Whats You’re Approach to Time Management?

A number of years ago, I met with a friend of mine with the main purpose of asking one question. “How do you do it all?” My friend was (and still is) an excellent leader. At the time he was responsible for about nine different portfolios and carried the bulk of the operational leadership for the organisation he was working in. He had incredible capacity and I wanted to find out the secret to his ability to manage his time so he could maintain effective leadership and deliver on all he was accountable for. The secret he told me, was bound in a single question that he constantly asked himself. That question was:

What can I do today, that will give me more time in six weeks?

Quite often, my friend explained, that meant doing things that were inconvenient and time consuming. In many cases choosing to focus on the long-term time gain was difficult as it often involved some sort of sacrifice in the short-term. By asking himself this every week however, he made sure he was making space for growth, increased capacity and importantly, margin for emergencies, in the future.

In essence my friend was playing the long game. His approach to time management was not about how much he could fit into today, rather his focus was on how could he do more tomorrow. It was all about return on investment. What could he do to invest right now, that would allow him to realise the return of being more effective and efficient in the future. For many, particularly action oriented people like myself who just like to jump into our to-do list and start getting things done, thinking in this way doesn’t always come naturally.

Short-term vs Long-term

At the risk of stepping into social commentary, an observation I will make is the prevalence of short-term thinking across the Western world. With the rise of technology and the speed at which almost everything is at our fingertips for our convenience, many of us have lost the ability to maintain a long-term approach to situations. This can be seen in everything from the grocery, where we now have self-check out so we don’t have to wait in line for someone to scan our items, to people getting frustrated when their internet takes 15 seconds to load despite the fact that just a few years ago a one minute log-on time was considered fast. We even see it in politics, where our politicians seem to focus on the short-term rating implications of unpopular decisions rather than riding out the temporary discomfort of those decisions that are made for the long-term benefit of the country. While evidence of this short-term thinking can be seen across society at a broad level, for many it is just as prevalent in our individuals day-to-day lives.

The Tyranny of Urgent
This phrase has its origins in Stephen Covey’s Urgent vs Important matrix. This approach is often considered one of the simplest yet effective approaches to time management – or what many experts would argue is really ‘priority management’ as you cannot ‘manage’ time but only what you prioritise to do in the time you have. Using the matrix is as simple as listing your tasks and assigning them to a quadrant in the diagram below, based on an assessment of whether they are important or urgent, both or neither. With the prevalence of the short-term mindset, many people find themselves prioritising and tackling the urgent tasks over those tasks that are important. Thus they operate under the tyranny of the urgent. The result is that the important tasks continually get put off and people find themselves busy without being productive.

So Where Should We Invest Our Time?
The answer to where one should spend their time today that will produce more time tomorrow, will be different for everyone according to their individual circumstance. It might be writing a policy document rather than attending a meeting, building a relationship rather than buying a new printer, or working on a marketing plan rather than fine tuning a website. In most cases, it will be the important tasks that result in the future time dividend.

One area that will always pay dividends in the future is the intentional development of our people. The premise is simple. When we as leaders develop those we lead, we build their capacity. When they have more capacity, they can do more at work. They can work more independently, delivering without our supervision, taking the initiative and solving their own problems. Importantly, they can carry more of our workload. When we can delegate more of our to-do-list down to our people and can trust them to deliver, we free up time in our calendar to focus on what is really important – the tasks that only a leader can do.

Here are four things we as leaders can do to develop our people that will produce long-term time gains for us as leaders. By no means are these the only four things that produce these results, but they are a great place to start.

1. One-On-Ones
By setting aside a time to meet with our people one-on-one we are able to focus our attention on them, developing both them and our working relationship with them. Talking about the progress of work projects, what your expectations are in different scenarios, discussing any problems they have that need solving. This is a great opportunity for your team to get to know you. The more time you spend with them, the more they get exposed to you, how you operate, what you expect, what you value and your expertise. When they know what you expect and how you operate, they can work out how to meet those expectation, adopt the approach they know you would prefer and aim for the results you are after. It is also a great opportunity for you to get to know them. You might uncover hidden strengths you could leverage in a different area or a new opportunity/project within the broader organisation.

2. Coaching
When your people come to you with a problem, what do you do? Do you give them the answer and solve their problem for them? Most managers do because this is the quickest way to deal with the problem. This however creates a reliance on you as the problem solver. What happens next time your staff have a problem? They go to the source of their last solution – you. In this way, a leader can spend much of their time fighting fires. When we take the time to ask our people thought provoking questions, we help them discover the solutions themselves. Taking our staff through this coaching process enough times and they begin to learn to self-coach, fostering an innate initiative towards problem solving within themselves. The result is that fewer problems reach you and you spend less time fighting other peoples fires.

3. One-Up Training
I propose a three step process to one-up training. Let them do it with you, let them do it for you, let them do it.
This works particularly well for planning and projects. When you have to start planning a project, select one of your staff to sit down and do the planning with you. Take them through the process that you go through, teach them as you do your work. Once they understand the process you went through, next time a new project comes up, or the planning for the next stage of a current project, get them to do the work. Once they are done, get them to present their work to you. You then have the opportunity to debrief them on their work. Quite often, they will have done the bulk of your work for you. You may need to make some adjustments but if you have taught them well enough in the first stage, these adjustments should only be minor. Once you have gone through this stage several times and you are confident in their ability to carry out the task, fully delegate the task to them next time it arises. While it may take time to train them in this way, when they can work at your level and do your tasks, it allows you to operate at a higher level, focusing on what is most important for your organisation.

4. Decision-making Inclusion
If you have a decision that needs to be made, why not take the time to bring one of your team into the office and consult them on what they would do. Simply ask, what would decision would you make in my situation? This not only gives you the opportunity to encourage them to think of broader organisational considerations that they may not naturally consider and develop their strategic decision-making ability, it also allows you to gain a different perspective on the issue and potentially more data to inform your decision-making. This process may lengthen the decision-making process in the short-term, but the benefits of having a team that is capable to making strategic decisions will be realised in the long-term.

To fully comprehend the return on investment for each of these approaches, again we must look to the long-term. Yes, in time we as leaders will reap the reward of more time as the capacity of our people is developed. However looking further into the future, the rewards are far greater. By taking the time to invest in our team, we are role-modelling how to develop others. In time, they will have learnt how to develop others themselves and in turn will reap the same rewards we do. This is what I call exponential leadership – where our leadership produces more effective leaders who produce even more effective leaders. The result is organic leadership development, talent management and succession planning. All of which strengthen the organisation and ensure it continues to grow over time.

While delayed gratification may be an old fashioned term, the benefits of taking a long-term approach to daily time management and leadership compound over time. Being willing to make a sacrifice in the short-term to realise the exponential benefits in the long-term is, in my opinion definitely worth it. This is particularly true when we take the time to develop our people. When we lead in a way that develops people over time, they become more effective at their work, more satisfied in their role and are more inclined to put in extra effort for you as their leader. I know thats what I want from my team.

So all that being said,

What can you do today, that will give you more time in six weeks?

I’d love to know what this looks like for you. Please share your response to this question in the comments.