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Time management is always a hot topic but the reality is, we can’t really “manage time”.

We all have the same amount of time in the week.

Really it’s about being more effective with the time that we have available to us.

Recently I’ve been coaching a couple of ambitious and busy people who have struggled with this challenge.

So in this post, I wanted to pass on some of the simple steps that we implemented as part of the coaching process to help these leaders feel more effective.

Learn More:  3 Simple Leadership Principles to Improve Your Effectiveness.

Why Leaders Need to Feel More Effective

There is a distinction I’d like to make here.

That is the difference between being and feeling effective.

Being effective is about using the time we have in the most useful manner. That is, spending our time on what we believe to be the most valuable tasks that we could undertake.

Then, there is feeling more effective.

When we feel effective, we tend to feel more in control of our situation.

We feel confident that we aren’t missing opportunities to fulfil our potential or “leaving money on the table”.

Hesitant and nervous employee

Ambitious leaders generally like to take on many opportunities and are often motivated by success. So it’s important for them to feel like they are spending their time wisely.

When they don’t feel effective, my coaching clients tell me that there is a nagging doubt that sits with them, compelling them to be doing something different.

Or a lingering feeling that they should be focusing on something else.

Not only is this draining and stressful, it can also reduce our focus on the work that we are actually engaged in during the present moment.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #156: Let’s Dismantle the Cult of Busyness.

The Leadership Benefits of Being More Effective

It’s worth quickly pausing to consider the benefits of being more effective, from a leadership perspective.

Some of the main benefits I observe from being an effective leader include:

  • Greater availability. When you manage your time effectively, you create space for important things. One of these is being available for your team, which tends to help team members feel like they have support.
  • Perceived credibility. When a leader tells me “I’m in back to back meetings all day” or “I’m so busy”, I don’t get the impression of someone who has everything under control. I get the feeling of someone who is being controlled by their workplace. By contrast, leaders who spend their time wisely appear more credible and command more respect.
  • Better results.  If you’re spending your time on valuable things, you’re going to complete valuable work. That valuable work should ideally lead to achieving your targets, rather than wasted effort.
  • Less stress. Effective leaders set boundaries and focus on what’s important. This leads to less stress, more time to think and to be prepared for what’s to come.

It’s worth keeping in mind that these benefits are available to your team, too, if you can help them to be more effective.

So the simple ideas in this post might be useful from a team perspective, even if you think you’re being pretty effective yourself.

Learn More:  Time Management For Leaders Online Course.

Follow These Simple Steps to Become More Effective

When recently working with my busy coaching clients, we were aiming for a few things. They wanted to:

  1. Feel as if they were spending their time effectively during the week
  2. Make sure they had enough time for the important priorities; and
  3. Feel more in control of their situation.

So, we designed a simple plan to help them get there.

The ideas below are based on my own experience in time management, as well as from knowledge accumulated from delivering time management courses (including building my own) over the years.

Overall, these steps revolve around creating a weekly plan.

It doesn’t need to be complicated or super-structured, but my clients find that even having a very simple plan of attack helps to alleviate stress and build their confidence that the work can be achieved.

Step 1. Block your time

Start by identifying the key categories of work that are important for you.

Make a calendar bookingIt doesn’t really matter how many there are, but try to focus on your “must haves” rather than your “it would be nice to dos”.

My clients often include personal categories in here too, such as family time or exercise. If these are important and you want to make sure you have time for them in your week, include them as categories.

Now that you have your categories, block time in your calendar for them, and add labels so you know what they’re for.

You might ask “how much time”?

Well that depends.

In a typical day, how much time do you usually have available to work without interruption? 

Some people can spend hours working without being interrupted, while others are interrupted as part of their core duties.

For example, if you are required to answer phone calls or customer enquiries, there is a good chance you’ll be interrupted at some point. The key is to understand roughly how often.

For each of your key categories, block time in your weekly calendar (recurring blocks are best), with the duration of each block being about how much time you can generally work without being interrupted.

Keeping it simple works

It’s worth remembering that even doing this with only a few time-block categories can be very helpful.

You don’t need to clutter your entire week with time-blocks. In fact, if you do that, you’ll likely feel overwhelmed and you won’t be able to fit in any ad-hoc work that comes up!

Instead, start small, with your very important blocks. You can expand from there once you get comfortable with the idea and the process.

Keep it simple.

Learn More:  How Better Time Management Will Help Your Team (Not just you!)

Step 2. Break up your tasks to be more effective

The next step is simple too, but not necessarily easy.

3 Actions ListHopefully, you have some sort of to-do list that you keep.

This is a good start, but it’s important to ensure that the tasks fit into the time blocks we created earlier.

Let’s imagine your to-do list has 2-hour tasks on it, when your time blocks are only booked in for 30 minutes each.

Often what I see happen in this situation is people start to procrastinate:

“There is no point starting that right now, there isn’t enough time for it”.

One way to prevent this is to attempt to break up your tasks into time-block-sized chunks. That way, you can be more confident that you can slot your tasks into the available time that you’ve booked.

To make this happen you’ll obviously need to do some estimation of how long you think your tasks will take. One way to do this is to estimate based on previous similar work you’ve completed, rather than guessing.

And if you’re not sure, doubling your initial estimate is one strategy that many people find to be quite accurate!

Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #80: What to Do When You Have Too Many Priorities.

Step 3. Schedule Time to Plan Each Week

The last step is important, because every week is different.

It’s impossible to plan out every week in advance, because the work will change.

However, you should hopefully find that what remains consistent are your time blocks.

The categories of work are ideally not changing much, it’s the specific work within them that will vary.

This means you can leave the time blocks in your calendar each week, instead of having to replan them constantly.

Manage Your Emotions - Alternative Explanations

So this step is all about planning the specific work that will go into each time block for the following week.

In practice, this often means scheduling time to do this planning work, either at the end of the current week (in preparation for the next), or at the very beginning of the new week.

You would take your broken-down to-do list items and put them into your appropriate time blocks, depending on any approaching deadlines and the relative priority of each piece of work.

This means your overall weekly plan remains the same (in terms of time blocks), but you can adapt your specific priorities every week.

Learn More:  Leaders Need Thinking Time and Here’s How to Get It.

What If Things Change or If There Is Too Much Work?

Well, there are only a few guarantees in life, and one of them is that things will change as you go about your week.

This 3-step plan is intentionally simple, and it not supposed to be rigid and inflexible.

I find that the trick is to make sure that your time blocks don’t take up your entire calendar.

If they do, you’ll be unable to fit in meeting requests or ad-hoc tasks that come up unexpectedly.

For this reason, it’s important to give yourself space in your schedule.

One other advantage of this simple framework is that it gives you a more concrete idea of whether you have too much on your plate.

If you have too many tasks to fit into your available time blocks, then there is a good chance that your situation is unsustainable.

Even though this may feel like a bad situation to be in, it is better than not really being aware of the problem. With this framework in place, you can more easily demonstrate to other people (such as your boss) how much work you have.

And if the boss simply wants you to work longer and harder, this is unfortunate too.

But – once you have the conversation, you will know where you stand, which is extremely valuable.

Do you use this simple strategy or something similar? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders how you feel more effective in the comments below. 

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