A quick time management and productivity refresher for leaders

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I’ve been working with a particular Thailand-based organisation for a few years now. And although I’m scheduled to run a face-to-face workshop for a group of their new consultants next month in Bangkok, I was recently asked by the CEO if I could run a remote session as soon as possible for the same group on time management strategies. They have officially been in their new roles for a few months now, but evidently many of them are struggling when it comes to time management and productivity. 

I agreed to put a workshop together for them where I would focus on the importance of time management in the workplace; how to avoid procrastination (and other easy distractions); understanding the real value in what they do every day; and generally, how to take more control and get more bang for their buck (or in this case baht!). 

The online session was due to start at 9:30am Bangkok time (a lunchtime workshop for me), but the first attendee appeared in the Zoom room closer to 9:40am her time with the majority of the participants dialing in 15 – 20 minutes late. 

“Sorry it’s been a busy morning”, one of them said. “I was stuck in another meeting”, someone else said clearly flustered although the workshop had been scheduled two weeks prior. But my favourite excuse was when one of the consultants said, “Sorry I was stuck in traffic” but had forgotten to blur his background and I could see he was still clearly at home! 

“Probably not the best way to start a time management workshop”, I said sarcastically. And whilst there were a few (awkward) laughs at that moment, they understood the point I was making. After all, what impression would turning up for a client meeting 15 minutes late make? I assured them no client would wait as patiently as I had done. 

Now I appreciate that this particular session was created for a team of implementation specialists in a revenue operations consulting firm, but the core messages can still be applied to leaders – particularly those who juggle the people management side of things while still having personal deliverables or a target against their name.  

It’s not uncommon for people leaders to spend their days in a frenzy of activity but still achieving very little because they are not concentrating on doing the most important things. 

Assuming today isn’t your first day in your leadership role, think back to yesterday. What did you accomplish? More importantly, what was on your to-do list? What did you hope to get done? Were the tasks you worked on during the day the ones with the highest priority? Did you find yourself doing stuff at the last minute? How often did you find yourself dealing with unexpected interruptions from your team members? Did you end up having to do your ‘own work’ after hours just to keep on top of all the people management stuff?  

You can only do so much. So, what exactly did you do? 

At the heart of managing your time as a people leader is an important shift in focus. Concentrating on results (your own and your team’s) … not on being busy. 

It’s important to realise that procrastination can be as tempting for any leader as it is deadly.  

“I’ll get to it later” has led to the downfall of many managers trying to spin all their plates, and after too many “laters”, the work piles up so high that expectations and responsibilities can start to feel insurmountable. 

Please don’t be lured into thinking that working harder (longer hours) as a result of ‘managing by day’ and doing all your ‘other stuff’ by night increases your productivity.  

Whilst this idea might work up to a point, beyond that it can become extremely detrimental to both your health (increased stress) and your effectiveness (making poorer leadership decisions).  

The point of this particular post is not to share our thoughts on the downsides of multitasking or to give advice on how to avoid the plethora of distractions that can creep into all our workdays. Nor are we here to recommend time management tools or productivity apps for you to track and understand exactly how and where you spend your time. And we’re certainly not going to suggest you even try to “do more with less”.

After all, from a leader’s perspective, time management should be more about helping oneself and others make wise and often courageous or difficult decisions as opposed to doing more with less.  

At some point every leader will want to improve their productivity by (among other things) being proactive, not reactive; shifting their attitude and mindset from that of a ‘doer’ to that of a leader; running efficient one-to-one and team meetings; learning to say ‘no’; being team oriented and not process driven; being ‘present’ for each individual team member; and above all focusing on the time management matrix (see below) and understanding what’s truly urgent, important, not urgent, or perhaps even not important at all. 

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Many leaders will often find themselves creating a ‘phantom workload’ where the amount of work feels real and unavoidable but might end up adding several unnecessary hours to the day with very little benefit.

Tell-tale signs of a potential ‘phantom workload’ might include lengthy meetings (typically resulting in no real outcomes), too many meetings (also known as ‘meetings for the sake of meetings’), time wasted addressing the same issue repeatedly with multiple team members, crafting and sending lengthy emails (the content of which could have been articulated on a quick team call), or holding on to tasks which could easily be actioned by other team members.  

As soon as you find yourself falling into (or being tempted to fall into) the vicious cycle of increased pressure resulting from what might actually be an unnecessary, self-enforced workload, recognise what’s going on and shift your focus to what is more deserving of your energy and attention. On that note, you might want to get your hands on a copy of Brian Tracy’s “Eat That Frog” which will help ensure you get more of the important things done – today! 

At the start of every day or at the very least at the beginning of every week, try to block your calendar and clearly distinguish between your regular on-the-job commitments and your people leadership responsibilities.

Actually visualising your week, picturing when you can put your head down and work on (for example) client work, spreadsheets, programming, sales activities or whatever your core job entails as opposed to when you have to put on your leadership hat should help alleviate challenges around avoidance, procrastination, or simply not getting around to stuff. 

If you are responsible for, say, three or four team members, you might want to consider having all your one-to-one meetings on the same day to remain in “leadership mode” as opposed to staggering them throughout the week.  

Refining your approach to time management might involve some specific behavioural changes. But tweaking your habits, thoughts and actions around how and where you spend your time is all part of the leadership development process, right? 

Productivity is a measure of how much you accomplish – not how busy you are.

You might even want to try to organise your day to take advantage of natural highs and lows in your energy and motivations. But above all, you should plan to spend the maximum amount of time on duties that will potentially provide the greatest benefit. When it doubt, ask yourself, “Is what I am doing right now moving the [team, business, individual, project, etc] forward?”. In other words, is the juice worth the squeeze?  

Your time and your efforts need to bear fruit. 

Remember hellomonday provides coaching and support to every leader, prioritising development initiatives that result in long-term sustained change, reinforcing habits through curated learning and impactful coaching, and ideally helping leaders concentrate more on their results … not on being busy. 

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