Ben Franklin understood the importance of time management. In Poor Richard’s Almanac, he writes, “Lost time is never found again; and what we call time enough, always proves little enough.”
We generally think of time management as a day-to-day concern, a way to stay focused so we can cram more to-do items in between meetings. It’s well worth paying attention to, but it’s limited in scope.
As I look at good leaders, I see that they often also take advantage of a different view of time, a wider perspective that gives them a big-picture look at their time and where it’s taking them. This approach is based on the most intuitive divisions of time—past, present, future—and it’s equally effective on an individual or organizational level.
Here are the basic components:
Analyze the past.
Look back over the past week, month, or year. What went well? What went badly? What took you by surprise that you should have seen coming? Be comprehensive—look at numbers, look at key events, look at highs, lows and trends.
Utilize the present.
Look around and try to fully see the moment. What’s happening with you personally, with your team, with your organization, with your industry? What do you need to act on, and what’s best left alone? Use your analysis to help you determine the next best step to take right now.
Prioritize the future.
Look ahead to determine where you need to be, and adjust your direction if needed. Where do things seem to be headed in the coming months and years? What critical milestones are coming up? What’s most important for you and your team to remember as you move forward so you can stay ahead of events? Use your answers as the basis for your short- and long-term strategic planning.
Here’s another way to think of the same breakdown: data (the past), context (the present), and vision (the future).
Whatever you choose to call these elements, if you’re like most of us you tend to focus on one at the expense of the others. But that lopsided thinking can be costly.
If you dwell exclusively on the past, you risk becoming passive or resistant to change. If you’re absorbed in the events of the moment, you may fail to look down the road and find yourself constantly reacting to problems that should have been preventable. And if you spend too much time anticipating the future, you may fail to see what’s happening in front of you or be unprepared to roll with anything that wasn’t in the plan.
However you structure your planning, make sure you’re giving equal attention to all three aspects. As with so much of leadership, the power of this technique lies in the balance.