Being able to manage your time effectively is a critical leadership skill. Leaders who are stuck in “fire-fighting” mode and constantly stressed are more likely to burn out, and less likely to be able to support their teams properly.
An effective leader focuses on the important priorities, without trying to do everything.
This isn’t easy, because you’ll be working with people who have conflicting priorities and goals.
In this article, I’ll look at some key enablers of being able to manage your time effectively and set yourself up for leadership success.
Managing Your Time Well Is An Enabler of Good Leadership
Being able to manage your time well is not going to make you a good leader all by itself.
However, I’ve always considered time management to be an enabler of excellent leadership.
Manage your time well, and you’ll have a shot at being the leader people want to work for. Struggle with time management and you’ll find it very difficult to deliver on the fundamental aspects of leadership.
Managing your time effectively enables you to:
- Be available to support your team. An absent leader will find it difficult to provide support. This can result in loss of team confidence, and a feeling like your people are “going it alone”.
- Provide solid direction. If you manage your time well, you know what’s important. This means you can focus on these priorities and have your people focusing on them too. This means less chaos, and more effective action.
- Feel good about your leadership. A frazzled, burnt out leader will have very little empathy for others. After all, it’s harder to think about other people when you are struggling yourself. When you feel good, you’ll be able to handle the team challenges that come your way, and be a positive role model for your people.
These are just three aspects that benefit from better time management, but I’m sure you can think of some more for yourself.
In the remainder of this post, we’ll look at some of the focus areas which will help you to manage your time effectively, so you can lead better.
Focus Areas to Help You Manage Your Time Effectively
When I deliver time management training, I often have people coming to the sessions wanting tools and techniques to help them be more productive and effective.
But being able to manage your time isn’t all about fancy tools and techniques.
Tools are only useful if you can actually apply them in your work situation.
Your mindset and behaviour are what will help you to actually use the tools that will help you manage your time.
Keeping that in mind, let’s get on with looking at these focus areas.
1. Your Relationship With Your Own Manager
Your own boss can make or break your experience at work. We’ve probably all dealt with a bad boss at one time or another, and it can be pretty horrible.
When you have issues with your manager, it’s likely that you will have:
- Less autonomy. If your boss doesn’t trust you, they’ll want to know what you’re up to all the time. This means you have less freedom to work the way you need to. This is a killer for being able to manage your time effectively.
- No decision-making authority. This lack of autonomy also means less potential for you to make your own decisions and set your own priorities. Instead, you’ll need to run everything past your boss, making you just an ineffective middle-person between your manager and your team.
- Higher stress levels. Going to work for a horrible boss is stressful. Dealing with this extra stress can take your focus off the people who really need it – your team.
- Less respect. If people in your workplace (including your team) take note of your troubles with your boss, they might start to question your capabilities. A leader with little respect may find it hard to influence and take the actions they need to.
In summary, a bad relationship with your manager is going to cramp your style, big time.
So what can we do about it?
How to Work With Your Boss and Improve Your Ability to Manage Your Time
There are many steps you could take to improve the relationship you have with your manager and I’ll cover a few here.
The first one I’ll highlight is that to manage your time effectively, you’ll need to build trust with your boss.
This means doing a good job, being reliable and cutting out self-serving behaviour. That is, reducing the chance that your manager might see you as trying to put yourself forward at the expense of others, which would make you seem like a threat.
The next step is to communicate openly and often. When it comes to time management, this means communicating your top priorities as well as the things you are choosing not to focus on.
If your boss has an issue with any of your priorities, you can discuss them early and negotiate. The last thing you want is for your choices to come as a surprise. “No surprises” is a good mantra to keep in mind with many bosses.
The last step I’ll recommend here is to have a conversation with your manager about boundaries, and the way you’ll work together. This includes:
- What decisions you can make without their input
- Any non-negotiables that your manager needs to make the call on
- How you’ll communicate with each other; and
- What aspects of your team are completely up to you, and what they’d like to have an opinion about.
This conversation can be very handy, because you’ll learn exactly where you stand. You’ll know what your manager wants from you, and what areas you may need to work on.
The conversation can also have the effect of making your manager feel more comfortable too. Especially if you’re dealing with someone who may be feeling insecure about their own leadership capabilities.
