Time Management

If you are reading this, you no doubt have your own time management techniques, and those that will may find the ideas useful are too busy, so here is hoping I pick up a few busy people.

Whenever I run a Leadership course, I check in with everyone at the start of the day on what it is they hope to get from their attendance.  Better Time Management is always on the list, even if the course that day is on a totally unrelated topic.  It is something that is an issue for most leaders today, with the pace of change continually increasing, along with all the other demands on ones time.

So, is there an answer?  I believe while there may be no one answer or silver bullet, there are a range of techniques that can work at both an organisational level and an individual level.

Organisational level:
Leaders have a key role here is setting out a framework that supports their people and allows them to achieve their best work.  If we believe that a key part of a leaders role is to enable their people, then time management would seem an important part of this enablement.  Interestingly, I have come across a large number of leaders who merely add to the time management issue, and provide no support on how it can be resolved as they are merely responding to the pressures placed on themselves.  The good news is that this cycle can be interrupted at any level, and is one of these things that doesn’t solely have to come form the top.

So what techniques can you consider organisationally?

  • Doing what you like (and what you don’t)
    Research has found that leaders who manage to effectively balance their work across all areas are more satisfied with their ability to manage time.  By balance of work, I am referring to the spread of focus across current focused topics (operational decisions, issues, performance review and communications) and future focused topics (strategy, planning and development).Leaders can help here by agreeing a rough split of time with the whole team, and then encouraging team members to assess regularly how they are spending their time and whether the split is working for them.
  • 9-5
    Leaders can keep work meetings and sessions within the working day, and therefore allow any additional time that leaders want to work free for their own priorities.
  • Value of Leaders time
    Leaders can consider the time of their own leaders as a valuable resource and allocated it, as with other scare resources, to projects and issues.  This concept moves leaders away from assuming that for all leaders time is limitless, and forces prioritization conversations to be had by the right group of people rather than delegated to those who don’t have the luxury of making a choice between the two.
  • No more working at 11pm (unless you want to)
    With the range of technology now available and used by all levels in any organisation, there is often an implied expectation that an e-mail sent at 9pm will be read and ready to be actioned by 8am the following morning.  One of the things we know about people is that you can only get perspective if you have time away from a challenge or an opportunity.  Agreeing a frame of reference for out of hours expectations, which are only breached in an emergency, can facilitate the space people need to consider and thing through good decisions.Individual level:
    At an individual level there are a number of options and techniques that you can find in any good self help book or course, to support what good time management means.  From my own experience, there is no one technique that suits everyone.  We are all individuals, and as such our needs in this area vary.  My personal recommendation is to try as many different techniques as feels right to you, and take from them what works, and ignore the rest.  One of the best ways of doing this is looking around at the people you work with, who seems the most organized, what are they doing that you are not?Some of the tried and tested ideas that work for some, include:
  • What’s important
    At the start of each day, list out what are the most important things to do today, putting the one that will take the longest first.
  • E-mail, like medicine, 3 times a day
    Limit your reliance on e-mail by creating time slots in the day to address your inbox.  This can seem incredibly difficult for some who believe they might miss something important.  A technique that can get round this is to put on your out of office saying that if the matter is urgent, then call, otherwise you will get back to the sender on your return.
  • What to look at first
    When looking at a full inbox it can appear daunting, and we sometimes open and close e-mails more than once.  Some techniques that can help with this are:

    • Colour code your e-mails so that those from certain people stand out (ie. Your boss)
    • Create folders for the day you need to go back to your e-mail, ie one for each day of the week and one for beyond the current week.  This can prevent you from opening the e-mail multiple times only to realise that it is not yet the right time to deal with it.
    • Separate out e-mails that you are only cc’d on and deliver them to a separate mailbox so that you can see more clearly those that require your action.
  • Avoid Trouble at Home
    A lot of the stress of time can come from one aspect of our life taking over another.  For some, incorporating key actions into your own method for managing work activities can help keep both in balance (and ensure you don’t forget an important date or event)
  • Do it Now
    Use your diary or a task list to record what needs to be completed on specific days.  This can be especially useful if you get busy and don’t have time to check through all your outstanding items each day.

There are a number of much more sophisticated techniques to be found in books (ie David Allen –  ) and again they can be useful to try and determine if any of the techniques suit you.

The key to success here is not doing what others do, but in finding the technique that works best for you and suits your own personal circumstances.

So go on, try out some new techniques and find the ones that will best help you manage your own time.

Good Luck