The challenges that managers face with respect to time management, and some proven ideas to help make the most of your time.
We’re all familiar with the scenario – you have so much to do, people to manage, targets to meet, reports to submit – and then, boom! Something unexpected arises and all of a sudden, your time is all spent on resolving whatever it is, and you have even less time to do your actual job. Not only will you be hindering your own progression and chances of possible promotion by working in this way, but you can become a bottleneck for important decisions and end up delaying important actions while you sift through mountains of tasks.
There is a logical way of taking a lot of the burden off, and it’s so easy, you’ll kick yourself that you haven’t done this before! If you’re happy with the way you manage your time, feel free to stop reading. But if, like most of us, you could do with a hand planning your time, or an extra couple of hours in the day – read on!
The problem with being a manager is that much of your working time belongs to other people. As a result, many managers complain that they have very little time to achieve anything themselves – they are too busy solving other people’s problems and not getting their own job done.
Discretionary and non-discretionary time
Most managers have a workload that is a balance between discretionary and non-discretionary time. Discretionary time is that proportion of the working week where you can decide how to allocate your time and attention – or ‘me’ time, if you will.
Non-discretionary time is that proportion of the working week which has to be allocated to specified tasks or activities – management meetings, staff reviews etc.
Another aspect of non-discretionary time is unscheduled events – these I call ‘interruptions’, they eat into the discretionary time element and cannot be predicted, planned or even avoided.
Strategies for time management
The first strategy is based upon delegation or avoidance. This is where the manager allocates responsibilities and authority to subordinates, so that the incidence of interruptions is reduced. By establishing what levels of authority and responsibility individuals have and encouraging them to exercise them, not only do staff become better at their jobs, the frequency of interruptions is also reduced.
Not all interruptions can be avoided, so it is also necessary to define the basis on which issues are raised for management attention, this is referred to as the escalation path. Some time will be needed in order to train people in using their initiative effectively, but in the long run; the benefits far exceed the time spent on this area.
The second strategy is to reduce the time spent on dealing with issues which warrant management attention. This is called ‘meeting management’ and generally needs to be taught.
Much time is wasted in meetings because people come with unstructured information and poorly defined problems. I have found it useful to develop a structure for ‘interruptions’ that contains the following elements:
- What is the issue/problem?
- What is the impact of the problem?
- What options do we have to deal with it?
- What actions do you want me to take?
I have stuck to this structure and sent people away who did not come properly prepared. The message soon got around and I had much more productive meetings as a result.
Discretionary time management
I made a point of dividing my discretionary time between three areas:
- Planning – how to improve performance in my role
- Execution – introducing changes that would improve the performance of my team
- Management – measuring and assessing individual and team performance.
My guiding principle was that my key role as a manager was to get superior results, through the performance of others. To fulfil this objective I had to recognise that:
- I cannot do it all myself
- I must not become a bottleneck for decisions
- If I am always solving problems for others I have no time to achieve performance improvement
- By delegating authority and responsibility I am building a better and stronger team
- Getting the job done is not sufficient – I must continually strive for performance improvement.
Management style and time management
Many managers regard their promotion to that role as a reward for performance and ignore the responsibility of using their skills to improve the performance of others over whom they have authority and responsibility. I believe that a high proportion of discretionary time should be devoted to planning and achieving overall performance improvement – if this approach is successful then your life is made so much easier, and your company gets the benefits of the increased experience and expertise.
Managers who ignore this responsibility quickly find that they become overloaded with problems and issues that absorb their time and inhibit performance improvement. The ways in which these issues are addressed defines the management style of the manager. I my experience those who achieve consistently superior results are those who recognise these challenges and use their abilities to address them.
The questions you, as a line manager should ask yourself are:
- How well do I manage my time?
- How well do I manage the time of my team?
- How much time do I have for pro-active performance improvement?
- How do I get my team to share the load of decision making and problem resolution?
The underlying message is to find ways to use management time more effectively and focus on performance improvement. The more you can train your staff to be able to delegate to them, the more time you will have to work on your own improvement and the improvement of the business.