One of the most common excuses a company manager or executive hears is, "I don't have enough time."

From the moment I started my first company in a flea market as a teenager (that went on to go public and eventually get acquired by Home Depot), to my most recent startup, LendingOne, I've seen first-hand the challenges of time management. It's an obstacle that challenges productivity--both on an individual level, and for the company as a whole. If you, your team, your department, or the entire company struggles to effectively manage time, good luck getting anything done.

To combat this obstacle, you often hear of companies instituting certain policies, or even integrating unique software tools that help employees see time as a finite resource. And sure, some of these things can have a positive impact: they can help reduce meeting times, or place milestones more clearly at the forefront of everyone's To Do lists. But in my experience, all these solutions end up doing is make a surface-level adjustment to a deeply rooted issue. 

When someone says they don't have enough time to do something, what are they really saying?

If you listen closely enough, you'll find that the excuse of "not having enough time" is really just another way of saying "this item isn't a priority for me." Which means, the obstacle at hand isn't necessarily about giving the person another productivity tool. It's about helping them clearly and effectively understand what their priorities are, so that expectations are aligned across the board. 

When employees don't understand their priorities, then what starts to happen is deadlines get pushed, expectations don't get met, and teams start to fail. In my own experiences, I get frustrated when I see managers or employees missing deadlines or letting To Dos float out in the open indefinitely. And I get frustrated because I know it's not a time management issue. It's rooted in them not understanding what they should be prioritizing, which is ultimately a reflection of the direction they're being given. 

In order to solve this root issue, I've found the key is to be hyper-sensitive to each individual's workload and bandwidth. I talk about this in my book, All In, but when you give an employee too many items to juggle at once, they're going to have a hard time understanding their number one priority. 

Instead, you have to reverse engineer the task you're giving them, and see what they currently have on their plate:

  • Audit the employee's current workload, and see where their time is being spent.
  • Ask how much time is currently available (and reflect on whether their assessment is accurate).
  • If they have time available, is it enough time for them to complete this new task?
  • If they don't have time available, what should they de-prioritize in order to make time for this new task?
  • In adding this new task to their plate, where should this task rank within their current To Do list?

At a minimum, it should be expected that you build a culture of accountability in your organization, where managers and executives are kept informed of project progress. To Do items should never fall by the wayside, if for no other reason than to maintain the habit of getting things done. 

For as long as I've been building businesses, I've found that thinking about productivity in terms of priorities as opposed to the infinite value of "time" has yielded the most positive results. Founders go wrong when they encourage procrastination instead of helping their employees understand what their priorities should be.