The Rolling Stones sang, “Time is On My Side”. But how many times do we feel that time is ON our side versus AGAINST our side?
See if this sounds familiar: It’s Monday morning and you come into your office and establish a list of 4-5 things you need to accomplish this week. That’s manageable, right? One item each day and you’ll be good! Now, fast forward to Friday evening … not only did you not get the 4-5 things done this week but your list grew to 8-10 items that you’ll need to carry over to next week. Yikes! Where’s the nearest window to jump out of?!
If you’re like me, this scenario has played out many times during your professional career. For some of you, it plays out almost every week. It’s almost become the new norm – we expect our days and weeks to go like this. I see it in most credit unions and with most leaders. The number one complaint is always, “I don’t have time” or “I’ve got too many meetings” or “I’m pulled in too many directions”.
The naive optimist in you sees being busy like this as job security; the realistic pessimist sees it as putting your job at risk because production isn’t being realized. Which is it? Maybe a little of both but, at the end of the day, the lack of production is the greater issue and the one that should be improved. Your long-term career success and personal gratification depend on it.
Following are some tips for managing your time throughout the week so you can get more done. You don’t have to do each of these to their fullest extent; however, you should attempt to do each of them to some extent. A 10% improvement in each of the ten areas will result in a huge savings over a week’s time.
- You may have heard of the “Priority Matrix”. It is a concept that encourages everyone to weigh the importance versus urgency of tasks. Often, we think of these words as synonymous but they’re not. The actual task management concept directs each task into one of four quadrants on a graph, depending on how important and urgent it is. The idea is that the tasks you should focus on first are in the upper-right quadrant while tasks at the bottom of your to-do list are in the lower left quadrant. You don’t have to use a graph; the “Tasks” feature in Outlook can be equally effective. You simply need to determine your important and urgent items and give them top priority. Something may be important but it’s not urgent so it shouldn’t necessarily be at the top of your list. Meanwhile, something that’s important and urgent (assuming it’s truly urgent!) should get top priority. Too many leaders place high levels of urgency on items that aren’t important to anyone else but them. This week, compile your to-do list but add designations for “Important” and “Urgent” and rate them on each. Then, the ones with the highest scores get the most time and effort.
- In addition to a “To-Do” list, be sure to keep your commitments on a calendar. It’s easy to book meetings on a calendar but also block-out specific time for the tasks that you need to accomplish. Take a moment on Monday morning and dedicate realistic blocks of time throughout the week for each specific task. And when these times arrive on your calendar, honor them like you do a meeting – if you say you’re going to spend 9AM-10AM on Tuesday to work on a particular project, then do it, just like you’d do a meeting with your boss at that time. Try this for the next six weeks and review at the end of each week how successful you were at keeping your dedicated times.
- Cut your meeting time in half. That’s right, in half! Many people schedule 60 minute meetings because the calendar software they use pre-fills in 60 minute intervals. Do all of your meetings really require 60 minutes? Try this exercise for one week: cut each meeting time in half and see if you can still accomplish everything necessary in your meetings. Then, try the same trick with your operational duties. Can you do a task that previously required 90 minutes in 45 minutes without sacrificing high quality and service levels? Efforts in these ways may get you laser-focused on the task at hand and force you to bear down and get the same amount of work done in less time.
- Most of us are still going to need to attend meetings. However, can those meetings be conducted by phone, webconference, or video-conference instead of face-to-face? A lot of time is wasted simply moving from meeting to meeting. Plus the act of walking from one end of the building to another for a meeting opens the distinct possibility of you getting stopped in the hall for a harmless, yet time-sucking conversation or, worse, dragged into a different meeting. While I wouldn’t dare suggest you become antisocial or chain yourself to your desk, there are definite times for “splendid isolation” as Warren Zevon used to sing. Modern technology allows many meetings to be conducted just as effectively sitting around a virtual table as they can be while sitting around a physical one. Try to participate in 25% of your meeting this week via virtual means.
- Establish a new meeting protocol incorporating the following ideas:
- Someone needs to “own” each meeting. If it’s a regular meeting with the same team, rotate the ownership to keep everyone engaged and fresh. But one person needs to be responsible for the management of each meeting.
- That owner of the meeting must provide an agenda to all attendees at least 24 hours prior to the meeting. There should be a clearly defined process for people submitting agenda items beforehand. No one is allowed to come to the meeting with any additional agenda items.
