Category Archives: Time Management Skills

Are You Busy?

“I know planning this project is important, but I have so much to do today,” Lauren explained, hoping I would let her off the hook.

I nodded my head. “I know you have a lot to do, today. How much of what you do today will be effective?” I asked.

“What do you mean? I have phone calls to return, emails to answer, meetings to go to. I have a couple of employees I have to speak to, about things they were supposed to take care. I have a couple of other projects that are behind schedule. A lot of things are piled up.”

“How much of what you do today will be effective?” I repeated.

“Well.” Lauren stopped. “I know some things are more important than other things.”

“And, how do you make that decision? How do you know what you do is effective? How do you know what you do is important?” Lauren’s posture shifted. She backed off the table between us. She was listening. “I will venture that 80 percent of what you do today will be wasted time and only 20 percent of what you do will be effective. How will you know you are working on the 20 percent?” -Tom

How Will You Focus?

“Quick breakdown,” I pushed. “What are the three things you have to get accomplished this year?”

“Well, that’s easy,” Meredith replied. “Those three objectives come from my business plan.”

“And, you have your three objectives for the year broken down into quarterly goals?”

“Yes,” Meredith nodded.

“So, how do you keep those three objectives in front of you when you stay buried in your email, handling all the traffic and details of your projects?”

“It’s tough,” Meredith shrugged.

“I know it’s tough, but if it wasn’t tough, how would you do it? How would you focus on your top three priorities each and every day?”

“One thing is for sure,” Meredith smiled. “I won’t find them buried in my email.”

“You are correct,” I agreed. “For many managers, email is counter-productive to focus. Email is efficient, it is self-documenting, but it can also be a distraction. How will you focus?”
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Progress Measured by the Inch

“Quick breakdown,” I interrupted. “What were the top three things in your email this morning?”

Meredith’s hands dropped off her keyboard.

“You know,” she shrugged. “Details on a project. Someone had a question about how something should be done. Did we finish a step on another project. I am pretty busy around here.”

“And what are you going to do, today?” I continued.

“More of the same. I have a meeting in about an hour, following up on some details, tracking some materials that got misdelivered.”

“Let me change the question,” I shifted. “What are you planning to achieve today?”

“Achieve?” Meredith muttered. “You mean like something bigger. I don’t know. I measure progress around here, inch by inch. Lots of things grab my attention. I know you think I should be focused on longer term objectives, but there are so many other things that seem important.”

“Why do those other things seem more important?”

“You know, they are right now. What am I supposed to do, ignore them. Problems don’t go away by themselves.”

“Why are those problems going to you?”
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Stop Being So Busy

“What are you working on?” I asked.

Meredith looked up from her computer. “Just answering some emails,” she replied. “You know how it is. If you let them stack up, you will never get through them all. Besides, you never know when something important will pop up that needs immediate attention. If you can nip it in the bud, it won’t grow into a bigger problem.”

“Sounds like that could keep you really busy?”

“Oh, yes. Sometimes, I could spend the whole day.”

“How do you ever get anything else done?” I probed.

“I know, I know,” she finally nodded. “It’s a constant tension, in my own mind. I should be out walking the floor, checking on my team, but then I feel drawn back to my email, like I will miss something.”

“So, how do you ever get anything else done?”
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Watch for the release of our online program – Hiring Talent 2016, scheduled for Jan 15, 2016.

Not Enough Time

“I gotta get something off my plate,” Adrian shook his head. “I am so busy, I just don’t have time to get everything done.”

Busy?” I asked. For me, busy is a code word, a clue, that there is a mis-match in level of work.

“Yes. Busy. I get here early to catch things up from yesterday, make some headway on one of my projects, but about 7:30, the chaos begins.”

Chaos?” I asked. For me, chaos is a code word, a clue, that there is a mis-match in level of work.

“Yes. Chaos,” Adrian replied. “Unsolved problems from yesterday. Yesterday’s decisions delayed until today. It hits my email, it hits my text messages, it hits my phone, it walks through my office door.”

“So, you think you have a problem?” I clarified. “And, if you could get something off your plate, you would have more time? And if you had more time, you wouldn’t be so busy? And if you weren’t so busy, there would be less chaos?”

“That’s it,” Adrian agreed.

“Then, why did you start coming to work so early?” I probed.

“Because I was too busy during the day. There was too much chaos during the day. I couldn’t get anything done,” Adrian was frustrated with his circular problem.

“So, you came to work early to get more time, but you are still too busy and there is still too much chaos? Do you think not-enough-time is really the problem.”

Do You Carry an Organizer?

“I’ve been working with my team to get them to be more effective at time management,” Bobbie explained.

“How’s that going?” I asked.

“Kind of rough. I showed them how to use a task list, how to schedule events into a calendar, using our software. But, I haven’t really seen any improvement. They still miss deadlines and forget things.”

