Alternative title: "Your Meeting Sucks."
Continued from Part 1
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)
First off, I want to explain a key misconception around managing the time of 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:
Just like for your personal time, if you are leading or collaborating on projects, you are not going to be completely effective unless you have an idea of how much time you are going to need, and when you are going to need it. This is a basic principle of project management. The same principles around analysis, prioritisation and organisation from last week’s post apply here too. You need to set out how much time you need to achieve the goals you have set.
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 I have to confess, this is the step I struggle with the most, and have learned the hard way what happens when this is not executed well (i.e. chaos, confusion and contempt). Not only do you need to communicate what you see as priorities to your team, but you need to ensure that the needs of those you are managing are being heard.
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:
People often describe managing a team, particularly of volunteers, as “herding cats”. It’s true. Why? Because you are dealing with individual people, each with their own motivations and needs. Being a good manager means being at least cognisant of this fact. Being an exceptional manager means knowing their motivations and needs and acting accordingly.
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:
So now that we’ve worked out how much time is needed, kept our people apprised of when they’re needed, and understood you we fit into their needs, we must ensure that we do not waste their valuable time (see above digression on pointless meetings).
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:
Yes, like last time we sometimes have to throw it all out the window. You’re dealing with real people, and real people’s priorities and plans change. You have to be adaptable in your planning. Thankfully, by streamlining your meetings, staying in touch and being understanding of people’s needs, adapting will not be a huge challenge.
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.
Hopefully this post has given you some tips on how to best manage the time of others. For some of you it may be repetition of what you know, or it will sound obvious. That’s because for a large part it is. It’s just that in the flurry of day-to-day life we often forget these things. I know I do. When we do, we make amends and try harder next time. That’s how we learn.
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. :)
Observations on music, coffee, and the occasional controversial thought.
Copyright © Gerard Atkinson 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the owner is strictly prohibited.