How a time management audit can help leaders bring order to their schedules
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to time management, but leaders can take vital steps by considering their duties, assumptions and preferences.
I've been working with managers since before the invention of email, so I can tell you that the struggle with time management is an evergreen leadership challenge.
The more responsibility and duties you have, the more internal and external stakeholders you need to serve. You inevitably have tasks that can overwhelm your time if you aren’t careful and strategic.
In the digital age, the stakes are even higher. Technology has made it possible for leaders to be always on — in touch anytime, anywhere. For some people, that’s irresistible. For others, it’s untenable.
I don’t believe in one-size-fits-all approaches to time management. Too many variables are involved in a person’s professional and personal story for there to be a magic answer. What I can say is that prioritization, planning and self-awareness make a big difference.
I’ve developed an approach for managers that I call a “DAP audit,” with DAP standing for duties, assumptions and preferences. Each category includes considerations that, taken together, pave the way to efficient time management.
- What are the responsibilities and decisions that only you should handle, and why? How much of your time do you spend focusing on those?
- What tasks do your supervisors expect you to do? Are these a wise use of your time? If not, can you revisit them with your bosses? This is an opportunity to look for outdated systems and processes, possibly including paperwork and standing meetings.
- Do any problems in your organization or on your team take up more of your time than they should? Addressing the root causes of problems as opposed to the recurring symptoms can free up your time.
- What are the most important deadlines you face in your role? Do you plan your work around those, or do you let them sneak up on you?
- How do you view your obligations as a leader? To be the first one in the door, and the last to leave? To show up even if you’re under the weather? To always be accessible to all who want your attention? To say “yes” to extra duties, no matter how busy you are?
Each of those is worth examining for the positive and negative impact on your effectiveness, much less your time management. While you’re trying to demonstrate a superstar work ethic, you may be dropping the ball on projects and people — including your friends and family. You may have set the bar much higher than anyone else expects of you.
- How do you feel about delegation? Does it frighten you? Do you keep doing parts of your old job because you’re good at them and don’t want to give them up? Do you hesitate to delegate things you don’t care for because you assume no one else would want to do them either?
- Have you worked with your team to set thresholds for decision-making? What should only you decide, and what should your team members decide? What should they consult you about so you can decide together? What levels of expense, risk or impact on other departments trigger those thresholds?
- How does your personality type affect your approach to time management? If you’re a “planner,” your lists and calendars are the joy of your existence and keep you on task. If you’re a “plunger,” your love of serendipity and your desire not to close off ideas or projects too early may get in the way of your time management. Many “plungers” have told me that even if they don’t revel in lists and deadlines, they’ve learned to incorporate them while still keeping their options open.
- How do you feel about technology as it applies to time management? Are you comfortable with using shared online calendars, setting notifications to remind you of appointments, and using apps to communicate and stay focused and organized? Do you resist trying new things?
- Do you have a hard time saying “no” to anyone who knocks on your door and asks, “Got a minute?” We all want to be approachable, so here’s my advice for those times when you need to stay focused and the conversation can wait. Say, “Yes, I have a minute, but I bet you deserve more than that. So how about this afternoon when I can give you my full attention?”
Time management considerations for your team
Remember that your team members look to you for cues and clues. If you live in your office, they’ll assume you expect them to do likewise, even if you’ve never said so explicitly. If you run late for meetings, you make it easier for others to do the same. If you send an email in the middle of the night because you had an idea and didn’t want to forget it, your staff may think they’re expected to be responsive 24/7.
On a broader scale, be vigilant about workflow. Are there bottlenecks and obstacles you can clear out for your team? Old practices you can streamline, automate or cease?
Finally, I’d like to share something a beloved colleague of mine often said: “Scheduled time drives out unscheduled time.”
If I say, “Let’s get together some time to talk about reviewing our employee onboarding,” chances are it will be eclipsed by other events. But if I say, “Let’s talk Tuesday at 3,” we have a commitment. If it’s important, schedule it.