- Speaking of the agenda, all items must be prioritized. That is, the majority of your time must be spent on the most critical and time-sensitive issues. Use a matrix for your meeting time similar to the one noted above for your personal time. If it’s not critical or time-sensitive, it doesn’t get discussed in the meeting.
- What do you want participants to prepare for the meeting? Send them pre-reading; ask them to bring specific reports; require them to give fore-thought on specific issues so they can come prepared to discuss. And do these with as much advanced notice as possible. Your meeting discussions will be far more fruitful.
- Start on time, end on time; keep the meetings fast-paced – it’s amazing how people pay greater attention and retain more information when conversations move quicker. This is particularly true with brainstorming sessions – bigger, greater ideas seem to get generated when the adrenaline is pumping.
- Stick to business – there’s a time and place for personal, social discussions. They can occur before or after the meetings but not during. No tangents during the meeting, simple as that.
- Conclude with a concise summary of the key issues, specific action steps, and assign deadlines for the completion of those steps. Make sure everyone knows who will do what by when.
- The sign of a successful meeting is what happens as a result of the meeting. So, complete a circle by beginning next week’s meeting with a status report of the action items from last week. What wins did we have? What issues can we put to rest?
- Tell your boss and co-workers that you will be implementing these meeting requirements for the next month. Then, debrief with them to see if the efficiency of your meetings improved. If so, implement them as the new expectations for all future meetings at your credit union.
- Consider blocking off one day a week to not participate in meetings … that’s right, NOT participate in meetings! I know one organization that has a “No meeting Fridays” policy. How does that sound? The entire organization agrees to not schedule any meetings on Fridays – from the CEO down to department managers. This approach allows managers to dedicate their time on Fridays to catching up on other duties, including those critical items on your to-do list that were added that week but you didn’t have a chance to get to. Try this for the next three weeks and see if it helps you manage your time better.
- Many leaders brag about having an “open door” policy. That is, there door is always open to staff to come in for help. While good intentioned, this policy has an unintended consequence of being an efficiency-killer. Execs and managers who never close their door for uninterrupted time are usually ones complaining about not being able to get work completed. A closed door is not a bad thing so try this next week: take one hour every day and close your door. It should remain closed for one full hour and should only be opened if the building is on fire. If you don’t have a door or others won’t leave you alone, find a quiet place where you can close the door – a conference room, back office, or training room work well. See how much you can get accomplished if you are heads-down busy on your to-do list for one solid hour.
- Many executives like to be in control and, in fact, feel that total control is required to be a successful leader. As a result, the very thought of delegating tasks to others is likely to induce a bout of severe anxiety. The truth of the matter is that the best leaders realize they can’t do everything and, rather than not getting things done on time or at standard, the best leaders get their staff involved in completing their tasks. (Surprisingly, staff frequently tell me that delegating makes them feel valued and their skills get utilized.) It’s not a sign of weakness to delegate; it is sign of strength to develop and trust your staff to the point where they can assume some of your tasks. Remember, you’re not abdicating the duties, you’re delegating the duties. You’ll still need to check-in on their progress but you are expecting them to carry the load. This week try delegating 10% of the items on your task list.
- Similar to delegating, learning to say “No” is foreign to may leaders. They think they have to say Yes to ever request, even if the task is not their responsibility or they’re not the best person to do the job. If someone tries to draw you into a project or meeting, challenge them to find someone else or do it themselves. There’s a polite way to refuse, of course, so be tactful but don’t let something else get added to your task list if it doesn’t truly have to be. For the next two weeks, take a hard look at your tasks, especially new tasks and ask if you absolutely, positively have to be included. The solution may be to be included as an overseer but not a doer. But be ready and willing to say no to additional task you don’t need to do.
- If I had a dollar for every time I heard a leader brag about their ability to multi-task, I’d be able to pay for my son’s college tuition out of pocket. Multitaskers always say they get more accomplished but realistically what they accomplish is often poor quality and takes longer to complete. They’d get each individual task accomplished faster and better if they just focused on one task at a time. Most people’s minds work better when they are truly able to focus and concentrate on one thing at a time. Here’s a concept for this week: stop multitasking!!! If you’re working on a task and something else comes up, finish that initial task completely before addressing the second one. If the second task can’t wait, set the first one aside and thoroughly complete the second one before going back to the first. Don’t attempt to do both simultaneously.
If you need help getting time ON your side or if your team would like to be better at managing time and getting more work accomplished, my firm would be happy to help. Learn more at www.fi-strategies.com or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 636-578-3280.