One of the biggest challenges managers face is making the best use of time. There never seems to be enough time to check everything off the to-do list. So on any given day, what should be tackled first: Supporting the work of your team? Getting your own work done? And will you ever find the time to take a step back from the day-to-day and strategize for the future?
To some extent, finding the right balance between supporting your team, doing your own work and strategizing for the future depends on the skill level of your team, where you are in the organization and where the needs are. But regardless of your circumstance, it’s important to get time management right. If your team gets the sense that you’re having trouble keeping up with your responsibilities, they may lose confidence in your ability to lead. Plus, it’ll be more difficult to manage your stress, and that will radiate to the people around you.
In my experience as a manager and leader, I’ve found that I’m better able to set priorities, stick to them and feel confident about how I’ve chosen to spend my time when I focus on four things:
If I can get four other people activated by the time I start my own work, we’ll have five work streams moving simultaneously in the right direction, making the most of everyone’s time.
PRIORITIZE TASKS THAT WILL KEEP OTHERS MOVING FORWARD
It drives me crazy when things aren’t efficient, so nine times out of 10, I’ll start my workday by answering emails from — or providing guidance to — my team. If I can get four other people activated by the time I start my own work, we’ll have five work streams moving simultaneously in the right direction, making the most of everyone’s time.
WHEN IT’S TIME FOR HEADS-DOWN WORK, DISCONNECT
When I’ve got to concentrate on my own work product, I might turn off my email notifications for an entire morning or afternoon. (I often attend four-hour meetings, and the world doesn’t blow up. Why can’t I turn off my email for that same amount of time?) I mute my cellphone. Sometimes I let people around me know that I’d rather not be interrupted.
BE JUDICIOUS ABOUT SCHEDULING
No matter what type of tasks I’m working on, I block time on my calendar only for the things that are really important. If I mapped out my entire day in 30-minute increments and blocked it all out, I’d never be able to live by it. I try hard to leave time open to address the unexpected issues that inevitably pop up during the course of the day.
MAKE VISION-SETTING A TEAM SPORT
When you can make time to strategize for the future, you might get more accomplished in less time by inviting your team to participate. Sometimes leaders think they have to go into a back room by themselves or huddle in a coffee shop and come out with a grand idea, but I’ve found it’s more productive and more fun to imagine the what ifs with your team. You get better and more diverse ideas.
And because they helped shape your vision for the future, your team is more likely to own it and work toward it. It also helps to be realistic about vision setting: A vision is rarely fully baked at the outset. You’ll need more than a three-hour block of time to establish a complete vision even if you’ve solicited the input of your team, and that’s okay.
Of course, one of the best time management tips for managers is to right-size your workload. Resist the temptation to take on more than you can handle or to spend time on activities that aren’t connected to your company’s strategy. When you learn how to say no, you can yes to the things that matter most.