Another week has rolled by in the program, with more exams and assignments, punctuated by sleeping and eating. There was also an opportunity to see the world premiere of Sylvan Oswald’s play “Profanity” at Undermain Theatre, which was a refreshing break from coursework (even if I was there as part of my arts administration class). If you get a chance to see it, do so. It’s a darkly comic play brought to life by some excellent acting, and Undermain’s unique performance space the whole piece an intimacy and presence that draws you into the scene.
A great success of the week was using my own advice from last week’s blog, and managing to plan things out in such a way that I could block off all of Saturday as free time to relax and recuperate (and finally buy some whiskey). Today, I may even get my taxes done. It could happen.
In any case, it’s time to cover part two of the series on time management, which seeks to answer the question of what you do when you have to manage the time of others. It’s tricky enough managing your own time, so what happens when you are in a leadership or organisational role, and need to get groups of highly time-pressured individuals together? Moreover, how do you accommodate the needs of people who may be donating their time voluntarily, whilst still achieving the goals that have been set?
Gerard's Guide to Time Management (Part 2 - Managing Others)
Managing the time of others does not mean micromanagement.
It’s an easy misconception to make, and stories abound of managers who excessively set the schedules of their staff. This is not effective time management, as it says nothing about how that time is used effectively, and moreover, it does nothing to manage the needs and morale of your colleagues.
To my mind, effective time management of others is in fact the opposite of micromanagement. It’s about effective analysis of your requirements, clear communication of these requirements, understanding the needs, motivations and demands of those you are working with, maximising the efficient use of the time spent together, and being flexible when situations change. Oh goodness, it looks like another five-step plan...
Step 1 - Analyze:
Ideally, you will have all your team together for this stage, so that everybody is in some degree of agreement on the goals and priorities.
At this point I need to make a quick digression…
Controversial thought: Your Meeting Sucks.
No, seriously, it sucks. It’s too long, little or nothing gets done, and what does get done could probably have been done without needing a meeting in the first place.
Why is this a problem? Every minute wasted in a meeting is a minute that each participant could have been using elsewhere. What they could have done with that minute is immaterial. The fact is, by wasting that time in the meeting, that time’s definitely wasted.
If you’re leading a meeting, or managing the time of others, you need to ensure that you’re wasting as little time as possible. We’ll get to setting agendas and maximising the efficient use of time in a moment, but before that I’ll give you a tip about organising meetings that works well. It’s a bit like the engineering principle of overestimation, but flipped.
Tip: Take your estimate of the time needed for a meeting, and halve it.
If it’s a one hour meeting, make it a half hour meeting. If it’s a half hour meeting, make it 15 minutes. People will get through things within that time. Trust me, this works. It also has the advantage of being easier to organise, as it’s much easier to find a half-hour slot in schedules than a full hour (or worse).
Okay, digression over. Now that you’ve had a short meeting to make clear and agree upon the goals, priorities and timelines of your team, we can move to the next step.
Step 2 – Communicate:
Now of course, I’m not mandating that you are constantly badgering others about priorities and tasks (see above notes on micromanagement), but that you maintain open channels of communication between you and your team. It doesn’t matter what channel you are using, be it email, telephone or social media, but use it. Keep people in the loop. And make yourself available to others if they need it.
This ties in very strongly with the third step, which is understanding the needs of your team.
Step 3 – Understand:
Even if you are not at that exceptional level (I certainly am not, despite much effort), being at least aware of how your priorities fit within their motivations and needs is a large step towards managing the time of people. You can then make a basic prediction as to how much time they may be able to make for your needs, and develop a plan around that.
A key tip here that can help ties into our earlier discussion on organisation. By being organised about what is required, and the likely time needed to get things done, you can plan things out in advance. This in turn gives you the ability to let others know how much time you will need from them well in advance, before other priorities have a chance to get in the way. It’s a form of “first mover advantage”. Use it.
Step 4 – Maximize:
If you plan in advance, and communicate well, this step is remarkably easy, as you will know in advance what needs to be done by people, and you will have communicated this to your people.
In terms of meetings, agendas are great things. However, the biggest failure of agendas is the difficulties encountered in sticking to them. People digress and go off on tangents, it’s natural. A key leadership skill is knowing how to keep those digressions contained, either by politely steering conversation back to the agenda items, or by marking it down as a point for later discussion (usually over email or other channels – rarely is a digression relevant to everyone at a meeting). Tangents are good, wasted time is not. In the long run, keeping things on topic will save time for everyone.
When it comes to managing the time people need to undertake tasks, the same process of overestimation from the previous post on personal time management applies (this is the flipside of maximisation). We have to expect that things might take longer than expected and plan accordingly.
This may sound underhanded, but you still communicate the shorter, expected time when requesting others to complete tasks. It’s not a reflection on the person to build in extra time, but many people expect that we have built in extra time, and will work accordingly. It’s human nature, and studies show how people react to deadlines in a similar manner. As long as you know that and account for it, you’ll have a greater chance of managing it.
Step 5 – Adapt:
You also have to deal with the inevitability that someone may have to sacrifice their responsibilities to you. You will need to adapt to that inevitability. The same advice from the previous part applies here: by staying organised, and by keeping up good communication, you’ll be prepared for any changes and opportunities that come along.
So in summary, managing the time of others is not micromanagement, but more about good planning and being open to the needs of those you are managing. The five key steps are:
Analyze – Communicate – Understand – Organize - Adapt
I can’t guarantee that you’ll achieve immediate success, but you’ll certainly improve on doing nothing. As always, I'm happy to receive feedback and provide clarification. Just remember that if you invite me to a meeting, I’ll be expecting that it won’t suck. :)