Instant Efficiency Transformation: Leaders, Get More than 50% of Your Day Back with these 5 Challenges

by David Meredith on August 22, 2023

A wise woman once told me "I intend to make time my friend and not my enemy.”

Actually, it was my mother. But after raising 3 boys she is somewhat wise, VERY patient, and used to juggling a lot of time commitments. So I think it counts.

These words have stuck with me ever since. 

I was thinking about them again recently while sitting in a cab in horrendous traffic on the way to the airport. My travel "habit" is to leave just in time to arrive at the gate as the boarding process starts. But on this particular morning, I decided to get work done at the airport rather than at home. 

So instead of leaving late and stressing about missing my flight, I was wonderfully relaxed as the Uber driver and I suffered through the traffic delays. I made my flight with plenty of time, got to eat a healthy breakfast, and still accomplished all the work I had planned. I even got to have a great conversation with the Uber driver once he realized I wasn’t mad at him about the delays.

For once, I allowed time to be my friend.

Is Time Your Friend or Your Enemy?

Each of us has habits and rituals that turn time into our enemy. 

As a coach I've worked with hundreds of executives and one of the first models I work with is helping them find more time in their day to focus on truly important work.

The model I use for this is the "Where are you now? Map” (Map 1) from the excellent  Do More Great Work book by Michael Bungay Stanier

In the Map, Michael suggests that we take our week and divide it into 3 pies in a circle according to the amount of time spent in each.

  • Bad Work - the work we hate doing & often procrastinate about
  • Good Work - the core part of our job, but it no longer excites us
  • Great Work - the most important and exciting work. Often involves “new” or “learning”

Once you’ve got your week divided, you can easily spot the issue.

True Life Examples

For most clients, we discover that they have 25-40% Bad Work and 30-60% Good Work in a week.

If you’re quick with math you can see that this means an average of 75%-90% combined for those 2 categories, leaving an astonishing just 10-25% of their time for their Great Work. In fact, apart from new CEO’s, I’ve never had a client draw more than 25% of their time for Great Work.  

This creates a shortage of truly game-changing results.

So What Action Do We Take?

As Michael advocates, we need to completely stop doing Bad Work.

Be ruthless in how you eliminate it. Aim to cut out at least 50% of the time spent on your Bad Work, and be diligent about stopping it each time a new piece of Bad Work creeps in.  

We should also reduce the amount of time doing the Good Work, preferably by a third.

Think of this question: "What's my minimal acceptable participation in this work so it's done to an acceptable level of quality?" 

If you're in a regulated industry, think about when the regulator asks you a question. You don't offer answers to questions not asked. Or embellish more than you need to. That should be your approach to “Good” Work, because you’re still not operating at your best.

If you do both of these, you’ll double or triple the amount of time you have for Great Work.  

Then What?

Now that you’ve cleared up space for more Great Work in your week - what’s next?

Simply, you should prioritize the Great Work at the time of the day when you are at your best. If you take the Energy Rhythm assessment, you'll identify when that is. Block your calendar during that time for your Great Work.

Now you’ve set up a system for creating the best work you can do.

The 5 Challenges

Now, I realize these are easy things for me to say, and much harder to do. 

So after working with numerous high-impact and high-performance individuals, I’ve come up with 5 easy to implement challenges designed to get more of your day back. This lets you spend it on Great Work, which is the most valuable use of your time.

Choose one, choose a few, or choose all five. The key is to challenge yourself and stick with it for results.

So here are the 5 practical challenges to get more time in your day.

Challenge 1: The Calendar Challenge

Make a commitment to take back control of your calendar rather than letting it control you. 

If someone schedules a meeting without asking you first, decline it. If someone wants a meeting during your previously blocked "Great Work" time, decline it. If someone doesn't offer a clear agenda and outcome for the meeting, decline it. If the last meeting that person scheduled was a waste of time, decline it.

Aim to cut down at least 30% of the meetings you attend.

Challenge 2: The Meeting Challenge

For every meeting you do attend, challenge the effectiveness of it. 

There's a percentage of meetings that are probably awesome (unfortunately that's a very small percentage for most people). For all other meetings, leave 10 minutes at the end of the meeting for 2 questions: What could we have done to avoid this meeting or make it more effective? And if we decide to have it again, what will we do differently next time?

Aim to identify which meetings can be adjusted or removed entirely to free up more of your time.

Challenge 3: The Arrive Early Challenge

"Give" yourself more time. 

Schedule to arrive early for a meeting and take the spare time to work on something important. To maximize this I suggest having a list of “quick but important” tasks that you maintain so you’re not wasting time deciding what to do.

Aim to add 10 to 15 minutes of Great Time for every required meeting.

Challenge 4: The Workspace Challenge

If you find yourself easily distracted by “urgent” items on your desk or to-do list, family members or colleagues around you, change your work environment. 

It can be as simple as changing from your desk to a comfortable armchair, or putting on some light background music as “white noise”. You could try a timer to encourage bursts of focused energy, followed by short breaks where you physically stand or remove yourself from the workspace.

Identify a few things that will help you create a more productive environment and put them in place at the beginning of your Great Work time.

Challenge 5: The Internet / Email / Text challenge

The easiest challenge you can implement in your week.

By far the biggest time drain for most of my clients are the constant pings of texts, the notifications of new emails or just the allure of the Internet. “Oh. Let me see what’s going on in the news today….” and all of a sudden you’ve lost 20-30 minutes of your most productive time.

Consider a tool like Simpleology’s Browser Bodyguard, or Inbox Pause (a free tool that can pause incoming mail with the click of a button). 

If you find yourself too busy to be busy - it’s time to get your days back.

There are many more tips and techniques out there if you start looking. But my suggestion is to start with a “few” that feel manageable and recognize the difference you are making in your life and effectiveness. 

And say “hi” to our new friend: time. 

About the author:

David Meredith is an experienced Executive Coach and strategic advisor, with a background in organizational psychology, who has worked with numerous C-suite teams and executives to drive positive change and unlock their full potential. Connect with him further on Linkedin

Topics: Executive Coaching