“Do they understand the mission of the work they do?” I wanted to know.

“Well, the company has a mission, I mean, we have a mission statement.”

“But, do they understand the mission of the work that they do? People who are clear about purpose, have little difficulty deciding what actions are necessary. Those people without a clear purpose will have to carry an organizer to plan their day.”

Not Enough Time

“Rush, rush, rush, that’s all we seem to do,” Russell complained.

“So, you get a lot done?” I asked.

“Not really. We move so fast, we end up having to do a lot of re-work,” he explained.

“Why don’t you slow down?”

“We don’t have time to slow down!” Russell shook his head.

“You mean, there is not enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it twice?”

Open Door Policy Has Nothing To Do With The Door

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
A bit frustrated. My role dictates longer time span strategic projects, but I continue to get pulled into tactical issues on smaller pieces of that project, or tactical issue on other people’s projects. I find myself often saying “what does our process say the next step should be?” or pointing back to our documentation to find the facts. I have to stop, interrupting focus on my own project segments. How does one balance these interruptions without coming across as “that’s not my job” to address tactical daily activities?

Response:
Two things necessary. First, you have an interruption problem. Second, as a manager, you have a coaching problem.

1. Interruption problems. Do you remember when you were a student in school and had to take that final test on Friday morning? So, late Thursday night, you settled down to study for the test? You know, right after Thursday Night Football? Because you procrastinated to the last minute, you had to make sure you got in some quality cram time. And you did some things that you can adapt to today’s situation.

  • You asked your roommates to take the keg of beer down to the other end of the dorm so you would not be tempted.
  • You told your other roommate to take a hike.
  • You took your phone off the hook (remember when phones had hooks).
  • You hung a shoe on your doorknob, a signal to all that you were busy and not to be disturbed (usually a signal for other activities beside studying, but a signal nonetheless).
  • You went to the library because no one would ever think to find you there.

These same strategies can be adapted to make sure you capture large (enough) blocks of uninterrupted time.

  • Put a sign on your door that you are in a meeting, not to be disturbed.
  • Communicate with your team that they need to cover all phone calls and visitors for the next three hours.
  • Relocate, find a spot where no one will find you (temporary, of course).

You might think that might communicate your inaccessibility (it does), but remember that an open door policy has nothing to do with the door.

2. Which brings me to your second problem, coaching. In a managerial role, it comes with the territory, get over it. And, yes, you can manage it. Set aside specific blocks of time for “office hours,” and specific appointments for 1-1s for each of your team members. This dedicated time can be controlled by you to prevent interruptions when you are working on your projects.

It may seem painful to help a team member walk through documentation, but it won’t take long before the team member knows how to walk through the documentation without you. This is not a “not my job” attitude, this is mandatory for all managers to bring value to the problem solving and decision making of the team member. And you don’t bring that value by providing all the answers. You bring that value by asking effective questions.

Now, close your door and get back to work.

How to Anticipate the Unpredictable

Brent wasn’t sure he heard me right. I know he was expecting some sympathy for all of his long hours.

“Your long hours are not because you are working hard,” I said. “Your long hours are because you didn’t budget your time.”

He tried the puppy dog look. “But I don’t know exactly how much work there is to do until it piles up on me,” he protested.

“That’s BS,” I responded. “If you would sit down and think about your week coming up, you would find that 95 percent of it is totally predictable.”

“But customers call with questions about their bids, or they want to add something to the project that we quoted for them.  I can’t just tell them that I will get to it next week, they will give the job to one of our competitors,” he defended.

“So, how often does this happen?” I pressed.

“Well, it happens all the time.”

“I thought you said it wasn’t predictable?”

The Just Reward for Hard Work

I had a hot tip to stop by and visit with Brent. As I entered his office, I noticed his eyes were sunk in. It was Friday, but he didn’t look like he was ready for the weekend.

“You look like crap,” I observed. “When did you get here this morning?”

Brent sat up, a bit startled. “Oh, man,” he said. “I rolled in around 5:00a. I just had to get some stuff done.”

“And when did you leave last night?”

“Well, I got out of here about 9:45p. I don’t know what it is. This has been going on for the past three weeks. On Monday, things don’t look so bad, but come Thursday and Friday, the work just seems to pile up. I have worked the last three Saturdays and last week, had to come in on Sunday. Missed the football game.”

“So, this is not some special project. Just your regular work,” I inquired.

“Yeah, in fact, if I had known about it ahead of time, I could delegate some of it out and it would already be done. But I don’t know about some of this stuff until it’s too late, or don’t realize how long it is really going to take. All of sudden, the pile is stacked up and everyone has gone home. The work’s gotta get done.”

“Brent, what if?” I started. “Brent, what if I don’t believe you.”