I’ve always considered being able to manage your time effectively as an important foundation of good leadership. Every role and leader is different, so there is never a one size fits all solution to fix a productivity problem.
However, I’m of the opinion that no matter how busy our roles are, we can always manage our time just a little bit better. I’ve worked in consulting and agency roles where my time has been a scarce resource, where I need to work extra hard on managing it. In other roles, it has been much easier.
In this article, I want to cover some common productivity problems that cause leaders issues. Not only does a productivity problem make you feel stressed, it can also have a knock-on effect on how you lead your team.
1. Constantly Rescheduling Meetings With Your Team Members
I used to work in a busy consulting role. My manager was obviously very busy too. Every month when it came to our scheduled check-in and performance review session, it would be bumped at the last minute.
In a six month period, I probably met with him twice to formally discuss performance and goals. Unfortunately, this type of behaviour has a few problems.
Firstly, it told me that my individual meetings weren’t that important, denting my confidence and respect for my manager. Second, I didn’t have a good way of knowing whether I was on the right track, and had fewer opportunities to get advice from someone more experienced.
The takeaway is that when your team members aren’t able to see you because you’re too busy, they can feel unsupported and isolated, which can increase their stress levels and start to have a negative impact on motivation and performance.
How to Solve the “Constant Rescheduling” Productivity Problem
This is all about priorities. If you don’t prioritise the face-time with your team members, then it won’t happen. So an obvious way to fix this issue is to lock in times for meeting your team, and stick to them.
If this isn’t working, then try a different arrangement. Maybe a breakfast meeting before work, a lunch meeting, or a drink after work. Something that takes place outside of the normal 9 to 5.
Maybe your team’s time just really isn’t a priority for you. If that’s the case, then it’s time to look at why this is. Try setting up a more structured meeting, where you aim to achieve key outcomes, rather than just a general discussion. This way, you can start to see more tangible value in the time you spend.
2. Too Many “Top” Priorities
If you find that everything is a top priority for you, then you need to start thinking harder. Sometimes, when we don’t stop and take time to think, we see everything as important.
This causes problems because you can’t provide proper direction for your team. A direction that everything is a priority is not useful. It’s the equivalent of telling people to walk in every direction at once.
Being able to boil down your work into your top 3 priorities is useful, because it helps your team members manage their time effectively too.
When they know the focus areas, they can put their effort in the right direction and you’ll be able to hold them accountable more easily for their performance, because you’ve clearly set expectations about what they are.
How to Solve the “Everything is a Priority” Productivity Problem
When it seems that everything is equally important, it can be hard to work out what to do. So I like to use a little mental trick.
Imagine if half of your team members were sick for a week, so you couldn’t do everything. In that case, what would you stop doing?
What if somebody needed to go to a funeral? Would you stop them?
Probably not. So what tasks would you stop, and pick up again later when they are back on board?
When you start to give yourself constraints, priorities start to become clearer.
3. Back-to-Back Meetings All Day
A common problem in many workplaces is a culture where leaders attend meetings all day. If these meetings were all productive, this might be OK.
However, this infographic from Atlassian suggests that we spend an average of 31 hours in unproductive meetings each month. This doesn’t surprise me in the least.
Many times I have been sent meeting invites that have a vague or no agenda, and no concrete outcomes. How do we know we’ve achieved the results? Well … we’ve spent the whole hour, so it must be a useful meeting, right?
I feel that we can safely assume that not all of our meetings are useful. So let’s do something about this and free up our time.
How to Solve the “Constant Meetings” Productivity Problem
I always consider managing my time to be about choice. If you’re attending every meeting that goes into your calendar, that’s your choice. If you sit in meetings with no agenda and get no results, that’s another choice.
Can’t get out of these meetings because your boss is forcing you to attend? Well, staying at your current organisation where you waste your life in meetings is yet another choice you can make.
There are a few things you can try to reduce your meeting time, such as:
- Pushing back on meetings that have no agenda, structure or proposed outcomes
- Solving problems via phone calls, instant messaging or email, rather than in a formal meeting
- Involving just the right people, and nobody else
- Shortening 1-hour meetings to 30 or 45 minutes. Often you can get everything done in 45 minutes, and the last 15 is just chat. Remember that “work expands to fill the time available for its completion”.
- Delegating meeting attendance to somebody else in your team. This can help them step up to a higher level and be exposed to different people and environments.
You always have a choice. What you choose is up to you. If you care enough, you can make a change.
4. Constant Fire-Fighting
If you feel as if you’re constantly on the back foot reacting to problems, you’ve probably got a productivity problem. If people are constantly looking for you to fix a burning issue, you will have no headspace to think strategically and plan your best way forward.
This can be a common problem in environments where people need “the boss” to make every decision and fix every problem. Sure, this can make managers feel important and special, but it’s also a tremendous waste of time to be the management productivity bottleneck.
How to Solve the “Fire-Fighting” Productivity Problem
The best way to stop constant fire-fighting is to put frameworks and processes in place to address issues in standard ways. When people come to you demanding that you get involved, you redirect them back to the proper channels and process.
If you find that people need you to make every decision, you need to delegate decision making closer to where the actual work is being done. This speeds up the decision and means that you don’t need to waste your day trying to understand the entire context of the situation first.
There are most likely people around you that are specialists in their areas. They can deal with the problems for you, without you having to be involved in every one.
If you find yourself in an environment where people drag you into every issue, then it’s time to start pushing back and saying “No”. Unless you do this, you’ll simply set a precedent that it’s OK to bother you every time.
Productivity problems can cause big issues for leaders and their teams. So let’s start managing our time better. After all, it is our most precious resource!
What are some other productivity problems that you struggle with at work? Leave a comment and let us know below!