How to avoid the tasks that take time away from your top priorities
by Duane Craig
January 10, 2019

Great business owners and executives have a full arsenal of time management tactics to pass on to their employees. But being the boss makes it easier to fall into time-sapping traps of your own. What follows are some of the major time management challenges contractors face and helpful tips for avoiding them all together.

1. Delegate Wisely

Years ago, as a new business owner, I came face to face with every entrepreneur’s biggest fear: delegating. It was incredibly hard for me to imagine turning over control to others, who would do things on their own, without my close oversight. I had too much to do because I was trying to micromanage every task at every level. 

But, it all came to a head one morning when nearly everything started failing at once, and I realized for the first time that “my way” was keeping my company from becoming the best it could be—a place people could learn and grow right along with the business.

According to Art Markman’s “How to Stop Delegating and Start Teaching” in the Harvard Business Review, delegating should be as much about training as about moving things off your to-do list. Delegating in a frantic moment because you don’t have the time to tackle a task, or because you have a business flight to catch, sets up your employees for failure if you haven’t trained them to succeed in your absence.

Eventually, when they’ve had enough of those little failures, they lose motivation, and start playing it safe instead. Worse, when you delegate to people who aren’t qualified, tasks aren’t always done correctly. In fact, delegating to people who aren’t up to the task often turns out worse than if the job was never completed in the first place. Sure, your lead carpenter knows how to manage a framing crew, but is he/she really ready to manage the entire jobsite when you’re away?

2. Evaluate Priorities

If urgency is dictating your priorities, then you might want to take a step back and rethink them. Just because something is urgent, doesn’t mean it’s important.

The difference might sound like a word trap, but it’s simplified in the Eisenhower Principle, under which important activities are defined as those with an outcome that leads to achieving goals, both personal and professional; and urgent activities are defined as those demanding immediate attention and are usually associated with achieving someone else’s goals.

Knowing the difference is key to prioritizing. To decide which definition your tasks align with, create a to-do list and place each item in one of the following categories:

  • Important and Urgent
  • Important but Not Urgent
  • Not Important but Urgent
  • Not Important and Not Urgent

The first category will include tasks you haven’t foreseen or tasks you’ve avoided. Catch up on these immediately, and then start carving out a regular point in your weekly or daily schedule to address these unforeseeable events. Dedicate ample time to complete tasks in the second category so that you do them well, or delegate them with extra caution so that they don’t come back around as rework or crisis situations. Tasks in the third category are probably tasks you can delegate or reschedule, and those in the fourth category are distractions, so avoid them.

3. Stop Procrastinating

The cynical (but apt) statement, “If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done,” may help you justify procrastination with yourself, and possibly even your employees, but it won’t reduce its damage. First, don’t beat yourself up about procrastination. It’s a normal, if self-deceptive, activity.

According to Psychology Today, “Everyone puts things off sometimes, but procrastinators chronically avoid tasks and deliberately look for distractions.” Take stock of your motivations and truly look at your relationship with procrastination. This is important, because if you are a chronic procrastinator, it’s affecting all aspects of your life—especially your business.

If you procrastinate selectively, you can overcome the tendency by teaching yourself to gradually take risks. Learn to give yourself credit for getting things done so that you steadily defeat fear of failure, or fear of success. Some people procrastinate to avoid the responsibility for the outcome of whatever it is they’re putting off. For them, overcoming procrastination is an exercise in learning to be held accountable—even, from time to time, for failure. Overcoming procrastination is a personal journey, but it’s essential for effective time management.

4. Reduce Distractions

Once you get control of delegating and prioritize, you’ll eliminate many distractions, but there will still be plenty of others looking to snatch your time and attention. Email, texts, social media and an abundance of easily consumed information on the internet are among the latest host of distractions. Some tried-and-true distractions still exist as well, like unnecessary meetings, poorly developed workflows and busywork that could be automated.

As far as technology goes, beating procrastination is mostly a matter of just saying no. Say no to checking your email every time you hear the alert. (Most emails can wait an hour, if not several hours to a day.) And resist the temptation to check out the latest new truck ratings on your favorite automotive website.

You have to dig a little deeper, though, to reduce or eliminate the wastes of time in the tried-and-true group. Workflows often become outdated or redundant. Study those tasks you complete on autopilot every day, and you’ll likely find some to change or eliminate completely.

Pay attention to the meetings you attend and ask yourself some probing questions. Is this scheduled as a recurring meeting? Recurring meetings can sometimes be skipped. Does this meeting have clear agendas with stated goals? How many meetings get rescheduled? If redundant and unnecessary meetings are distracting you from more important work, just imagine what they’re doing to company productivity.

Automate tasks, because with today’s technology, you can put the mundane on autopilot, freeing you and your employees for work that’s more important and more fitting. Finally, check to see that you are setting and enforcing boundaries. It’s tough to do your best work when people assume you are interruptible at any time.