2. Your Mindset About Your Own Priorities
One area where many leaders can come unstuck is when it comes to their own mindset about their priorities.
Are your priorities more important than other people’s, or do they take a back seat?
The trap here is that if we don’t stand up for our own priorities, we often end up focusing on other people’s priorities instead.
If you continue to cave in to the demands of others, you’ll find yourself bouncing from one task to another, without necessarily getting any of your important work done.
Many thoughtful leaders are focused on serving others. This is an admirable trait, but it can go too far. If you bend over backwards for others, you may be jeopardising your own priorities.
If you find yourself failing to stick to your own priorities, the question to ask yourself is why?
Or perhaps, what is it that stops me from pushing back and standing up for myself?
Perhaps it’s a confidence problem. Or maybe you aren’t really sure that your priorities are correct. Perhaps you are avoiding the confrontational feeling of saying “No”. Maybe you don’t really know how to push back effectively.
The problem is, you’ll never be seen as a good leader if you can’t deliver on your priorities.
You might feel like you’re being helpful to others when you take on their priorities, instead of your own.
So the last question I’ll leave you with here is:
“Is it helping your team, your manager and your organisation when you can’t get your own important work done?”
3. Manage Your Time By Improving Your Ability to Push Back
Many people see pushing back as a very direct, confrontational act.
Like standing in front of somebody with your palm outstretched and shouting “No!”
In reality, pushing back does not need to be like that at all. In fact, doing it that way is unlikely to be successful!
Pushing back is a skill that takes practice. And the funny thing is, when you get it right, it often doesn’t really feel like pushing back at all. Often, it’s just a conversation.
Here are some ways to push back, that aren’t necessarily about shouting “No!”:
- Communicate what’s on your plate. Sometimes people don’t know what you’re focusing on, because they’re thinking about themselves. This helps you to negotiate, rather than capitulate. “We are working on A, B and C. D is a new request – which of A, B and C should we replace with D?”
- Offer an alternative option. “Could we do it this way instead?” Perhaps you can find a different option that will take less effort from you and your team, and achieve a similar result.
- Delegate. “Dorothy from sector 7G did some similar work before and she indicated she has some capacity – could she perhaps help out with this? My team are swamped right now.”
It’s important to pick your battles, instead of pushing back on everything.
But once in a while, you will need to use the subtle art of saying “No”, without saying “No”.
Learn More: 5 Ways to Say No Without Getting Fired.
4. Manage Your Time By Create a Self-Sufficient Team
A time management killer for many leaders is when their team becomes too reliant on them.
It’s nice to be needed, but having to support your team too much will cramp your style too.
Ideally, what we want is a proactive team, with team members that can make their own decisions at the right times.
This means team members aren’t running to you every five minutes with a question or a problem. They’ll be more able to sort the situation out for themselves.
So how do we do this? It’s not easy, but the solution lies in the team members’ skills, confidence and ability to be comfortable with failure.
Skills are the easy part. Most people can be trained or coached to improve their skills.
Confidence grows as people learn and succeed. Confidence also improves when team members have the support and trust of their leader. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy:
“If my boss believes I can do it, then I must be able to! I’ll try real hard so I don’t let them down”.
Fear of Failure Will Cripple Your Efforts to Create a Proactive Team
When people are afraid to fail or take risks, they’ll come to you to check in at every turn. It’s nice for team members to check in, but the more they do this, the less time you have available.
You need to become comfortable with the possibility that your people might make a mistake. Then when it happens, you need to pick them up and help them go again.
Communicating with your key stakeholders can help with this:
“Sandra is taking charge of the work this month. She’s new to it but I know she can do it. Please give her your support as she takes this on”.
Another strategy is to delegate with guard rails. This might mean telling your team member to make a decision, and then inform you of what they did later. This means you still know what went on, without having to be involved at the time.
Or, it may mean telling your team member to come up with options and run them past you first. Over time, you can loosen these guard rails until eventually, you need to be involved less of the time.
There you have it, the big 4 factors that I believe lead to better time management (and enable more effective leadership). Do any of these resonate with you, or do you struggle with any of them?
It’s not easy, but putting in the effort to manage your time better will pay big dividends in the long run.
Your future self will thank you for it.
What other factors are important in being able to manage your time effectively? Leave a comment and let me and all the other thoughtful leaders know below!