How Elite Performers Manage Time: 5 Uncommon Best Practices

In 2014, how much of your time and effort resulted in meaningful achievement, and how much got derailed by distractions -moment by moment, day by day?  Did you accomplish vital goals or fall short despite your best attempts to employ time management tactics?  Are you frustrated when you realize well-known time management practices seem to be ineffective in a fast-changing, non-stop workplace?

post-itsTo help you produce a breakthrough in goal attainment in 2015, I want to share five uncommon practices of elite performers who master the challenge of getting short-term deliverables done while preparing their teams for sustainable success.


Practice 1: Take accountability for your undermining behaviors.

Competent performers know what they need to do to improve time management, but don’t reliably execute their plans. Elite performers take accountability for making choices that undermine the execution of their plans, and they make course corrections.

Be ruthlessly honest now.  Do you work on a team where the mindset “Good enough, given all that’s on my plate” has become everyone’s marching order? People fall in step with the mindless cadence of efficiency and competence. They grow resigned to tolerating a compromise—at least near-term goals get met, even if accomplishing them means putting the future in jeopardy.

Face the harsh truth. Every minute spent consumed by stopgap, efficiency-driven habits (like micromanaging, winging-it, multi-tasking, operating without a well-defined plan, etc.) undermines your ability to take concerted actions to accomplish vital long-term priorities (Like leadership development, strategic planning, solving emerging customer needs).

To interrupt this pattern, you can take accountability for mismanaging your time. Here are some accountability-driven questions I use in coaching executives:

  • What actions are you choosing to take or avoid that undermine accomplishing your desired results?
  • What difficulties and justifications do you choose to accept as “valid reasons” for not delivering your desired results?
  • What short-term payoffs are you choosing to gain, even though your actions prevent you from accomplishing your desired results? Note: By blaming the nature of your hectic day job as the reason for failing to produce vital results, you derive instant payoffs such as:
    • avoiding unreasonable effort
    • avoiding being found incompetent
    • avoiding dealing with conflict
    • avoiding losing your nice-boss-to work-for image
    • avoiding losing control of decisions
  • What’s your true commitment—to avoid short-term discomfort or deliver results that matter?

Practice 2: Design habitual routines to insure that time is consistently available for your key goals.

Competent performers set up isolated blocks of time to get tasks done and depend on willpower to stick to their time lines when work piles up. Elite performers construct a rhythmic routine to insure vital-but-not-urgent priorities get done effortlessly.

I learned the importance of rhythmic routines from Super Bowl winning coach Pete Carroll. His Win Forever philosophy incorporates a regimented player development process to produce habitual ways of thinking and acting, in order to achieve elite performance. This process is designed to instill specific habits, so the players and coaches don’t depend on willpower or self-discipline alone to reliably muster up maximum effort.

Accordingly, elite performers orchestrate habitual routines to help them stick to their time management plans. In my year-long Mission Unreasonable Coaching Projects, leaders design sequential blocks of time for vital activities that occur on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis. A sample week’s rhythm might include time allocated for categories of tasks such as:

  • Monday: Preparation & Planning  (1 hour)
  • Tuesday: Study of the Competition and Customer Needs (3 hours)
  • Wednesday: Sales Growth (2 hours)
  • Thursday: Staff Development & Delegation (3-4 hours)
  • Friday: Review of Results (1 hour)

There are two main criteria for establishing rhythm. First, each category of tasks contributes to vital but not urgent goals so time is consistently available. Second, the day of the week has a specific time slot to trigger a routine set of behaviors.

When you adhere to routines for a few weeks, you notice progress in forwarding vital goals. When you notice steady progress, the routines get repeated—effortlessly.

Practice 3: Spend more time on your high impact goals so results happen with less effort.

Competent performers look for ways to get more tasks accomplished more efficiently. Elite performers focus on accomplishing a few key goals that make a multitude of tasks unnecessary or easier to accomplish.

In a recent seminar, I asked a group of 35 leaders in an engineering firm to pick one goal that if accomplished in 2015 would make a multitude of tasks easier to do or totally unnecessary. Here’s how they filled out a chart for one frequently neglected goal—developing a high performance management team:

If this vital goal gets accomplished in 2015… What tasks get done easier? What tasks become unnecessary?
Developing a high performance management team. Recruiting, Retention, Training ROI, Building bench strength, Delegating, Handling mistakes close to the problem Recruiting outside talent with expertise that’s lacking. Requiring lengthy update reports

We repeated the same drill for other vital goals including strategic planning, relationship-building with internal and external customers, and rethinking work processes. A huge number of tasks became easier to accomplish or unnecessary. By allocating time to doing what’s most effective, the potential workload shrinks.

Elite performers focus on being effective at high impact activities rather than getting a lot of menial tasks done. There’s no better way to free up massive chunks of time. Over time, effectiveness trumps efficiency as a time-saving strategy.

Practice 4: Build capabilities while you perform daily activities.

Competent performers wait for formal training, coaching, and mentoring occasions for developing new capabilities and improving their skill proficiency. Elite performers seize opportunities to deliberately practice skills in the midst of getting their daily tasks done.

My latest book, Competent is Not an Option, describes the Learning-While-Working Process, where teams hone their skill proficiency while real work gets done. Every staff meeting can be designed so at least one agenda item requires the team to practice a particular skill like problem-solving, creative thinking, or decision-making. Every phone call offers an opportunity to practice listening skills, ask open-ended questions, or inject spontaneous humor. Every coaching session to remedy the cause of unwanted outcomes serves as an occasion to practice taking accountability.  Every break during a day-long workshop can be used to practice debriefing, by asking, “What key take-away ideas did you get from that that last speaker prior to lunch?,” and writing down the best ideas.

Give up the default mindset of “Get tasks done efficiently.” Adopt the mindset, “All there is at work is time to get better.” When you intentionally seek to milk learning and development from each activity, you achieve unprecedented productivity.

Practice 5: Track your time wasters in the heat of the moment.

Competent performers recognize ways they waste time and keep repeating them. Elite performers proactively track the number of interruptions they choose to engage in, become mindful of their tendencies, and improve their ability to stay focused on the challenging task at hand.

Tracking is a very powerful behavior change method. It keeps you mindful of the time wasting habits you’ve adopted, so you stop repeating them. As you notice distractions, keep a log of what you choose to do—engage with the distraction or stick to the work you’re doing. For example, when you are tempted to check e-mails instead of preparing to make a key strategic decision, simply record the choice you made and the rationale you used to justify the choice. At the end of each day, notice the frequency of interruptions and the time consumed when you cave in to a distraction compared to when you stay focused on your planned activity.

be-uncommonTracking forces you to be mindful of your choices and their impact on the quality of your performance. Mindfulness returns your power to be at choice—to choose to tolerate a distraction or choose to stick to a task, especially with a challenging one. And mindfulness takes no time.


Time management is like any skill.  You can perform in a competent fashion or adhere to elite standards.  Let this year be the defining moment when you commit to taking the uncommon route that’s reserved for elite performers.

BONUS ITEMS: Many of my clients struggle with delegation. It’s a skill set that requires deliberate practice. I’ve just devised two practice tools that will help you make huge progress in becoming more proficient at delegating. These tools cover two facets of delegating very few people take time to do well.

E-mail and I’ll send you the tools.