How to Stop Wasting Your Time in 2017

My client Brian was feeling stressed out. The busy owner of a growing contracting business, he found himself running from one staff crises to another. High drama in the office was resulting in high turnover, which meant he was constantly having to find new people and on board them.

Things had gotten so bad recently that he had taken to escaping his chaotic office and subbing in with his installation team in the field. It’s work he found relaxing as he started his career in the industry as an installer. Meanwhile, it’s been years since he’s engaged in any long-term planning for his company. Brian confessed to me that lately he’s been feeling like he’s constantly spinning his wheels and putting out fires.

While highly effective leaders know how to make the best use of their time and their abilities, this type of laser-like focus takes discipline and planning.

That’s where this simple exercise can help you determine what you need to focus on and what you should be delegating.

Step 1 — Establish How You’re Currently Spending Your Time

Make a numbered list of everything you do. Lump things together as appropriate. For example, filling out expense reports and filing can all be combined under “paperwork”. The order does not matter at this point.
 Click here to download a Time Mastery Worksheet so you can complete this exercise along with Brian.

If you’re a company leader, be sure to include long-term planning, keeping abreast of industry changes, systems thinking, finding new talent, and mentoring and coaching employees (even and especially if you are spending little to no time on these activities at the moment).

Step 2- Score each activity

Rate each activity on a scale from 1–10 on how: a) important it is to the company and b) competent you are at it. A “1” is not at all and a “10” would be very high.

Example — Brian, the Stressed-out Business Owner

For example, for business owner Brian, the first part of his task list and ratings looked like this:

Installation, 2 — Importance, 8- Competence

Remember Brian’s tendency to sub himself into the installation crew? He admits that while jobs do need to get installed in a timely manner, he doesn’t need to be the one to do them so he gives it a “2” for importance to his job.

Industry Leadership, 10 — Importance, 10 — Competence

Brian is really involved in his industry’s leadership. There are currently a lot of big regulatory changes going on and it’s important to his company that he keep up with them and influence some of the decisions being made at the state level. He’s good at this, it’s important, so he ranked Industry Leadership a “10” for importance and “10” for enjoyment/competence (see Line 2).

Strategic Planning, 10 — Importance, 4 — Competence

Meanwhile, it’s been years since he’s done any long-term strategic planning for his company. He knows how important it is but, since it’s not something he’s done a lot of before, he’s not comfortable with his skills in this area, so strategic planning gets a 10 for Importance, 4 for Competence.

Financial Review, 10- Importance, 4 — Competence

While he knows that reviewing his company’s financial statements and key performance indicators are important, these tasks are something Brian has never felt particularly competent in, hence the “10” for Importance and “4”.

Paperwork, 1 — Importance, 1 — Competence

Brian, by his own admittance, is terrible at paperwork. There are piles all over the floor of his office and his expense reports and invoices are late and often contain lots of errors. His assistant has been pleading with him to let her take this over for him.

Coaching Staff, 10 — Importance, ? — Competence

And while Brian knows the importance of developing his leadership team, he’s had precious little time to do so. He’s not sure how to go about coaching his team members, hence the question mark.

Step 3 — Categorize How You’re Currently Spending Your Time

Plot your scores out on a grid to visually see how you are currently spending your time and to help determine how you should be spending your time.

As you can see below, the grid has four quadrants, divided by two lines. The vertical line measures your ability to excel at doing the particular task. If you excel at an activity, place it towards the top of the grid. If you don’t do something well, place it towards the bottom.

The horizontal line measures the importance of that task. If a task is not important to the company, it goes towards the left side of the grid. If a task is important, it goes toward the right.

For each activity you are currently engaged in, assign it a number and put it on the appropriate place on grid. For example, something that you aren’t good at, and is not important to your job and/or company (for example Brian and his piles of paperwork) would go in the bottom left quadrant. Note: while it’s important that expenses are tracked correctly and invoices are accurate and timely, Brian has other people on this team to whom he can delegate this activity.

Something that is important and that you excel at goes into the top right hand quadrant. For example, Brian’s company need for and his ability to keep up with industry changes is shown in the upper-right hand quadrant of his grid.

For any activity that is important to your job or company, but you are not currently engaged in, put an “O” next to it and put it in the right-hand side of the grid. In this case, Brian knows coaching his leadership team is really important, but right now he’s too busy fighting fires and he’s not sure how to do it. As a result, it’s shown as zero on the right-hand side of the grid.

Here’s what Brian’s grid looks like:

Step 4 — Choose How to Spend Your Time Effectively & Create an Action Plan

The goal? Use this new insight to determine how to focus your time 2017 so you can devote the majority of your energy on those important activities in the upper right-hand quadrant.

As a result of this exercise, Brian decided to delegate his paperwork, get some mentoring on how to do regular financials reviews and get some coaching on how to be a better coach himself. He’s now conducting regular quarterly strategy retreats with his team. Things are now running so smoothly, he’s using his time in the field as a reward, not an escape. What are the action steps you need to take to move into and stay in the upper right-hand quadrant?

For example,

  • Delegate or out-source those items in the bottom left-hand quadrant.
  • If it is not important, does anyone need to do it at all? I coach my clients to hold regular “Stop Doing” meetings where all current initiatives and activities are reviewed, and possibly, cancelled if appropriate.
  • If you are not competent at something but it is important to your job, what would it take to make you more competent? Coaching? Training? Mentoring?
  • For activities you’ve marked as an “O” on the grid (important but you’re not currently doing them), how can you create a structure that will encourage you to engage in them on a regular basis? CEO Peer Group? Coaching?
  • If you find yourself spending a lot of time in the upper left-hand quadrant (doing activities that you excel at but are not a good use of your time), think about the opportunity cost of neglecting those important ones in the upper right-hand quadrant.

Step 5 — Share Your Results with Your Direct Reports

Have your direct reports also complete the same exercise and share their results. What are the resulting action steps? Can they take some things off your plate?

Ready to master your time in 2017?

Click here to download your Time Mastery Worksheet.

Lauren Owen is a business coach who specializes in helping owners of established business grow their businesses and get a life at the same time. Find out more about Lauren at

Originally published at on January 13, 2017.