Time Management is Probably NOT Your Problem

Most of us are winding down this year (and decade, oh my!), assessing what we did well and what we can do differently as we ramp up next year’s plans. If you’re like most leaders—and me—you might find yourself fantasizing about a less frenetic schedule and a reality where time management is never an issue.

Here’s the deal: You will ALWAYS have a lot going on.

As a leader there’s a never-ending list of things that others want you to do, so you are often playing defense rather than offense with the tasks on your to-do list that gets longer by the minute. What often gets shorted are the things YOU want and need to work on such as spend more time on strategy, thinking ahead or working on employee development.

Guess what? I’m willing to bet you don’t have a time management problem. What if the answer you seek is found by leaning into some of your leadership skills?

Avoid These Popular, But Not Successful Solutions

When I meet first meet with many leaders, they confess they have a time management problem. They share their frustration about not having enough hours in the day to accomplish what they need to or want to which includes everything from mentoring key employees to a pet project to writing their first book and more.

As a result, the people and the organization they lead are not achieving goals or are at risk of falling short of milestones they are expected to meet.

When we dig in further, these leaders never had an issue completing tasks or managing their time before. In many cases, they have a history of being masters of time management. To finally get on top of their to-do lists, I know many professionals who think, “If I just work harder, I’ll get it done.”

Unfortunately, no matter how many late nights they spend responding to emails after the kids go to bed or how often they have their head buried in their laptops on the weekend, they don’t seem to alleviate their stress or make a significant dent in their workload.

Another popular way many people address the unease of a never-ending to-do list is to multi-task. Raise your hand if you’ve ever used a stifling boring meeting to get other things done. Yep, this is a multi-tasker in action.

Despite the promise of “all your troubles will be solved” if you’re an adept multi-tasker, the brutal reality is if you’re scattered in too many directions and dividing the focus you should be spending on your key result areas with attention on other tasks and issues, critical areas will suffer.

How to Get Done What You Need to Get Done

So, since time management isn’t the problem and I’ve told you that the popular strategies you hear many people advocate aren’t the solutions either, here’s what you need to do to get what you need done, done.

1. Importance of Key Results Areas

While sharing the Pareto principle (AKA the 80/20 rule) with you isn’t a novel concept, it is a good reminder that typically 80% of your results will follow from 20% of your efforts. Therefore, it’s crucial that your calendar and activities are focused on your key result areas—those tasks that will create 80% of your results.

As a leader you must also ensure that your employees are focused on their key result areas. There should be a mutual understanding of expectations, deliverables and due dates as well as agreement about what happens when deliverables and due dates can’t be met. Anytime you have employees not clear on their key result areas it will bleed into your ability to focus on yours.

An important aspect to guiding and mentoring employees is to have what Kim Scott, former Google employee and New York Times and Wall Street Journal best-selling author calls radical candor. She writes about her concept in the book Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity.

Although many of us are held back by the adage “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” she says you have a moral obligation as a leader to say what you think. It’s your job to care about the people you lead, but also challenge them directly. Don’t avoid the tough conversations, your people are counting on you to help them be better professionals and your radical candor is necessary to help them get there.

2. Emotions Are Insightful

Leaders with strong emotional intelligence are able to understand their own emotions, manage them and perceive the emotions of others around them. I encourage you to pay attention to your emotions as you sit through meetings and 1:1s. Are you energized and moving work forward by each engagement? If not, what can you do to make your meetings more effective? Paying attention to your energy levels is a huge queue that your meetings could be better managed.

3. Establish Boundaries

Some of your “time management” issues can be alleviated by setting boundaries. One strategy to help set boundaries is to institute “office hours” for when you’re available for drop-in, off-the-cuff discussions. This gives your people a time when they know they can discuss something with you, but removes the ad hoc, anytime mentality for interruptions.

Email can easily overrun our schedules if we don’t manage it well. Consider using filters to have your email system automatically sort emails into files so you can focus on the most important during the times you check/respond to them. I recommend doing so in one or time slots during your day rather than all throughout the day.

It’s also important for you to say, “no” and “not now” to preserve your time to focus on key result areas. And don’t forget to be diligent about meeting management. Here are three simple ways to improve your meetings from my friends over at Stop Meeting Like This.

4. Delegate and Trust

You create a stronger organization when you’re not the only one who is capable of handling each and every task that needs to get done. Many leaders/entrepreneurs were accustomed to handling it all in the early years, but as companies grow and leaders take on different responsibilities, it’s important to delegate old tasks so you can focus on new priorities. I know, easier said than done. But, if you were to be “hit by a bus” your organization needs to be capable of running without you. This requires that you document processes and delegate tasks to others so you don’t need to be involved in everything. Perhaps the most difficult thing for many of my clients to achieve is to let go and trust in their team to take care of business. If you and your organization are going to grow, you will need to free yourself up from being involved in everything.

If you want more support to figure out how to find more time to work on strategy, employee development and thinking ahead, let’s talk. Please call 707-217-7660 or contact us today to set up an appointment!