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Time over money? The ultimate guide to managing your most valuable asset

In a world where time is often undervalued and underutilised, businesses face a critical challenge: maximising the potential of their most invaluable asset, prompting a profound re-evaluation of traditional approaches and a quest for innovative strategies to harness the essence of time in the pursuit of productivity and success.

“Some things money can’t buy, for everything else there is Mastercard” runs a famous long-running ad campaign.

Far too few business professionals recognise that time is one of the most valuable commodities available, and very little is being done in the typical office to maximise employees’ most fruitful and finite resource.

Unlike money, time cannot be bought, traded, or saved for later use. Coming into 2024, everyone seems starved of it: time to work, time to relax, time for family and friends, time to do nothing. What can business leaders do to make the most of this ever-decreasing, but much-needed asset?

Time is a priceless commodity

Businesses need to take the uncomfortable step of looking inward to decide if they are draining their employees’ time and productivity.

Mindsets of tradition and familiarity often mean processes and policies created many years ago aren’t evolved or streamlined. This ‘we’ve always done it like this’ mindset is damaging to development and stops us from realising what we can stop doing to free up employees’ time.

Chris Holmes, managing partner of employee experience at Brandpie, outlines the problem.

“This manifests itself in too many meetings, a feeling that employees can’t opt out, and the clogging up of inboxes. All of these factors contribute to staff feeling overwhelmed by multiple tasks, instead of being able to focus on key activities that actually add value,” he says.

The Covid-19 pandemic allowed employers to reconsider how we use our free time. Time was freely wasted by attending unnecessary meetings or commuting to merely sit alone in an office.

Save time

The key to success in today’s market, despite the emphasis on profitability, is unquestionably effective time management.

Ruth Jones, CEO of 3THINKRS, believes maximising ‘Power Hours’ is the best way to save time. “By scheduling tasks that require our most analytical or creative thinking into power hours, we can produce our best work in about a third of the time. It’s unquestionably one of the best time savers, but many overlook it due to their traditional approach to the working day.”

Furthermore, Andy Perkins, MD at Vistage International, reflects on why some of the most successful business leaders seem to be able to achieve so much in the same amount of time as the rest of us.

“It’s because they know that time is priceless. In order to take any company from strength to strength, business leaders need to be prepared for any twist, turn and unexpected outcome,” he says.

Change time

In most businesses, the concept of time has been directly equal to money. Whether we’re selling hours as a service business or manufacturing products, time is quite literally money.

Julio Taylor, CEO at Hallam, thinks that the world is changing. Automation and, more recently, AI is bending the perception of what that really means.

“From mass automation of repetitive tasks to analysis and creation of new perspectives with AI, we need to think of time not as a direct function of productivity, but something that is used to create unique value.

“In service industries, the value of time is about liberating humans to be creative and strategic — building systems, more efficiencies and more systems of being even more productive and effective,” he adds.

It is literally all about timing and understanding what works best for you, and when.

“Acknowledging when you are most productive, and produce better quality work, is priceless,” Jones advises.

Manage time

According to Simon Gardiner, founder of Carrington West, you can’t manage time, you can only manage yourself.

“I see time management as a form of self-discipline. I like to plan my week and my day within a fairly rigid annual plan. I allow my plan for the quarter to remain fairly loose. I’ve found if you don’t fill your calendar with things that are important to you and your goals, then people will fill it for you with things that are of more value to them,” he says.

Fraser Smeaton, CEO at MorphCostumes, reinforces the importance of managing yourself, especially in a seasonal business.

“Time is even more crucial in a seasonal business like ours. If we don’t have our products, processes and businesses ready for Halloween – which is by far our busiest sales period – it is gone for a whole year.

“You don’t have the option of delaying until everything is perfect, you have to do what you can within the time constraints of the season,” he says.

Extra time

Invest a few minutes every day to plan what you want to achieve and to ensure you are spending your most valuable asset – time – in the best way possible. Holmes reveals real, tangible ways to add value.

“For one of our major healthcare clients, we developed the 1,000,000-hour challenge – a challenge for all employees to question their daily tasks and determine what really adds value.

“Where could they save 20 minutes here, an hour there? Collectively they saved 2,000,000 hours, and that time was successfully repurposed for focused, value-adding work. That’s what CEOs need to do. Create small changes and an organisational mindset focused on keeping things stripped back and simple. Give people the time and space to carry out their deep work,” he advises.

Technology time

Kathy Soulsby, founder of Personally Virtual and author of How To Work With A Virtual Assistant, encourages people to think about what are the parts of their role that only they can do. What is their brilliance?

“Whether that’s networking, raising funds, or coaching a client, that time has to be protected as it has the most impact on the success of the business,” she says.

For everything else, there’s AI. “If you look at how your day is spent and see tasks that could be more cost-effectively done by someone else, then you are wasting time that could be better used.

“That’s why outsourcing these tasks to someone like a Virtual Assistant can help safeguard precious time and intentionally manage your calendar,” she adds.

Smeaton goes on to advise prioritising tasks that have the greatest return, delegating any tasks that are important but that can be done better by someone else on the team, and eliminating tasks that don’t need to be done at all.

Tick tock

Time is money? No, time is far more valuable than tender.

Perkin concludes by laying out his top tips. “Plan and prioritise first thing each and every morning, stay on top of your inbox, make the most of meetings and delegate more. Your future self will thank you for it seven-fold.”

Mastercard got it right. Time is priceless, and don’t business leaders just know it?

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