The most fundamental capability in any entrepreneur’s success is the ability to use time well. By this, I don’t just mean being efficient so you can get a lot done or being disciplined with your time, which is what a lot of us are taught from a young age. I’m talking about how you actually think about time and how you can use your thinking about time to support or undermine your continuing growth.

Entrepreneurs have the potential to enjoy freedom of time, money, relationship, and purpose. That is, ideally, they can choose when to work, whom to work with, how much income their work brings them, and what they work on so it’s meaningful to them. All these freedoms are achievable when you own your own business, but they all depend on being able to free up your time to think, be creative, and build the relationships and opportunities that keep you, your business, and your quality of life growing.

The trouble is that a lot of entrepreneurs lose control of their time as they get more successful. Many join Strategic Coach feeling this way and one of the first things we do is get them thinking differently about time.

Time as a tool.

First off, time is a tool. It is, after all, a concept, and you can play with it in some interesting ways to create greater clarity and simplicity in your mind. One of the first questions we ask our clients is, “At what age are you going to die?” Interestingly, almost everyone has a number buried away in their minds, so it pops out pretty easily. It then becomes a framing assumption for an exercise that changes how people think about their future and present in profound ways.

When it comes to game changing, I like to think in terms of 25-year time frames, because it takes the pressure off and also creates a sense of long-term commitment. You can create really big things in the marketplace in 25 years, and you don’t have to do it all tomorrow, and yet having a vision of that really big goal 25 years out can bring clarity to what you want to be spending your time on in the next 90 days.

The quarter, 90 days, is a really useful time frame for tactical planning, as we see with our clients who come every 90 days for workshops. It’s enough time to take a new insight or tool and implement it and see real change, but not so far off that you get too lost if you get off track.

Know the game you’re playing, and then set it up so you can win.

Most of us have some unconscious assumptions and habits around time, and these notions have a much more profound impact on our daily activities and thinking than we realize. One of these thoughts is that there isn’t enough time. I used to tell a story about a major league batting champ who spent maybe 20 minutes a year getting his actual results if you only counted the time he was hitting home runs, which was what he was getting paid to do. The rest of his time was all “stuff”—preparation and waiting around and probably doing some unproductive things too. I find that a lot of entrepreneurs are very similar. They actually have a lot more time than they think. The trick is to free up that time from stuff so it can be used more strategically and productively.

One of the first steps to freeing up time is to understand how you’re using it. For entrepreneurs, I’ve found that dividing it into three types of days is very useful. Free Days are 24-hour periods without any work-related thinking or activity, whose purpose is rejuvenation. Focus Days are when you work on what generates the biggest results in your business. And Buffer Days are for the planning and preparation that makes both Free and Focus Days great. This way of thinking about time, which we call The Entrepreneurial Time System®, has helped thousands of entrepreneurs take advantage of their freedom to decide how to use the hours they have.

The shift in thinking allows them to give themselves permission to focus on their family for a day or just focus on certain kinds of work activities without feeling the need to constantly be changing gears, which actually takes a lot of time and effort. Their teams can plan better because they know where to slot activities and how to plan based on the type of day on the calendar. It’s very tactical and practical, and it all starts with

How To Be A Game Changer, Part 4:  Make Time Work For You

a different way of thinking about time.

When not having time is an asset.

Another assumption that many entrepreneurs have is that they need to spend time managing their teams when, in fact, most are not great managers. Here’s a tip: If you want to create great teamwork, commit yourself to something you don’t have time for (preferably something you actually want to do). If you’re an experienced entrepreneur, you probably have past successes you can reflect on where a delegation to someone who had much more time to devote to a task than you did ended up being a game changer for you. Continually finding ways to buy back time by delegating is essential to continually upping your game.

There are a surprising number of things we hold onto, thinking that we have to keep doing them, when if we just stopped and decided “I’m not doing this anymore,” it would work out just fine.  There’s a kind of inertia we can get into with certain activities where we just keep doing them because we’ve been doing them for a long time. It doesn’t occur to us to think, “Why am I still doing this?” until we have a reason or a commitment to take back time that shines a light on it. If the word “should” comes up in your mind, that’s a good sign that this is a suspect activity. Although delegating isn’t always easy, it’s better than the constant irritation of doing something I don’t like. Short suffering is always better than long suffering.

Mind your mindsets around time.

In our enthusiasm to get things done in the world a consciousness of how we’re thinking about, and therefore using our precious resource of time can easily get lost. It’s the first thing to look at if you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed and the cornerstone to all other entrepreneurial freedoms. Game changers stay on top of their game by staying on top of their mastery of time.

About the Author

Dan Sullivan

Dan Sullivan is the founder and president of The Strategic Coach Inc. and creator of the Strategic Coach® program, which works with entrepreneurs to reach new heights of success and happiness. He has authored over 30 publications over his 42 years as a highly-regarded speaker, consultant, strategic planner, and coach to entrepreneurial individuals and groups.