Hello and welcome back to the Skills 360 podcast. I’m your host, Tim Simmons, and today, I want to talk about managing your time.
When we talk about “management” and “managers,” we’re usually thinking about managing people. And that involves many different skills. But all these skills are useless if the manager can’t manage his or her own self. So good management starts with good self-management. And an essential part of self-management is managing your time effectively, which in turn depends on effective scheduling.
So, as a manager, how do you set a schedule that works? Well, that starts with prioritizing. You can think of tasks on two dimensions: importance and urgency. The first key to good time management is avoiding things that are neither urgent nor important. That includes daily distractions, trivial tasks, and anything minor that simply wastes time. The second key is to minimize things that seem urgent but are not important. A lot of meetings, emails, phone calls, and interruptions fall into this category.
Minimizing these two categories opens up more space for things that are important and urgent. This means important meetings, deadline-driven work, and emergencies. But the truly effective time manager doesn’t spend all her time there. The great manager has ample time for things that are important but not urgent. That includes activities like planning, learning, strategy, research, and relationship-building.
Of course, you can’t achieve the right balance overnight. If you’re overscheduled, you need to adopt practices that will gradually ease the pressure. And that begins with how you schedule your time in the first place. The trick here is resisting the urge to rush or finish things quickly. If you’re sketching out a timeline for a project, work backward from key dates rather than working forward from the present.
As you set timelines, consider taking a slow-on-purpose approach to initiatives that are not urgent. Yes, you want things to be completed. But not everything needs to be done quickly. In fact, some projects or initiatives have better outcomes if they’re done slower, especially those that require relationship-building or a high degree of trust.
In some cultures, people evaluate themselves – and others – according to how busy they are. And a fully stacked schedule is the sign of a hardworking, and supposedly effective, manager. Elon Musk is famous for working 80-hour weeks and breaking his days down into 5-minute chunks. And while some people aspire to this level of fanaticism for work, it’s not a reasonable – or healthy – expectation.
Effective managers don’t have completely stacked schedules. Rather, they have some slack in the system. There is time and space to accommodate urgent problems and opportunities. Some people say that you can’t really grow or innovate if you don’t have slack in your system.
So what happens when you do encounter problems or obstacles? Do urgent matters tend to take up all your time and bump the important but not urgent tasks? Well, learn to adjust timelines when possible. Is that bump in the road on the policy roll-out really urgent? Would flexing the timeline have any truly negative impacts? If not, then consider adjusting.
In fact, flexing timelines can be a solution to that feeling of being overwhelmed and under pressure. If you get to the point where your heart starts racing at the beginning of every day because you don’t know how it’s all going to get done, take a hard look at your timelines. I guarantee there’s something that can be stretched, postponed, or put off indefinitely.
Are you worried what other people will think if you adjust timelines or postpone meetings or work? Well, think about how you feel when your colleague says, “I hope it’s okay if we bump our meeting to next week?” Or “I wonder if we should hold off on this work until we’re less busy?” If you’re like most people, those words are music to your ears.
So remember to prioritize wisely, reducing the unimportant things and opening up more space in your schedule for what’s important but not necessarily urgent. Stretch timelines whenever possible and leave some slack in your system. And adapt and adjust when necessary to ensure a healthy schedule without impacting outcomes. In these ways, you can be an effective manager through effective time management.
That’s all for today. So long. And see you again soon.