Time Keeps On Ticking: How To Prioritize It For Maximum Efficiency

photo by Tom Hickey

Somebody asked me recently how I get so much done.  I glibly answered that I have a lot of energy and delegate well.  But the question stuck with me — do I really get “so much done” and if so, how?

Anyone who knows me knows that I have the mind of an investigative reporter, so whenever I am posed a question that doesn’t have an obvious answer, I do some digging.  In this case, I decided to do a time study on my own activities for a week (I highly recommend that every recruiter do this occasionally). I recorded everything I did and how much time I spent on it — from the moment I started my work day to the time I “clocked out.” It provided me some insight into what I do well when it comes to using time and, even better, it pointed out some gaps that I can fill in to become even more effective with my time. Here are some of my findings from observing my own time study:

  • Priorities lead to planning. First, and foremost, the only way to be truly efficient with your time is to make conscious decisions about how you use it.  I start every week and every day with a clear sense of what my priorities are for the week.  My plan of daily activities flows from those priorities.  If you aren’t clear about your priorities, other people’s priorities will drive your activity.  For example, one of my priorities for the week was to land two new orders.  By Thursday afternoon, I had landed one and was in the middle of a block of calls that could lead me to my second.  In the middle of my call block, my phone rang and caller ID revealed it was our IT guy.  As much as I appreciate our IT guru, I knew that whatever he was calling about could wait.   I hit “ignore” and picked up the phone to make my next outbound sales call.  At the end of my call time (I schedule 60 minute call blocks), I checked my email.  The  IT guy sent me an email when he couldn’t reach me by phone.  It took me less than 5 minutes to read and respond to his email.  If I had taken his call it would have taken more time plus it would have taken me away from my priority of making calls to secure another order.  Speaking of planning, because I update my plan daily, I only spend an average of 14 minutes per day on planning.  Those 14 minutes set me up for high levels of productivity throughout the day.
  • Time equals money. I moderated a Pinnacle Panel at a recent conference and loved what Rick Rush, one of the panelists shared about how he views his time.  He said that he sees himself as a $500 an hour attorney and spends his time accordingly.  Think about that.  If you billed by the hour, how different would your daily activities look?  While we don’t have the tedium of tracking our billable hours, our time has a dollar value and unlike the attorney whose only opportunity to earn more is to work more hours, we can earn more by using our hours more effectively.  For example, Recruiter A works an average of 65 hours each week and only took one week of vacation last year.  She averages 3315 working hours per year and last year billed $375,000.  When you divide her billings by the approximate hours she worked, her time is worth $113 per hour.  Recruiter B works an average of 45 hours each week and last year took 55 days off for a total of 1845 hours, give or take.  He billed just over $700,000.  His time is worth $379 an hour.  Not only is he getting more dollars out of every hour he works, he’s having a heck of a lot more fun.  She’s stressed out, while he’s blissed out!  These are real people.  I know and respect both of them.  I would rank them as equals in terms of drive, sales ability, and recruiting skill.  The major difference is the rigor with how they use their time.
  • Become energy-efficient. For the record, I’m not organized by nature.  The best way to describe my organizational system is loose, but it works.  Problems arise when that system gets too loose.  Last week I spent nearly a full hour looking for things I misplaced.  In one case it was the notes from a client meeting that I needed to set up an order.  All I needed to do when I got back from that meeting was scan my notes into a .pdf and attach that document electronically to the client file in our CRM.  It would have taken me 5 minutes, but I took a “short cut”, stashed the notes in a binder with some other loose papers and then had to spend 20 frustrating, panicked minutes desperately searching for those notes.  Stunning waste of time! Given my hourly bill rate, that was about $150 wasted.  What’s worse is that I burned up a lot of emotional energy in my frantic search.  A little structure and even a loose system can help prevent squandering your most precious resource—your energy.  You want to invest your energy in $500/hour activities (winning new business, negotiating agreements, sourcing high value talent, etc.) and not in looking for lost scraps of paper, worrying about low-probability outcomes, or getting bogged down in low-value activities.

Time is the great equalizer.  It doesn’t matter how tall, smart, funny, or good-looking you are—we all get exactly 24 hours a day.  It’s what we do with those hours and how effectively we use the time we have been given that makes a difference in the quantity of our billings and the quality of our life.

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this article is from the September 2010 print Fordyce Letter. To subscribe and receive a monthly print issue, please go to our Subscription Services page.

Jenifer Lambert, CPC started out in the temp side of the business eighteen years ago and for many years ran a blended temp and perm desk. She has worked in a variety of capacities including management, training, and business development roles and eventually became a partner in TERRA Staffing Group, one of the largest privately-held regional staffing firms in the Seattle area. In 2003, she launched a new division of the company focused exclusively on executive search nationally. Within four short years, she became the dominant recruiter in her niche and has been featured in business publications including ?Selling Power? magazine and has been a speaker at national sales conferences. Jenifer was inducted into the Pinnacle Society, a consortium on the nation?s top producing recruiters, in October 2008. Jenifer continues to lead a very active search practice while managing and training a team of highly productive recruiters. She is also the Director of Training for TERRA Staffing Group. In early 2008, Jenifer launched Elevate Performance Systems, LLC to give back to an industry that has given so much to her. ?I want to help other recruiters elevate their game and breakthrough to new levels of production. After eighteen years in this crazy business, I still love it and I want to show others how to get the most out of the toughest job you?ll ever love.? Jenifer has been a speaker at national and state recruiting conferences. She also consults with other recruiting and staffing firms across the country speaking at staff retreats and leading management training.