beginning of 2010. Anthony is passionate about taking the knowledge he has learned from his father and putting a fresh spin on it.