With the advent years ago of email and voicemail, and now mobile computing, social media and blackberry powered evenings, more and more Managers are finding it difficult to get things done in a given work day or week. With the recent economic downturn, many Managers are being asked to take on even more with less staff to do the work.
In fact, in my view, time management represents perhaps one of the most significant problems/productivity issues in business today – getting things done that need to get done. Even otherwise good time Managers are falling into the traditional trappings – simply working more hours and not being able to say no to things. Here is a generalized statement I hear quite often from people at all levels:
“I am finding it more and more difficult to manage my time at work. It seems I am constantly putting out fires or getting distracted by colleagues, e-mail and other interruptions. By the end of the day, my to-do list remains undone, and I leave work feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. This impacts my productivity, as well as my ability to manage and lead my team. How can I take control of my time at work?”
How can this be resolved?
Many people find it difficult to take control of their schedules. This is a significant challenge for sure. Being a decent time manager is a beautiful thing – but you have to work at this and be very disciplined in your approach to personal time management. The most effective and successful people I have ever met are co-incidentally pretty good managers of their time.
Even the most focused individuals can get derailed by poorly planned meetings, ad hoc requests and other activities that steal minutes from the day. A lack of focus and personal disorganization can also cause people to lose track of their time. Some senior managers I know say that they get so deep into thought and intellectually invested or deeply focused on things or projects they are working on that they miss very important things pre-scheduled into their work day.
On a personal note, I have been frustrated many times over the years by people that do not have any concept of managing their time. When it affects me, sorry, but I often take it personally, that the person cannot place any value on my own time that they are wasting. Of course we don’t live in a perfect world either and s_ _ _ does happen. But when this is a repeated behavior, it’s a problem.
A few years ago, at an HR Consulting assignment I undertook, I saw perhaps the very worst time manager in my life. This was a senior manager, who did not have any set schedule, who had a pile of paper on his desk, approx. 12 inches high. He came to work each day and simply responded to emails and phone calls (but not in a timely way) and when he had time he would simply pick off the top thing on his pile and start to work on it. People were constantly lined up at his door; he was always behind on his commitments and was always working on urgent things. So many fires were burning you could almost feel the heat just walking by his office. This guy was a CA and MBA, so there were no smarts issues, but he just could not get himself organized. He is no longer with that organization I am told.
The good news is that the situation can be remedied by making some simple adjustments to the way you work. Following are some suggestions for better management of your workday:
• Analyze your schedule. (this is key if you are serious about truly managing your time) Keep a running tab of how much time you spend on each activity over the course of a typical week. Include everything you do during the day, including writing and responding to e-mails, handling requests from co-workers, attending to personal business, going to lunch, putting out fires, and participating in meetings. Be brief in your descriptions, though — after all, you don’t need this task to throw you off schedule even more. Then, analyze how you spent your time and make adjustments accordingly. For instance, was the majority of your time devoted to your top priorities? If not, retool your schedule and minimize the attention you give to less-pressing responsibilities. Did you find that your week was consumed by last-minute emergencies? While you can’t always avoid a crisis, you may find a pattern in the so-called fires and be able to address the root cause. For example, if the same project required your constant intervention, it could be that the wrong employee was assigned the task, and it needs to be given to someone else.
• Schedule priority items when you’re at your peak. Are you sharpest before lunchtime, or does your mind focus best in mid-afternoon? A simple way to make the most of your time is to schedule more difficult tasks for when you’re at your best.
• Block out time for specific tasks. Set aside specific times throughout the day when you will tackle low-priority items, such as making and returning non-urgent phone calls. Group similar tasks together during these periods. By focusing on a single type of task, you’ll avoid wasting time and effort switching between one activity and another. Just make sure to keep an eye on the clock, and don’t allow tasks allotted for one time frame to extend into the next, unless a high-priority situation arises that requires your immediate attention.
• Delegate. Many managers spend hours on mundane tasks they should delegate to others. If your days are filled with tasks that could be accomplished by someone else on your team, such as creating a report outlining last month’s expenditures or organizing a client meeting for the following week, it may be time to let them go. Delegating not only saves you time but also makes you a better manager: You empower your employees and enable them to learn new skills. Letting others take on more responsibility also allows you to focus on strategy and other responsibilities that only you can handle.
• Designate uninterrupted time. If chatty co-workers are common distractions, or if you just need to focus on a pressing project, close your door to gain uninterrupted work time. Just be open about your need for some quiet time, so that your employees don’t misinterpret your actions.
Above all, be flexible and realistic: Some days you will be more productive than others. Don’t worry if you temporarily get off track, and make sure you create balance by allowing yourself a daily coffee or walking break.
Making more effective use of your time while on the job requires commitment, as well as good communication with your employees. By creating a plan for prioritizing and achieving key objectives, you’ll be able to keep your to-do list from constant expansion. You’ll also know exactly how your workday was spent and, most importantly, you’ll have something to show for it.