It’s that holy grail of efficiency and effectiveness. Time Management. We would all like more time. Time to dedicate to those knotty professional issues that really matter. Time to spend getting to know our teams and to helping them grow. Time for ourselves and our families that makes all the hours we put in at the sharp end absolutely worth it.
Development specialists know that almost all their clients will have as one of their central or sub goals, better time management. Sometimes its’s couched as, ‘I wish I could be better at prioritising’. Sometimes it’s, ‘I could do a better job if I had more hours in the day’. Sometimes it’s simply ‘I’m snowed-under and overwhelmed and I just cannot go on like this anymore.’
The affects of this time paucity on the workplace can be stark. Disengaged workforce, a breakdown in communication, a lack of teamwork and collaboration, unhealthy competition, through to at its very worst, stress and burnout.
A recent McKinsey report showed that of the 1500 professionals they surveyed globally, only 9% were ‘very satisfied’ with their ability to allocated and manage their time. And for business owners and boards, this can have catastrophic impacts on the bottom line. One survey found that in the UK alone, poor time management accounted for costs of nearly £80bn per year! So, here’s a model that can help you manage your time better. We can’t promise you more hours in the day, but if you follow these tips you will definitely notice an improved ability to master your use of those hours.
C – is for Clarify
All activity should have a very clear outcome assigned to it. Otherwise it is simply activity for activity’s sake. Whatever it is you find yourself doing - answering emails, sitting in meetings, travelling to see clients, tinkering with spreadsheets, always, always know WHY you are doing it. If you can, link that activity to the wider ‘mission’ or goal that you are looking to achieve.
Practise using the phrase: ‘I am doing (insert activity) because I want to (insert outcome). This is a worthwhile endeavour because (insert link to wider business objective). For example, ‘I am calling prospective clients because I want to increase take up of our software training. This is worthwhile because Increased take up will improve revenue and levels of public knowledge about our products and services.’
Try and catch yourself out. Even go as far as setting an alarm through out the day to check in with yourself. Does what you are doing have a clear outcome attached and is it linked to the wider vision?
L – is for Let Go
Ever heard of the 80/20 rule? It’s not a new concept. In 1896 the Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto discovered that only a very small amount of the land used for growing grains in Italy at the time, produced any real volume of crop. He calculated that in fact only 20% of the land accounted for 80% of food production across the country.
Pareto’s principle applies to the way we manage our time too. Current research suggests that in any given day, only 20% of what we do will actually result in 80% of return. That means less is more. That means it’s not how much you do, but what you choose to do that counts. So, let’s Let Go of the 80% of effort that is resulting in only 20% return.
How will we know what sits in the magic 20% bucket? Well, here’s the thing. If you are practising good clarification and asking yourself why you are doing what you are doing at every opportunity, chances are you are already on your way to cutting out a great deal of the unecessary 80%. Another exercise you can do here is to make a record of all activity over the course of a week. Don’t leave anything out. Leave the list out of sight for a month and then return to it. What of the things you did that week were positively productive? Was it the one to one with a team member, who has since pulled a new piece of work out of the bag? Was it the investment in getting your expenses up to date on time, so that you didn’t have to waste twice as long further down the line trying to add it all up?
Take stock and Let Go.
E – is for Excel
Current research on leadership behaviours and learning and development shows that there are much greater gains to be had in trying to improve on what we are already good at than in trying improve in areas of significant challenge.
Say for example you score yourself 30/100 for designing PowerPoint slide decks but 70/100 at articulating what’s on the on the slide decks to a senior audience. Educationalists believe that most of us have a margin of around 15% improvement within us relatively close to within our reach. So, if you improve 15% on 30/100, your slide decks will get better by 4.5, putting your decks at 34.5 out of 100. If you work on making your presentations to senior boards even more compelling, you would reach a score of 80.5 out of a 100 with your 15% improvement. See the difference?
So, work out what you are good at and do it better.
A – is for Accelerate
There are two principles implied here and for this I lean heavily on LEAN methodology (excuse the pun!)
Let’s go back to the weekly task tracker. There will be some tasks that you do frequently that are low in output and value, but which nevertheless must be done. Each of these tasks will have an overhead associated with them in terms of set up. For example, I do 4 lots of ironing for 15 mins each week. However, each time it takes me 5 minutes to get the ironing board out and set everything up. That means over the course of a week I am wasting 15 minutes. If I could organise myself to do all the ironing once a week, I would only need one five minute set up for an hour’s session.
So, think about grouping low value tasks together where possible.
Now let’s think again about the areas that do not play to your strengths. This is where leveraging external resource comes in. If you are not good at writing slide decks, but your colleague is, consider organising your team so that this works to an optimum. If you are a team leader, you can assign tasks according to key strengths. If you are not in a position to delegate or outsource tasks, think instead about ways in which you could exchange your expertise for someone else’s.
R – is for Reality Check
So many of us have beautifully crafted business plans, leadership objectives, even to do lists. If, once you have worked through the exercises above, you are still not making gains in your working day, you might have to ask yourself a different question.
What is the possible underlying reason for your not achieving what you want to get done? When coaching clients are faced with this question, very often it will come down to a quite deep seated obstacle. Maybe you don’t believe in what you are trying to achieve. Maybe you don’t believe in your ability to do it. Awareness is curative. If you are not seeing the change you want – take a reality check and be prepared to be honest with yourself.