In the last several posts, I have talked about the foundational pieces that a leader must have in place to be effective. Those dealt with knowing yourself and what your mission and vision are for your organization. Together, those make up Step 1 in the 7 Steps to Building a High Performance Team (Want a sneak peek at the 7 Steps? Sign up for our newsletter!). This week and next I’m introducing Step 2, which is Getting Organized. To be successful as a leader and manager, you have to get yourself organized and focus your efforts on high ROI activities. Otherwise, a tyrant will rule your life, and not just at work.
Who or What Manages Your Life
When I ask leaders how they manage their priorities and time, I often hear that they make a list of everything they have to do that day. Often though, they’ll add that they don’t get everything done. They will try to focus on the most critical action item, but then they get caught up in answering urgent emails and impromptu calls and meetings. They feel like they are fighting one fire after another.
Another issue that occurs, especially with managers who are new to their role, is that they don’t leave all of their old job behind, at least not at first. They are still doing a portion of their previous role because there is always a lag in backfilling positions. Add to that the fact that they may be taking over a group that has problems or may be short-staffed. It’s no wonder that so managers fail within the first two years in their role.
The Case of the Overloaded Manager
When you add all of the above up, you have an overloaded manager. If that’s the case, the manager is wasting their time and a lot of the time and energy of their team. The manager’s lack of organization flows right down to the next level.
How do you get out of this trap?
Get a Grip on How You Spend Your Time
A good first step to getting organized and managing your time effectively is to see what is managing you now. I would recommend keeping track, in detail, of how you spend your time over the course of a week. I’m talking about a very detailed record: how much time (be specific, down to the minute!) you spend making phone calls, emails, in meetings, and on different types of work and projects. You should include the type of activity, and the subject of the activity. For example, you might have a meeting regarding a customer escalation. I would recommend using Excel to capture your information. Everyone needs balance in their life, so I would also recommend keeping track of how you spend your personal time too.
Urgent versus Important
Once you have done the tedious work of tracking your time for a week, add three columns to the right with these titles, Urgent/Not Urgent, Important/Not Important and Life Sector. You are going to assign urgent or not urgent, and important or not important, to every task and also what part of your life it is in, i.e. work, dinner with family, etc.
First, we should define important and urgent. Important are those tasks that are key for the organization or the department. They should help fulfill your mission and propel you toward your vision. Urgent would be tasks that must be addressed immediately. Then, do a pivot table to summarize the information.
Next, create a grid of four boxes with urgent/non-urgent on one axis and important/not important on the other. Put your activities and the number of minutes for each activity into the four boxes. Now, write the description below into the appropriate square. Here are the four descriptions:
- Reactive – urgent and important.
- Proactive – not urgent but important.
- Deceptive – urgent but not important.
- Irresponsible – not urgent and not important
The Tyranny of the Urgent
This is where the tyrant comes in. An unending stream of ‘urgent’ issues can easily rule our lives. ‘The Tyranny of the Urgent’ phrase was coined by Charles E. Hummel in 1967 to describe the all-consuming control that urgent issues can have over us. Do urgent issues rule your life? When most managers do this, the vast majority of their tasks and time are in the urgent half of the grid. Those are often evenly split between important and not important.
How to Take Back Control
Being aware of how you are using your time is a great start. Your goal though is to shift your time and energy into the proactive section of the grid – important but not urgent. You can start by implementing a time management system that actually focuses your efforts on high ROI tasks that are proactive. What are high ROI tasks? You have heard of the 80:20 rule? It is a rule of thumb that says 80% of the your results are delivered by just 20% of the your effort. You will use the 80:20 rule to figure out what your high ROI activities are that will deliver the results you need to accomplish your monthly goals.
Here is what I would recommend you do:
- Buy a time management system like a Day Planner or a Day Runner or a good time management app for your smart phone. It should have a section or the ability to list your mission, vision and yearly goals, your monthly objectives that will drive your yearly goals and a daily page that has a task list, a schedule for the day and a notes section.
- Add in your vision and mission statements. They will be your guiding lights.
- Determine what your goals are for the next 6 or 12 months that will take you toward your vision.
- Go to the monthly objectives section and write your objectives for this next month. They should be aligned to your 6 or 12 month goals.
- On Monday morning or late Friday afternoon, identify your high ROI tasks (the 80:20 tasks) that are going to deliver your objectives for the week that are going to deliver your objectives for the month.
- Block time out on your Outlook or Google calendar in the upcoming week to work on those high ROI tasks. Remember the payoff. Those will be tasks that fit into the proactive portion of the grid where you plan ahead so that you are successful. Remember, every minute of planning saves you 10 minutes of additional work.
- Block time to do email instead of reacting to it when it arrives in your inbox. Maybe you schedule time to do that when you first get in the office but after you have planned your day. You can check it again midday and at the end of the day. When you looked at how you used your time, you probably found that very few emails are truly important and also urgent. If something is that urgent, whoever sent it should probably call or text you anyway. The same applies to returning calls. Schedule those in your calendar!
- Regarding your personal life, if you are like managers I know, you probably aren’t spending as much time on your personal life as you would like. Block time out for that too.
- You should make people aware of how you are managing your time differently. They will need to make adjustments to how they engage with you.
- Finally, review those activities that you called ‘not important’. Which of these could be discontinued? You should verify with anyone who will be impacted, but it’s surprising how much work is done just because it’s always been done. For those tasks that aren’t important in your role, find the rightful owner and transition those out. Finally, you may be doing a lot of work that could be done by administrative staff. See if you can afford to hire administrative help. What is your time worth versus how much would you be paying someone to help you with those activities?
If you take all of these steps, you will take control back from the tyrant and have the time to be a more effective leader for your team.
Next week, we will talk about organizing your team.
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