Taking control of time

Posted by Dave on September 26, 2013  /   Posted in Work Smarter


Time management experts have been saying for decades that we should be finding more ways of packing things into our days, but what do you discover….you’re spread too thinly and no-one or no-thing  gets the “best” of you. The full attention that the task or person requires is diluted down to a random portion of inappropriately planned or allocated time.

In his book “The Effective Executive” Peter Drucker notes “effective executives, in my observation, do not start with their tasks. They start with their time.”

So what are the biggest time wasters in your day? Can I suggest the following 5 items might be a good place to start and consider de-cluttering from?

After all, we are just trying to strike a balance here.

Time wasters:

1 technological novelties

My message here is not to be a Luddite and shun technology as the black art of the 21st century, however we should be controlling it rather than let it control us and our lives. Have you stopped to consider the amount of time we pour into emails, which, at the end of the day don’t provide us with any additional information to do our jobs more effectively or gain us more time. Computers and electronic devices serve a twofold purpose, instruments for work and for entertainment but we need to differentiate the time appropriateness of each purpose. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr (I recently found a page that specified 335 social media sites) are all great tools and another platform for connecting to people but they can also be insidious for stealing our time and shifting the focus of our attention when really, the tasks at hand are being neglected or avoided. Don’t avoid technology, just use it wisely and make it work for you.

2 Lack of Personnel

I cringe when I hear someone talking about headcount as a metric in isolation to every other business metric. How many times have you heard about the business or organisation that lays-off employees only to re-employ the very same people, as consultants or subject matter experts, the very next day? The statistics move into acceptable parameters but the overheads sky-rocket, then the organisation shifts into panic mode trying to cut costs. Talk about tail chasing! To add insult to injury, the executives are faced with the inevitability of doing menial tasks themselves because they have no-one to delegate to.  This then takes them from the real job of working on the business, building the business and implementing the strategic plan, into working deep inside the business.

Have you ever heard of the Sales Spiral? When sales fall off, what do you do? Let a salesman go. Then sales fall further, so you let another one go. Sales dip further, so another one and so on. Can you see the flawed logic in those actions?

I recently observed a business leader chasing around deploying computers to staff while the business he was leading descended into chaos and faced the very real possibility of being shut-down. Core business had nothing to do with computers, the computers were merely a tool for people to do their jobs. The leader wasn’t a computer person.  Leaders have to learn to delegate tasks thus releasing them to do the job they were employed for. If you have a bent for tinkering, leave it at home and use it when you really have spare time. An effective leadership question: “is this something someone else could be doing” if the answer is yes, then delegate. If there is no-one to delegate to, then employ an assistant.

3 idle conversation

Seriously? Oh yes!! Those casual conversations that start in the hallway about the Sports team or what happened on the way to work can be the biggest time wasters in a person’s day. They can quickly erode 30 minutes at a blink of an eye. But it’s not only time wasted for you, it’s for everyone else participating in the conversation. And here we are caught in a dichotomy, do I not get to know my fellow employees and risk snubbing them and becoming a relationship failure or do I participate in idle chat and lose my way for the day? The answer is really quite simple. Is the conversation a matter of substance? Whether these conversations are about issues that involve the work or personal life of the co-worker. Sometimes these conversations lead into matters of substance and a leader must be perceptive in listening to detect an underlying issue.

You must find the balance between keeping up with people and having your time consumed in frivolous matters. Look for that appropriate moment to excuse yourself from the conversation to get back to the tasks at hand. Also be wary of the time wasters who chassé around the office being a nuisance and avoiding their own tasks. Maybe they don’t have enough to do and could be ideal targets for delegation!

4 Hobbies and Toys

Hobbies are a welcome and wholesome outlet to restore emotional health and relieve stress. However when a hobby consumes your time to the detriment of important activities or relationships then it has failed to serve its intended purpose.

Try to see if you can put your hobby to use and work for you by inviting a client along for the game of golf or taking a colleague out for a run with you or taking them fishing. Get the balance right, go for a run at lunchtime so you can then spend more time at home with family or friends after work.

Or maybe you need to re-evaluate the amount of time and money you have invested into these hobbies at the detriment of family, work or other priorities. Like technology and conversations, hobbies have their advantages and disadvantages. It all comes down to good choices.

5 Disorganisation

You cannot afford to be disorganised because you not only waste your time but also possibly the time of your staff and clients. Don’t overbook yourself, keep your calendar up-to-date. Look ahead to see what tasks can be delegated now to avoid the mad panic at the end. Remember the idiom “why has your problem suddenly become my problem?” Maybe your disorganisation is further confirmation that you need administrative assistance.

Be religiously punctual to appointments and begin meetings on time. Arrive at a meeting with an agenda of what you want to accomplish, not to manipulate but to organise. Make your agenda available to others in advance so they too can be prepared. Don’t call people to meetings as observers, they have better things to do with their time. The meeting should result in an action plan and if you frequently come away from a meeting tasked with nothing, you should be assessing your need to attend.

Surplus time

When you have your time back in order and under your control don’t waste it, use it to your advantage. Catch up on all the reading you have been missing out on such as all the emails you have been cc’d in on, or the ones that are FYI. Don’t delve into those until your patch is clear.

Also use your time at airports or in traffic or before meetings to help you catch up on your reading. Rather than watch an inane movie on the aeroplane why not catch up on all your reading first and then use any other time to help you toward your planning. This is all about turning inefficiency into effectiveness. Staying organised is a deliberate stance. Learn to delegate and learn how to say no to time wasters.

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