Wednesday, October 4th, 2017
A casual conversation late one evening on a variety of topics was summarised by my friend with the words “we seem to spend our days fighting time”.
The words ‘fighting time’ came alive for me, hence this blog.
Since setting up my independent professional practice as a coach three years ago I have worked with over 100 managers in different sectors with diverse responsibilities, goals and objectives. Nonetheless many of them face the same challenges including time management.
In my mind’s eye ‘fighting time’ encapsulates the internal struggle many managers and staff face when balancing work schedules, meetings, deadlines etc. I see and feel their frustrations as their days slip away and commitments are not met. Or are met by working well beyond what would be good for their work/life balance.
Here’s a thought…embrace time rather than fight it. Leverage it to achieve your goals.
In other words take control.
What follows are some ideas I would like to share with you that have emerged from the practical suggestions my clients have tried and found give them better control of their time and how they use their work hours effectively.
Please try these out one at a time…
When one is working for you add another. Pick the ones that you feel would suit your work style. Feedback from my clients suggest that the combined effects are truly powerful.
I Don’t Have the Time!
Oh yes you do if you take charge. As you experiment with the ideas I am confident you will take control your day, rather than let your day control you.
Please use the suggestions as a link to your picture of what you want to achieve during that day/week/month.
I know this is an old office cliché but becoming a smart worker is far more productive than just working hard in a disorganised way that wastes time.
Personally working smart is fun because I know I am in charge of me, not the other way around.
Have you got Five Minutes?
Working in an open plan office can be a pleasure, but it also an be a curse. Colleagues and staff see you sitting there and assume they can wander over, interrupt you with a simple question or query that could have waited.
Experience suggests the best way to manage this common occurrence is to respond with a polite acknowledgement, then a gentle but firm statement that communicates the message you are very busy right now. Follow this with a request they book a slot in your diary. If the interrupter continues to talk or says something like “this won’t take long”, just repeat what you have said previously.
By the third repetition even the worst of listeners will have got the message.
Over time your office colleagues and co-workers will get the message that you are available to talk to them but, at a time that suits you.
If you combine this with making sure one to ones with your team members (see below) give them the quality time to discuss their issues, then they will not feel isolated or ignored.
YOU ARE A NOT A ONE PERSON HELP DESK!
It is a well known fact of office life that managers are often asked to provide information or make decisions on matters that members of staff already know the answers to, and/or, has the remit to make the decisions without referring to you.
Try managing the interruption with a short sequence of coaching questions.
Often the issue will resolve itself by using the following:
- What do you want from me?
- What have you done so far to resolve this?
- What would you like to do?
- What will you be doing?
This a brief coaching moment that will have lasting results. Even though it may take longer to ask the questions instead of giving a straight answer, in the long run it will save you time because people will know they have resolve the matter in their own minds before they approach you. Combine this with a gentle reminder that they are empowered to think for themselves and take action as needed within their remit, and, you are confident they will make the right decision.
This should give you have more time to yourself during the working day.
Alternatively try challenging people to imagine that you are out of touch, on holiday, or completing a six month tour on the International Space Station. Ask what would they do if they could not talk to you?
Over time (be patient and persistent), this kills once and for all the idea that you, as a manager, are an open all hours, unpaid, glorified help desk.
Remember 9 times out of 10 they already know the answer, and/or, the course of action!
This is your time, use it for you!
A large proportion of managers I have worked with have such busy schedules the last person they give time to is themselves.
I encourage you all to schedule time slots on a daily/weekly/monthly basis that are just for you. Please use them for you to stop, reflect and be mindful.
Use these periods to catch up with you, your development, your goals, aspirations and objectives.
Do plan these time periods so that you are away from your desk and/or office.
Empower Your People to Take Ownership
I was working with a manager recently who agreed his team had the remit and authority to make many decisions affecting their work. However, they frequently referred decisions back to the manager for approval because he/she was there.
That manager is in the process of reminding his people that not only do they have the right to make a decision, he expects them to exercise that that responsibility to the full.
And it’s not the end of civilisation as we know it If something goes wrong; life is a learning journey.
It’s important people feel empowered and have the confidence in their own abilities. Do encourage people to take ownership for their work. Do encourage a healthy, blame free culture where people can learn from their successes as well as their failures.
