Time; it’s the only thing we all have in common, yet it’s how we choose to spend it that defines and differentiates us as individuals. Even though time is a key success metric, I am always amazed at how many leaders don’t manage it as such. Time is indeed a precious and finite commodity, and those executives who use it wisely are those who achieve the greatest results. Let me be very direct – show me a leader who doesn’t use the time to its highest and best use, and I’ll show you a leader likely to be replaced by one that can. In today’s post, I’ll not only examine the value of time, but I’ll also identify 15-time wasters all leaders should avoid.

The proper understanding of how to use time will ultimately determine a leader’s ability to achieve the results needed to be successful in the fulfillment of his or her duties. You see, time doesn’t slow, nor can it be accelerated or recovered; it can only be wasted, invested, or leveraged. I often hear people espouse the axiom “don’t work hard, work smart.” I have a bit of a different take on the subject as I encourage people to work very hard at working intelligently.

It doesn’t matter what your title is, what company you work for, where you went to school, or what continent you live on – the fact is you only have 24 hours in a day, which consists of 1440 minutes, and when reduced to the ridiculous amounts to 86,400 seconds. If you want to do more, earn more, serve more, influence more, or significantly change the level of your impact in any area, you simply must make more out of the time you have at your disposal. So, my question is this…How well do you leverage your 86,400 seconds?

The good news is time can in fact be leveraged – if you know-how. Some people use only a portion of a full day, while others leverage the entire day and those who are most productive leverage multiples of a day. Multiples of a day you ask? Through making good use of personal time, helping your team leverage their time, working across different time zones, associating with quality people and organizations, managing risk, understanding opportunity, and having a laser-like focus on highest and best use principles, it is quite possible to leverage time by creating scale.

Many of the most productive leaders I know estimate they’re able to average nearly a full week’s work into a single 24 hour period while rarely working more than an average workweek on a personal basis. Leveraging time is all about making good choices – are you making good choices?

The first step in making the most effective use of time is to avoid the following 15 workplace time-wasters (listed in no particular order):

  1. Not Listening: Failing to listen to dissenting opinions, new ideas, or sound counsel are career-ending mistakes for a leader. Listening speeds your learning curve and deepens your subject matter expertise. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’re saving time by not listening – the reality is you’ll be doing just the opposite.
  2. Not Finishing: Maximizing your time has much less to do with what you start than what you finish. People who make effective use of time don’t talk about what they’re going to do – they simply do it. The easiest way to measure how effective someone is with their time is to measure what they actually get done. Great leaders are always great finishers – certainty of execution matters.
  3. Working Longer Hours: This is one of the great corporate myths. Working longer doesn’t make you smarter, more effective, or a better corporate citizen. I’m not suggesting you shirk responsibility, but I am suggesting you refrain from becoming an indentured bondservant. Working consistently long hours numbs your mind, hurts your relationships, stifles your creativity, hinders your development, and it sets the wrong example. Working longer hours simply means you don’t understand how to use your time well.
  4. Inability to Focus: A lack of focus and shifting priorities will create unnecessary chaos in the life of any leader. It’s important to remember that part-time efforts yield part-time results.
  5. Technology Interruptions: Allowing technology (phone, email, IM, texting, social media, etc.) to serve as a distraction instead of an enhancement – those leaders who allow technology to control them as opposed to controlling the technology have an addiction that needs a cure – discipline.
  6. Bad Planning: Few things adversely impact productivity like a lack of planning. There is an old military saying that I’ve always found true – Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.
  7. Initiative Overload– Biting-off more than you can chew is a sure way to over-complicate things in a completely unproductive fashion. Keep in mind that no matter who you are, a rubber-band stretched too tightly will eventually snap;
  8. Drop-in Visitors; It’s one thing to have an open-door policy, it’s quite another to let unscheduled interruptions derail your focus. If you don’t respect your time, neither will anyone else.
  9. Ineffective Delegation; There is a big difference between delegation and abdication. Either not enough delegation, too much delegation, or improper delegation can substantially harm an organization. Smart leaders view delegation as proper alignment of resourcing such that the best talent is matched with the greatest opportunities or the biggest challenges – nothing more, nothing less.
  10. Poor Organization: Leaders who are not organized will become failed leaders. There is no excuse in today’s world for any leader to have a lack of organizational skills. If you’re not organized, stop making excuses and get the help you need to solve the problem.
  11. Procrastination; Sticking your head in the sand and pretending things will miraculously take care of themselves is the act of a coward – not of a leader. Real leaders don’t avoid big issues, they hit them head-on. A proactive approach is almost always a better position to be in than finding yourself in a reactionary defensive posture.
  12. Improper use of “Yes” & “No:” While I’m a big believer in finding a way to get to a ”yes” there are simply times when a leader must say “no.” Using yes or no improperly simply because it’s the easy thing to do is not good leadership. Real leaders understand that questions deserve more than an answer – they deserve the correct answer.
  13. Unproductive Meetings: If you find yourself leading or attending unproductive meetings you need to change the culture within your organization. Don’t waste time by allowing yourself or others to be sequestered for hours of nonsense so that people who like to hear themselves speak are appeased.  Meetings should catalyze fruitful outcomes, not squander resources, and adversely impact morale. The best leaders understand the meeting never takes place at the meeting – preparation matters.
  14. Not Learning: If you don’t continue to grow and develop how can you expect to make the most out of your time. Great leaders are always ahead of the curve by knowing what and with whom to invest their time in. Static, outdated thinking will only cause you to make poor choices with regard to how you spend your time.
  15. Not Engaging: You cannot leverage time in a vacuum. If you don’t spend time in collaboration and dialog with others you will miss significant opportunities to leverage time. As a leader focusing your efforts on creating organizational leverage through helping others make more effective use of their tools, talents, and time is a must. Smart leaders know only listening to your own counsel is perhaps the ultimate waste of time.

Time can either be your best friend or your worst nightmare. Leaders that understand how to use the time to their advantage accomplish great things, and those who allow time to slip through their fingers don’t. The lesson to learn is to accomplish more through organizational leverage while decreasing personal time commitments. Remember that time is a finite commodity, and once a moment in time has passed it is gone forever.

I welcome your thoughts and comments below…