time management

Brian’s head was starting to throb as he scrolled through the two-dozen new voice and e-mails messages on his phone while walking to his cubicle. Looks like another crazy day in the hamster cage, he muttered to himself. Brian was growing increasingly frustrated. Despite working 50 hours and more per week (with an increasing amount of weekend work to “catch up”), it felt like his career wasn’t going anywhere. Work that once energized him now left him drained. Brian felt that unreasonable customers, managers, and co-workers were speeding up his hamster wheel just to stay in place. He was becoming “Uncle Dad” to his family. He had no time left to look after his health and fitness.

Down the hall, Brian’s boss was meeting with the HR director to review staffing for new roles and projects emerging from the recent organizational restructuring. They really needed a professional with Brian’s technical skills to lead an important project team. “Brian’s strong technically, but he’s clearly not the person to lead this team,” his manager reflected. “His ability to set priorities, deal with people issues, and pull a team together are weak.” “I agree,” the HR director nodded. “He works hard but doesn’t use his time well. He’s a strong performer, but not a great leader.”

Effective leaders are focused and strategic with their time. In their article entitled “Beware the Busy Manager,” professors Heike Bruch and Sumantra Ghoshal report: “After observing scores of managers for many years, we came to the conclusion that managers who take effective action (those who make difficult — even seemingly impossible — things happen) rely on a combination of two traits: focus and energy…aware of the value of time, they manage it carefully. Some refuse to respond to messages, phone calls, or visitors outside certain periods of the day… they decide first what they must achieve and then work to manage the external environment…refusal to let other people or organizational constraints set the agenda — is perhaps the subtlest and most important distinction between this group of managers and all the rest.”

Here’s a few suggestions to take back your time:

  • Ensure that your day planner and calendar reflect your values. Schedule personal and professional activities that are aligned with your values. Don’t allow today’s frenzy to crowd out what’s most important in your life.
  • Analyze your calendar and meeting agendas for the past few months. Do they clearly reflect your top goals and priorities?
  • Take time-management training through the many books, courses, internet resources, coaching, and other options that are widely available.
  • Clean up and organize your e-mail in-box, computer files, and your office to minimize distractions and time wasted looking for data or materials.
  • When reviewing your to-do list, first tackle the highest priority things that you most dread; get them out of the way and make the rest of your list easier.
  • Make sure your “big rocks” are your top priority. Don’t let the pebbles and sand fill the day.
  • Do your most demanding creative mental work during your peak performance time. If you’re a morning person, do it then. If you’re a night owl, save it for that time. Find a quiet time or place and close your door or hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign.
    If lack of time is your reason for not investing more in your personal growth and development, figure out what’s chewing up your time. Like the adage it takes money to make money, this exercise takes time to make time; for one month, keep a log of how you spend each fifteen-minute block of your day from the time you get up until the time you go to bed. Before you start, develop categories such as reading, learning, meetings, family time, relaxation, travel, telephone calls, visiting, preparing, planning, etc. Estimate how much time you spend on each activity before you start your log. Once your log is complete, compare your estimates to the way you actually use your time. Then compare how you use your time to your vision, values, purpose, and strengths. You will find key areas for change and further growth.
  • Use our quiz on Strategic Use of Time Assessment for a quick time check. It’s built around what we’ve found to be the seven deadliest time traps for leaders.

Misusing our time is a major cause of stress and leadership ineffectiveness. We can spin out of control. In his book, Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap, Edward Hallowell, writes, “You can feel like a tin can surrounded by a circle of a hundred powerful magnets. Pulled at once in every direction, you go nowhere but instead spin faster and faster on your axis. In part, many people are excessively busy because they allow themselves to respond to every magnet: tracking too much data, processing too much information, answering to too many people, and taking on too many tasks — all out of a sense that this is the way they must live in order to keep up and stay in control. But it’s the magnets that have the control.”

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and frantically busy, maybe you’re letting too many people “should” on you…you should always be available, your door should always be open, you should respond to every message, you should attend every meeting you’re invited to, you should do whatever your boss asks, you should listen to every co-worker’s “grump dump,” you should do it yourself to make sure it’s done right, you should be perfect, you should multi-task, you should take on that new project, you should sleep less, eat on the run, and skip exercise to get it all done…you should do all that’s asked of you.

But…should you? Is it about time to get growing on using your time more effectively?