Tag Archives: time management

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

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.”

Not a Time Management Issue

“Yes, you could call it stress,” Daniele replied. “And it’s building. I seem to get farther behind and I can see there are things that need to be done, there is no way I will get to them.”

“What do you think is happening?” I asked.

“I get to work early to get a few minutes of peace and quiet. It’s usually my most productive hour of the day. But then, there is an email, or a note on my desk about a struggling project and boom, I am in the weeds again. I am not complaining about the work, but I feel the stress. I am torn between these urgent projects and the work I know I really need to be doing. It even affects my work-life balance. I feel like I need to come in to work two hours early.”

“Do you think you have a work-life balance problem?”

“Yes. My husband thinks so,” Daniele nodded.

“You know I am a structure guy. I don’t think you have a work-life balance problem, I think you have a structure issue. Why do you think you get pulled into the weeds and cannot get to the work you need to be doing as a manager?”

“My team has questions that have to be answered, problems that have to be solved and decisions that have to be made,” she described. “If I don’t spend that time, they just get stuck and don’t know what to do.”

“Your stress is only the symptom. It looks like a time management issue, but it’s not. It’s a structure issue.”

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.

Does Delegation Save Time?

Emily was already in the conference room when I arrived.

“So, what’s the purpose for delegation?” I asked.

“That’s easy,” Emily replied. “To save me time. I have a lot of stuff going on.”

“And if you are able to effectively delegate, what does the team member get out of it?”

Emily looked puzzled. “Well, I guess.” She stopped. “I guess, maybe, that they learn something new.”

“Good, learning is good. What else?” I probed.

“Well, new. Something new would be more interesting. Maybe learn a new skill. Maybe a sense of accomplishment, pride?”

“Good. Now tell me, Emily, do any of those things have anything to do with time?”

“Well, no.”

“So, what do they have to do with?”

Emily was tracing the conversation. “Learning, interest, new skill, accomplishment, pride. Sounds like learning and development,” she finally concluded.

“So one purpose for delegation is to save you time. Delegation is your most powerful time management tool, and it is also your most powerful learning and development tool.”

What is the Purpose for Delegation?

“So, you have selected something to delegate?” I asked.

Marion nodded.  “Yup. I know you have been telling me that I had to get something off of my plate.”

“Why did you pick this project?”

“You said to pick something.  This project will take me about an hour.  I can delegate it, save myself an hour,” she explained.

“So, the reason you want to delegate this project is to save yourself an hour.  You have traded one hour for one hour.  That’s a one to one leverage of your time.  Not good enough,” I challenged.

Marion furrowed her brow.  “What do you mean, not good enough?  How can I trade an hour for more than an hour?”

“If your purpose for delegation is just to save some time, you will always trade one hour for one hour.  My challenge to you is to trade one hour and get ten hours of productivity.”

“One hour for ten, how do you do that?”

“While delegation can be a powerful time management tool, it is also your most powerful people development tool.  If your purpose is NOT to save time, but to develop people, what changes about the leverage you get, as a manager?  Can you spend one hour developing one of your team members and get ten hours of productivity back?”

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.”