Effective time management. We know it’s important, but it still seems to be an underrated leadership skill.
Managers are sitting in meetings all day, and then complaining about being in meetings all day. Leaders have huge to-do lists, but aren’t getting to the end of them.
Leaders are also cancelling other important activities because they “don’t have time”. Unfortunately, the things being cancelled often *are* important, they just happen to have less tangible results, so people get rid of them.
One example I often talk about is being able to support your team. If you’re in meetings all day, it might not seem like a big deal. But what about the support or coaching you could provide your team if you were more available?
Another example is thinking strategically. If you are running around busy all day, when are you thinking strategically about how you could improve your team or work more effectively?
Related post: Are You Too Busy to Lead Effectively?
Time management is a hot topic, so let’s look at some of the “secrets” of effective time management that I think are often underrated and overlooked.
Secret #1: Effective Time Management Is a Choice
That’s right. It’s a choice.
If you are in meetings all day – that’s your choice.
If you have one thousand tasks on your to-do list, that’s also your choice.
What I usually hear in response to this is either:
- “No it’s not, <something or someone> forces me to attend all these meetings”; or
- “If I don’t go to these meetings or take on all this work, <something bad> happens”.
Of course, some workplaces and jobs are busier than others.
Back in my consulting days, it was regarded as normal to work longer hours and take on more work. But in consulting, that’s the deal. You make that choice to work longer and harder in exchange for the potential rewards that consulting work brings.
When you are busy all day with no time to think, it’s important to remember that it’s your choice. You may be happy to accept your choice, because you understand the benefits associated with it.
But if you don’t like it, there are things you can do to change it.
Secret #2: Effective Time Management Is Not Just About Task Management
Many people regard time management as getting through their to-do list in the most efficient manner. They focus on prioritising tasks and getting the top ones done first. Prioritisation is important, but it’s not everything.
Effective time management means not only working efficiently through your task list, it’s also about controlling what gets on your task list in the first place.
It’s about both Workload Management and Task Management. Workload management is about your behaviour, and setting expectations and boundaries with others.
This helps to protect you and your team from overload, where you’re unable to focus on the important priorities.
Secret #3: Effective Time Management Goes Against Normal Workplace Culture
Something I’ve realised over the years is that effective time management actually fights against the culture of many workplaces.
This is unfortunate, because it introduces yet another challenge for leaders who understand the benefits of managing their time effectively and want to improve in this area.
The problem I’ve noticed is that people like just being busy. Sometimes, they like being busy even doing tasks that have very little value.
Why is this so? Because busy people seem more valuable. When someone says that they’ve been in meetings all day, they are sending a signal to others that they are in demand.
If someone has only a few meetings in their calendar, people make dismissive comments like “It would be nice to have so much time on your hands”. This of course ignores the concept that this person might have been doing valuable work, instead of being in meetings all day.
How Leaders Can Use These Secrets to Manage Their Time More Effectively
So these secrets are cool. But how can we use them to manage our time better?
Here are some ideas.
1. Identify Goals For You, Your Team and Your Own Boss
Goal setting helps with time management, because it helps you to understand which direction you’re heading in. Once you know your direction, you can assess whether the things you’re working on are taking you down the right path.
This helps you to push back and set expectations with people who try to get you working on things that aren’t aligned with your goals.
Note that it’s important to identify goals for yourself, your team and your own boss. Unfortunately, it’s not all about you. You need to make sure that the things you are working on are aligned with your team goals and what your boss wants to achieve.
2. Treat Everything As Negotiable
Many leaders feel stuck.
They say “I can’t stop doing <this task>”, but if you know it isn’t valuable, then you really should be trying to make a change.
I like to treat almost everything as negotiable. Obviously this comes with time, experience and confidence. You can’t walk into a new job and tell everyone what they are doing is stupid.
You need to build credibility and respect, before you’re going to be able to push back on the work.
However, the next time some work lands on your desk that you feel isn’t quite right, consider having a discussion to change the situation. You have some options:
- Say “No, I’m not doing it”
- Ask the question, “Could we do this differently, in a way that is more efficient?”
- Ask the question, “Does this task actually add value at all – does anyone *really* care about it?”
Questioning the status quo can be a valuable way to manage your time more effectively.
Tip: If you struggle to manage up and push back on unreasonable demands, Thoughtful Leader can help. Check out the Managing Upwards eBook, for tools and techniques to build confidence and help you say “No”. You and your team deserve better… get the eBook today.
3. Be Comfortable With Being Questioned
Because of the way that many people just like to be busy (the “busyness” mindset), sometimes effective time management is hard.
If you start taking steps to protect you and your team’s valuable time, people might start to say things like:
- “She is not a team player”
- “He is lazy and doesn’t have enough work”
- “I wish I had that much free time”
You need to have the confidence to know that you are able to be more effective when you manage your time better.
Over time, you’ll build credibility and respect for the way you work and achieve your goals. Besides, it’s hard to criticise somebody who does a great job.
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Agree or disagree? What else do you think is involved in effective time management? Leave your comment below!