Category Archives: Time Management Skills

Execution Trumps a Promise

Curtis shook his head as he paced around his office. He wasn’t angry, just awestruck. “Five contracts,” he said, “We lost five contracts to those bozos, in the past two months.”

“What do they do, that you don’t do?” I asked.

“Nothing, that’s what gets me. We run circles around them with what we can do. We spent a $100,000 on a machine last year that does all kinds of stuff they can’t do.”

“What did the last client say?”

“I don’t understand it, the last client said that it was nothing special, that they just deliver a plain vanilla product. When they need it, it’s there.”

“And what’s the backlog on your delivery?” I prompted.

“Well, we are a few days out on our delivery, but look at our quality, it’s so much better,” replied Curtis.

Execution trumps a promise every time. Execution of a plain vanilla product on-time trumps late-delivery of a special product, every time.

No Magic Pill

There is no Magic Pill.

Interesting response to the Magic Pill post last week. A story to make you think, about effectiveness, work-life balance, and the way you approach your role in your organization.

There is no Magic Pill.

Here is the reality. A manager has responsibility 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Your goals are not minute by minute, hour by hour. You don’t have a shift that ends.

This understanding was not lost on the Oakland Police Department. They measure effectiveness in crime statistics. Their organizational structure was oriented around distinct eight hour shifts and they experienced predictable communication and handoff issues.

Using Elliott Jaques principles in Requisite Organization, “the police department laid out smaller-than-usual precinct-like neighborhood boundaries in the southern third of the city (the area known as East Oakland), with a lieutenant accountable for all police activity in each neighborhood 24 hours a day, instead of one 8-hour shift (as is typical elsewhere). Recorded crime levels in that area rapidly dropped 25 percent.”

Of course, the lieutenant was not in uniform, at HQ 24 hours a day. It’s a different way of seeing the world, understanding that crime does not work in neat 8 hour shifts, and that crime reduction requires a 24 hour orientation.

What are you accountable for, as a manager? How do you become more effective, understanding that you have 24 hour accountability for your goals?

There is no Magic Pill.

Oakland Police Department Case Study.

Magic Pill

Prescription Instructions

  1. The magic pill must be taken, by managers, once per week, on Monday.
  2. The magic pill has no effect on the manager during the week until 40 work hours have been logged.
  3. Once 40 work hours have been logged, the magic pill prevents the manager from thinking about work activities.
  4. Blackberries and remote email are considered work activities by the magic pill.
  5. If the manager persists in thinking about work activities, the magic pill will shut down conscious thought and make the subject sleep for a temporary period (naptime).
  6. In most cases, the magic pill has been shown to change the work habits of managers, who now know they must be effective within 40 work hours per week.
  7. In clinical trials, in some cases, side effects of the magic pill have improved family and social activities.

Think about this magic pill. If you took the magic pill, what habits would you change to become more effective?

Wasted Time, Effective Time

“I know planning 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 two projects that are behind schedule. A lot of things piled up over the past week.”

“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?”

Your ASAP is Not My ASAP

“Last week, you assigned this task to Dale, but you ended up doing it,” I observed. I could tell Sondra was very pleased with the project result, but miffed that she spent the weekend working when Dale had all of last week to work on it.

“I thought about, what you said, being more explicit about my deadline. Next time, I will try to remember that,” Sondra replied.

“More than that, the target completion time is essential to the task assignment. Dale gets all kinds of assignments. To complete them, he has to use his own discretion, primarily about pace and quality. Most of the decisions he makes are about pace and quality. Without a target completion time, he has no frame of reference in which to make his decisions. His ASAP will ALWAYS be different than your ASAP. ASAP is not a target completion time.”

Sondra smiled. I took a look at her project. It was really very good. She will make her client meeting today and life will go on.

Parkinson’s Law

“The point of the vacation exercise is not to pretend that every week is the week before vacation, but to look at the difference between that week and any other week,” I explained.

“That’s good news, because if I worked as hard every week as I do the week before vacation, I would go nuts. It’s bad enough the way it is. Almost makes going on vacation not worth the all the trouble,” Marissa replied.

“So, what is different about that week from any other week,” I asked.

“Well, I have to get more stuff done, so I just do whatever it takes. Some days I work longer, but mostly I prioritize and delegate. And you are right, some things simply become unimportant, so they don’t get done at all.”

“So, you have just learned about Parkinson’s Law. Work expands (or contracts) to the time allotted.”

Correspondence?

How many hours a day do you sit in front of a computer, responding to email?

In my father’s day, it was called correspondence. He would receive letters, reports in large brown envelopes and he would dictate his response to a secretary. The secretary would type the response and leave it in his INBOX for signature. This was correspondence.

And I am certain that my father blocked off a portion each day for correspondence.

That word, correspondence, has been lost, but the activity, albeit electronic, is likely to consume more of your day than in my father’s day.

So, how many hours a day, do you sit in front of a computer, responding to email? And in those hours, what strategies do you use to be more efficient? What strategies do you use to be more effective?

Time Management Focus

“Great looking list,” I commended. “So, how do you work it?” We had been talking about Marie’s project list and her daily to-do lists.

Her brow furrowed. “I look at the list, and really, I just start working on whatever I think is easiest to get done right then. Or I try to pick off an A priority. But here’s the rub. We just spent half an hour working on this list, and it’s likely I won’t even look at it again until next Tuesday. I don’t use it to focus, I mean, I don’t even look at it. And I don’t know why. And then something falls through the cracks.”

“What do you use to focus?” I asked.

“My calendar. I have a lot of meetings,” she replied. “I live and die by my calendar. I look at it ten times a day.”

“Then, stop making to-do lists,” I challenged.

“But, I thought, as a manager, that I had to make to-do lists? It’s one of those big Time Management ideas.”

I smiled. “That’s the trap everyone falls into. There are only about seven Time Management principles and the dirty little secret is that you cannot use them all, some principles won’t work for you and you won’t work some principles. So stop. Stop doing what doesn’t work and stop feeling guilty about it.”

“So, if to-do lists don’t work for me, how do I keep things from falling through the cracks?”

“What do you use to focus?” I repeated.

“My calendar?”

“Then, everything goes into your calendar.”

“Won’t my calendar get kind of messy?”

“What does it matter? You look at it ten times a day. It’s what helps you focus.”

Running Out of Time

“You are actually suggesting that I don’t prioritize?” Marie was having trouble with this.

“I know it sounds like heresy, but think about this. What is the biggest difference between an A priority and a C priority?” I nodded slowly.

Marie hesitated. “Well, it’s either more important or it has to get done first.”

“Good guess, but tell me, have you ever approached a deadline on a C priority and had to complete it before an A priority?”

“Sure, it happens all the time.”

“Then what does that say about your priority system? And bottom line, it all has to get done sometime, just schedule it. If it doesn’t have to get done, it shouldn’t be on your list in the first place.”

Marie was still trying to protest. “But, if I work hard all day and if something doesn’t get done, at least it was the C priority.”

“You are a manager. If there is something you can’t get done, it should be assigned to someone else. At the end of the day, don’t tell me something didn’t get done because you ran out of time. It did not get done because you did not manage it correctly.”

Just Regular 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.”