Hundreds of books have been written and careers have be spent writing and advising on how to manage your time. This won’t be one of those. However, as one who is not that great at time management, I feel justifiably qualified to comment on the topic.
As a manager of departments and individuals, I have recognized two primary destroyers of my time management intentions….me and everyone else. “Now that’s pretty obvious”, you say. Ok, I am just trying to set the ground work for the few points that I wish to convey. If you recognize the offending parties, you at least have a chance to focus on correction, just like recognizing that eating a box of chocolate chip cookies before bed is probably not going to lead to greater weight loss.
We all know that in today’s business world, we are all trying to do more with fewer human resources and perhaps more ways to distract ourselves from our intended goals. A list that once included, my office door, a desk phone and a fax machine has now expanding to email, voicemail, texts, Skype, the internet, etc., etc. We are all now globally connected and globally distracted.
While I am writing this, I have received four emails on my screen and a reminder that the Olympic Gold medal hockey game will be streamed to my laptop shortly. I have plenty of opportunities for distraction and lost time. Like that box of chocolate chip cookies, its going to take some willpower and focus to avoid distraction.
I don’t have time to read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People again (another self imposed distraction), so lets start a mini-list that should at least remind us of the obvious and get going in the right direction.
1) Get the right mindset, teach the right mindset. Here’s my mantra “Treat time as a constraint not an asset.” So what do I mean? I see this issue more often in my staff than with my peers, but nonetheless, too often folks start the day with no plan for what they need to accomplish, just waiting for that external input or distraction that will send them on their way and help them fill the next 8 hours of their day. When you hear or ask yourself, “What am I going to do today?” You know you are treating time as an asset. Asking the question, “How am I going to accomplish what I need to accomplish today?” may better serve in understanding and managing the constraint of time.
2) Continue to push planning, focus, and process, not just for myself but for my team. It’s not enough to plan your own time. If your team is poorly planning their time, it will invariably cause inefficiency above and below.
Further planning without focus, will invariably lead to the breakdown of the plan at the moment when the inertia of the distraction is greater than the inertia of the planned activity. Improve the inertia of your plan by instilling process and focus in your planning activities.
3) Establish short and longer term priorities that need focus (for you and your team). Use the list to evaluate other items not on the list before jumping in. When the original list was created it was done with thought and purpose. Changes to the list and prioritization should use the same rigor.
4) Create a balance between short and longer term focus so that longer term goals can be achieved but we remain responsive to shorter term needs. Use process to determine when unplanned shorter term needs should be added to the list and recognize that this short term opportunities that seem benign are often the leading contributors to time inefficiency.
5) Be aware of the plan and of time eating activities, so that work activities become a cognitive process. Be cognizant of the activities that continually drive you off schedule or consume disproportionate amounts of your time. Promote “short term” activities into longer term activities and treat them as such so they don’t continue to de-rail daily or weekly progress.
6) Recognize which activities you should be doing not just can be doing and move activities that don’t fit to others that may be more appropriate owners. It’s always easier to work down than up or revert to tasks that can be done by subordinates. Its human nature but not why we are in the jobs that we are. This item could easily be the first on the “to do” list but often can’t be executed until the other items are completed.
7) Let others know that your time is valuable to you and your company, and that wasted time is lost time. Instilling the concept that time is valuable and can be managed will become contagious and the organization (or at least those interested) will change behavior and follow by example. Conversely, allowing constant interruption and poor time management sends the message that you do not adhere to planning and discipline.
Finally, make sure that you allocate time to read this blog and provide feedback on how these topics work in your organization.