In theory, we spend around 8 hours a day at work, 40 hours a week, 160 hours a month. In reality, I know that most of my clients spend more time at work than that. And still, I hear there is no time for planning, reflection or strategic thinking. A common question I work on with my clients around time management is – How can I manage mine and my team’s time so that you have moments for those important activities?
In my blog this month, I would like to share a few reflective tips and questions that can support you in making changes to your time management approach. Please hold those questions with curiosity and reflect before you answer.
1. Questions to consider
Start with cleaning up your calendar. Most organisations struggle with too many meetings. I have clients who literally have calendars full of meetings and no space for breaks or any deep work. Let’s start by auditing your calendar and consider the following questions:
- What are you and your team’s goals for the year ahead?
- Do all of the meetings and activities in your calendar support those goals?
- Whose priorities are driving your calendar?
- Do you need to be present in all those meetings?
- Do you lead or actively contribute to them?
- Is spending 1 hour on the topic necessary, or is 30 mins enough?
- Do you need some of those meetings at all (maybe an email or a call would be enough)?
By cutting back and delegating some of these meetings, you might start to find some time.
2. Know your needs, strengths and weaknesses
There is no ideal recipe for how your calendar should work, as we are all different individuals with different responsibilities, talents and needs. By first taking time to reflect and understand how you work best, you can start to implement effective time management, consider:
- How would you like your ideal working day to look?
- What is your most productive time of the day for deep/ focused work? Once you identify this, try to block time out in your calendar for this kind of work. If you are more productive in the morning, block this time out for deep work, then perhaps use your afternoons to connect with others to re-energise.
- In terms of weaknesses, are you aware of any traps that you can fall into? For example, working on perfecting a presentation or email that doesn’t need to be perfect?
3. Saving up your mental energy by grouping similar activities together
Switching between different types of activities costs our brain more energy than following the same type of task. Thinking about those gaps between meetings when you just can’t get anything done. Maybe you have a ‘to-do list’ full of various activities, and when you are tired, you will either do the easiest thing or go for a break as it is too much to choose. If possible, try to group meetings together, so you have a longer gap before or afterwards to do the work and feel that you can actually do something in this time. If your day is just full of meetings and awkward 15 to 30-minute breaks, make a decision upfront about which short activities can be done in those gaps and then follow through.
4. Recognising time stealers and setting up boundaries
This point is especially for people who have tendencies to say ’yes’, who love being involved in many projects or who think that saying ‘no’ to a colleague means you are not collaborative. Before you agree to collaborate with someone, give them half an hour of your time now, and ask yourself: Is this activity aligned with my values and goals? How much do I know upfront about what is needed from me? For example: do they need to consult something with me and use my expertise right now, or do they want me to write a report or a paper about it afterwards? How much time am I willing to spend on this meeting or project?
Once you know, that set your boundaries: ‘Yes, I would be happy to support you; however, I can commit only to a 30-minute discussion, would that work for you?’
Another example I have observed with my clients is when there may be a colleague or a team member who comes to you for support regularly, it might be because they are not confident in making decisions themselves, or maybe they don’t have enough experience. There is a pattern of behaviour, and certain dependency has been established. You might even be doing some things for them because it’s quicker. Questions to ask yourself:
- How is it going to work long-term?
- Is that support serving your colleague long-term? How can you develop them instead of doing things for them?
- How gradually can you empower them to do the task by themselves? (It will take some time initially, but you will need to spend less time with them in the long run.)
5. Tackling distractions and protecting our attention
I’m sure you had those moments when you are working on a report or presentation and something interrupts you – a notification, an email, a quick message on Slack. According to a University of California Irvine study, “It takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.” It shocked me when I read about this for the first time. So how can you turn off notifications, slack, emails etc? Let your key team members or people you expect may be contacting you know that you are working on a specific task and you will be available in an hour.
6. Building a habit to enable your team members to plan, reflect and strategise.
I hear so often from my clients that their direct reports struggle with time management and can’t think strategically. When they are in a reactive/task-oriented mode, it is very difficult to plan, reflect and strategise. These are different skills, and they need practice to build those muscles. Therefore, be a role model for them. Set a time at the end of the day or the end of the week to reflect and plan. Consider some of the questions below:
- What went well?
- What lessons can I take from this week?
- What are my and my team’s long-term goals, and am I getting closer to them?
- What are my priorities for tomorrow or next week?
- Do I have enough time to make those priorities a reality – when can I work on them, and do I need to shift anything else to make a space for them?
Encourage your team to do the same or use these questions in your 1:1 sessions so you are creating a culture where planning and reflecting are the norm. Working on introducing new time management techniques and strategies will take time, it is like building a habit. You need more conscious effort at the beginning, but with time you will notice the difference and will be able to feel more productive and in control. If you need more support on this topic, please reach out, schedule a free discovery session and let’s talk.