Thinking about time amazes me, memories of growing up seem so long ago but that is probably my age! Sometimes we wish time would go more quickly, other times we want to savour special moments. But time can also be frightening when you know you can’t get it back. This is why time is often called the most precious gift. So what we do with our time is important, in the context of the workplace and leadership, time management is a skill that needs practise.
“The key is in not spending time, but in investing it.”
Stephen R. Covey
This is relevant to all of us, are we investing our time in something of value?
I recommend watching this talk by Andy Walker called Optimize for Time. He gives advice on how to use time in a way that enables teams to improve. I enjoyed it and it made me think about how we spend our time as leaders.
Are the majority of your days full of noise and distractions? To a degree it’s part of the job but we should still be asking the question – are we investing our time wisely?
Each day, the simple and first thing to do is evaluate what’s in front of you, what you know. It’s impossible to get everything done so evaluating where you can have the most impact is important.
Here are two methods to help evaluate:
The Eisenhower matrix is a way to create a clearer picture of your priorities and where you can be most impactful. It was designed by Dwight D. Eisenhower (before becoming president of the USA) to help decide on and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance. It’s a time management strategy aimed at reducing stress and increasing productivity.
The aim is to sort tasks by Urgency and Importance with 4 quadrants that each have their own strategies. From this you have a clear action for the items in each section:
Urgent / Important – Do first. Get these out of the way to allow time to focus on everything else.
Important / Less urgent – Schedule. Sooner or later depending on the importance.
Less important / Urgent – Delegate. Decide the most suitable person for the task and what your expectations are to stay updated.
Less important / Less urgent – Don’t do (distractions).
As a leader, the team priorities or emergencies are typically where you can be most impactful. The urgent/important items are usually obvious so get the clarity you need on the situation to be able to resolve it or delegate to keep the investigation moving.
You may not need to fill out a matrix each day but at least in your head know how to identify where different items fit. Even time-box certain work, particularly if you don’t know enough about something yet. Give yourself a set period of time (5-20 mins) to learn more and then go back and reassess the priority.
I tend to use post-its or slack /remind for what is urgent & important, plus anything I need to get done that day. Then I use Evernote for anything less urgent, allowing me to add notes.
Another way to evaluate where to invest your time is the way of a medical emergency department. This talk, that explains this method, puts the popular phrase ‘crazy busy’ into perspective.
This method triages by degree of emergency:
Red – Urgent. Needs to be dealt with.
Yellow – Serious but not life threatening. Schedule or delegate.
Green – Not urgent. Decide if it’s something that should be done at a later date or ignored.
Black – What can you let go of? These could be important items but when compared against everything else, as hard as it might be, maybe it’s time to let go.
Part of the skill is determining what is urgent, something noisy may not be as urgent as something quiet. It takes a level head to triage items, keeping emotions in check for each decision.
Both methods are slightly different ways to approach the same problem of where to invest your time. With either of these methods there are certain skills that must be used…
Delegation – know what and how to delegate is a vital skill. This will allow you to work on other impactful areas and give opportunities for people in the team to gain experience. There are plenty of resources online to help improve your delegation skills. One thing though, if the reason you’re delegating a task isn’t obvious to the person something is wrong, explain why and what you are delegating. Set the person up for success, not failure.
Working with peers – having a first team mindset, can be very impactful if the time is used well. Working with peers is important for discussions and making decisions for the success of teams and the company. As this is an important investment of time, I will schedule a recurring event with my peers if it’s not already in the calendar.
Saying “no” is ok – to be most impactful, saying “no” is an essential skill. Saying “No, I don’t have time” is not a good reason, you have time but you are choosing to spend it on something else. When used wisely, saying “no” is powerful in that it helps check your own priorities and can help others understand why something is more important.
Once you’re done with your evaluation you can be confident that you are investing your time in the right way. This can, and probably will, change during the day with new ‘emergencies’ arising that you should triage in the same way.
Having confidence that you’re wisely spending your own time you can then help others – helping others be wise with their time is time spent wisely! Not only is this beneficial for the business but will also help you to focus on areas of importance knowing others are too.
It’s not always easy to discover how wisely someone else is spending their time. It could be developers, leads, or managers that need guidance which is where conversations and observation plays a part. Even once you identify a need for someone, how you approach and work with them will be different depending on their role and openness. The positives far out weigh the negatives here so it is worth putting in the effort to help.
It’s every leader’s responsibility to invest their time wisely, that could be getting tasks completed or working with others. Having a clear picture of your priorities helps to reduce stress and avoid burnout. Imagine how efficient a team or even organisation would be if everyone spent their time wisely!