Meetings Bloody Meetings!
Refuse to be part of the meeting culture.
I urge you all to have meeting rooms demolished and turned into open spaces. It is far healthier and constructive to connect and collaborate, not sit around tables in closed rooms staring at laptop screens, or playing with mobile phones while pretending to participate in yet another pointless meeting.
More can be achieved informally through networking and one to one conversations.
Ask yourself “is this meeting really necessary?” Experience shows meetings are often used by people who want to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions.
Stay away from their ‘game’.
Try declining meeting invitations (at least 80% of the time your presence is not needed).
Meetings can be useful to agree direction and for collective decisions (if needed). The hard work should have been done well before a meeting.
Meeting Tactics (If you have to participate)
If your contribution to the meeting is of secondary importance; try arriving late and/or leaving early.
If you are organising or chairing the meeting; doing it standing up will save time and keep people focussed.
Ban phones and laptops. Use pencils and papers.
Join remotely via a video conferencing or telephone link so that you can drop out after your piece is completed.
Many managers I have worked with have delegated attendance to one of their teams as part of their workplace development.
Why are you Doing the Doing?
You were almost certainly promoted to a managerial or executive position because of your outstanding ability to ‘do’ the day job.
Now you are their manager why do you continue to do the doing? You know this stuff and you also know you can do it very well.
Now is the time for you to focus on becoming the great manager you truly want to be, so it is no longer appropriate or sensible for you to continue ‘doing’. Your challenge, which will mean re-mapping your comfort zone is to put aside the skills that you got you promoted to make way for the new learning you need to acquire in order to succeed as a manager.
How will you use your skills and knowledge to train others to take responsibility for the tasks you used to complete?
You have oversight and are accountable, they are responsible.
Delegation, not Abdication
You remain accountable because you own the vision, strategy, objectives, goals and targets .
Your staff are responsible for whatever they own as part of their job role. Responsibility should be enjoyed and seen as a positive affirmation of your trust in them to do a good job responsibly.
Delegation of tasks, acquiring skills and competencies are the core components of staff development. In order to make sure staff are recognised for taking on extra work, or achieving a pre-agreed standard, please make sure you record everything in their annual appraisal documentation. It is the best way to ensure their work is recognised and you both know ‘what good looks like’.
Managers are Accountable, Leaders are Responsible
Retain oversight and the long view, visions goals outcomes etc.
Let others do the tactical work.
People Learn by Making Mistakes
I often ask a manager I am coaching ‘will anyone in your team be physically injured if you let them make a mistake?’
If the answer is a resounding ‘NO’, then I challenge them to step back and let the individual try things and learn from their mistakes.
How much time are you spending time doing other people’s work in order to prevent them making mistakes? Why?
I challenge you to let them learn on the job.
If your employer has an embedded blame culture that focuses on ‘catching people doing things wrong’ and takes delight in punishing them accordingly….change the culture or LEAVE!
Get yourself to a place where you can catch people doing things right, it’s a much healthier place to work and much, much more fun.
Managing your Emails
A good friend and former colleague who I worked with during my time in Johannesburg had a simple rule; line of sight across the office – NO EMAIL. (So not as to contradict my earlier proposal do agree a time when you can talk).
Mix this with situations require email and situations do not and slowly your email flow will begin to subside.
Try using MS Outlook rules to automatically file unimportant emails. Typically they do not need a response and are just blocking you from seeing the ones you should be paying attention to.
Do encourage staff not to copy you unless they specifically need and action or approval from you.
Use your judgement to start ignoring so called ‘urgent’ emails. They may be important to someone else, but in the cold hard light of day, are they equally as important to you? In 8 to 9 cases out of 10 the problem goes away.
One final thought on this topic…please encourage everyone you come into contact with to use the ‘reply‘ option and to avoid using ‘reply all‘ unless necessary.
One to Ones with Your Staff
One to ones are with your team members are extremely valuable. It is important they have quality time to talk about themselves, their development, their aspirations, dreams, goals and objectives. Experience has shown that if one to ones are used well your team members feel valued and have adequate opportunities to talk about what is important to them.
Please, please avoid using one to ones to talk about ‘business as usual’! That devalues their real purpose.
Lastly once booked they should only be cancelled if a dire emergency arises, NOT because of routine business issues.