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.