Creating (Flexible) Time
The time of good leaders is highly in demand. These leaders could spend 24 hours a day at work if they had the time to give, but that is bad for your health, bad for your family, and ultimately bad for the business. Good leaders need to learn how to draw boundaries and keep their time under control.
One of the best ways to do this is to pay close attention to the art of time management. Most leaders know about blocking time for meetings and for working on projects, they know how to create and manage a to do list, and they know how to delegate. Why, then, do so many of them feel tired and over-extended all the time when they know time management basics?
One of their biggest challenges is that even as senior leaders they don’t completely control the flow of their work. New things constantly come across their desks:
Leaders struggle to allocate time to these very important endeavors in part because they already have very full calendars. They plan their days, weeks, and months, and lay out expectations for their teams and what should be accomplished. What they have NOT done is provide for FLEXIBLE time.
One technique to help do this is to create a mental construct of where you should be spending your time. This means thinking about your time from the “top down” and not the “bottom up”. A good start to being able to accomplish this is to determine what “buckets” you expect to spend your time in over the course of a year. Examples of this might be as follows:
These broad categories help leaders understand where they should be allocating their time, and once established can help with prioritizing how they spend time each day and over the course of a week, month, or quarter.
The problem is that one of the major categories they need to account for is missing! It would not be unusual to have a senior leader spend 25 – 50% of their time on special projects or unexpected critical needs throughout the year. This means that they need to plan their time commitments to allow for that flexibility. So, what happens to your “time buckets” when you do this?
As you can see in the chart below, one of two things happens – you end up working 120% of the time, or you shrink the other areas to accommodate the need for flexible time:
When this idea is first introduced to leaders, many resist it. They are used to “packing their schedules” to get every little thing done. But once you begin to think about this technique, it makes a lot of sense. It motivates you to plan carefully to delegate more, reduce the number of meetings you allow on your calendar, and hopefully be more receptive to the things YOUR supervisor needs from you!
So, start thinking about this and answer the following questions:
Once you have answered these questions, figure out how much “flexible time” you need, and work on a plan to make it available. Then get it on your calendar. Figure out what you can stop doing, delegate to others, or do differently. This will allow you to “create” time that you can allocate to projects and special needs. It will allow you to accomplish more and better meet the expectations of your supervisor. This is hard work, but it is something you will be glad you did!
Susan Rucker is a seasoned executive with over thirty years of progressively responsible positions managing high performance teams and growing businesses. Her current focus is helping businesses and people navigate the rapidly changing business environment we all face today.
Whether with an electronic click or turning a page, I always get a burst of energy as I move the calendar to a new year. Like many of us, I always seem to make the traditional personal New Year’s resolutions – get in better shape, tackle a home project, and spend more time with family and friends. According to a Global Consumer Survey conducted by Statista popular 2022 resolutions also included “spending less time on social media” and “reducing stress at work.”
January is also a good time to make New Year’s resolutions as a leader and to work with your employees to plan a productive and prosperous 2023. My top leadership New Year’s resolutions: Updating Organizational and Individual Goals, Recommitting to Employee Wellness, and Creating Personal Development Plans.
Your Organization’s 2023 Goals
Whether you lead a small or large group, it’s important for everyone to know what the focus and direction of the organization are for 2023. Do the goals need to be updated? How are your employees helping shape those goals? Does everyone know and understand the goals? Are individual employee goals tied back to the organization’s goals?
You may be mid-way through a fiscal year, or your performance plans may be aligned to the calendar year. In either case, January is a good time to check in with employees on their current goals and projects. Go beyond a quick “how is everything” and have a deeper discussion about how their time is spent, what roadblocks they may be encountering, and what resources they need to be successful. This is also a good time to make adjustments if needed.
Recommit to Employee Well-Being
In this time of both the employee “great resignation” and the “great reshuffle,” it’s more important than ever to focus on your retention efforts, which should include employee well-being. When was the last time you did an employee satisfaction survey? Do you have a process for regular employee feedback? If employees do leave, do you have a thorough exit interview to detect any systemic problems?
Regular Check-Ins and Strong Communications
The new year is a good time to take a hard look at your meeting schedule. Do you have too many? Do you have enough? Regular meetings with your direct reports (both virtual and in-person) are critical to both smooth operations and employee satisfaction. In my role as a CEO, I had brief weekly check-ins with all of my direct reports and scheduled monthly longer in-person updates.
It’s also a good idea to take an inventory of your communications methods and channels. Employees who feel like they are “in the know” are more invested. Make certain you have regularly scheduled updates on big projects, new policies, and individual and organizational wins. These updates should be delivered using a variety of methods – in person, virtual, electronic, and even old-fashioned printed newsletters and notices, especially if you have employees working in the field who may not have access to a computer and email.
If your company offers health insurance and other benefits, consider a January lunch and learn with HR to review the benefits offered, including those for dependents and mental health resources. Many deductibles reset in January, so it’s a good time for everyone to reassess their benefits.
Most of us take some time off during the holidays, so January feels like the wrong time to be thinking about our next vacation! But with the holiday decorations and gatherings over, January and February can be cold and dreary. Why not get folks looking ahead to vacation plans during spring break with their children, summer beach trips or fall getaways? It’s a way to get a sense of when people will be asking for time off and gives everyone something to look forward to.
Create Development Goals
I’m a firm believer that every employee (including the c-suite leaders) should have annual development goals. They don’t have to be elaborate; they can be as simple as a commitment to cross-training with another employee, attending a few training sessions or completing the renewal requirements for a professional credential.
The pandemic expanded the way we gather and learn. Virtual meetings and training have changed the way we do business and allow us to have greater accessibility to many types of professional development. However, this past year I’ve seen a renewed enthusiasm for in-person training and conferences. Strive to find a balance that works for employee schedules and your organization’s budget.
Whatever your professional and leadership New Year’s Resolutions are for 2023, be certain to write them down, share them, and hold yourself accountable with monthly check-ins. If you’d like to talk more about your 2023 goal setting, contact me at email@example.com. Happy New Year!
As a journalist, Public Relations professional, college professor and CEO, Paula Otto has held senior leadership roles for 25 years. Paula was part of the leadership team that created the Virginia Lottery and served as its executive director from 2008-2018. Paula recently returned to VCU as the Senior Director of Special Projects for the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs and adjunct faculty member in the Robertson School. Paula is also a regular instructor for the Virginia Executive Institute.
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