If a colleague dropped by your desk every day and asked you for $20, you probably wouldn’t keep giving it to her. Yet many folks burn through 20 minutes waiting for tardy colleagues to start meetings, listening to stories that go on tangents, and responding to emails that never needed to be sent in the first place.
Why do we do that?
“We give away our time much, much, much easier than we give away our dollars,” says Carson Tate, owner of Working Simply, a management consulting company that focuses on workplace productivity. “Until we quantify and make time as tangible as possible, like dollars in our pockets, it’s really hard to make investment decisions.” Indeed, time is often more scarce than money. While you can, in theory, make more money, no one can make more time. We need to think about time “as a precious commodity we can’t ever get back,” says Tate. Here is her 3-step strategy for being better stewards of this resource.
1. Look at your investment statement. “Your calendar is your investment statement,” says Tate. “It’s no different than the statement you get from your bank on how you’re investing for retirement.” Look at where your time goes. How much time did you invest in doing those things you were hired to do? How much time did you invest in doing supporting tasks that help you stay close to the revenue line? And — be honest — how much time did you spend on completely unrelated activities?
2. Track your time. The previous step gives you the big picture. Now it’s time to go deep in the weeds. Try keeping a time log for a few days, or a week if you can (that link goes to a spreadsheet you can get from my personal website, but you can also just use a regular Excel file or Word document, or a time-tracking app if you like). You’ll start to see patterns — when you have more energy, and when you’re easily distracted. You can use this information to plan when to invest certain hours in certain projects to get the best payoff.
3. Align your time and goals. Think of your professional aspirations and the goals of your company. What do you want to do this week, this month, this year? At the end of the month, look at how you’ve spent your time, and if these investments paid off in your reaching your goals. If so, great. If not, “What are you going to do differently?” asks Tate. Maybe you need to spend more time on one project, and less on another. Maybe you need to invest time in honing your skills, or keeping clients happy. Look at what has a payoff — and put your time there.
How do you invest your time?
Time is the most important investment supporters can make to nonprofits. Most nonprofits do not appreciate or thank those who donate their time.