Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Effective Time Management (Part 3)

In truth, people can generally make time for what they choose to do; it is not really the time but the will that is lacking.
-- Sir John Lubbock

In the military, I know that leaders have the critical responsibility of acquiring and allocating resources to accomplish the mission. And I have learned that perhaps no resource is more critical than time. This is the third in a series of posts about time management. I am hopeful that together we can accomplish something that I have clearly been struggling with lately -- making good use of my time.

Battlefield lessons on time management

Examine the time management techniques of our military. Like the “1/3-2/3 rule,” they are designed to create time for leaders to focus on priorities while affording subordinates time to complete assigned missions. Our services operate at a breakneck pace yet do so in a controlled, disciplined tempo, thanks to some of these battle-tested principles:

-- Use Troop Leading Procedures to jump start your entire formation. Things like “Warning Orders” allow us to give as much advance notice as possible of future operations rather than waiting for a completed plan. Save time by initiating movement toward the objective, even before the plan is complete.

-- Develop formal decision making timelines. Leaders must understand required points of input in the planning process and allocate time accordingly. Do not miss opportunities to shape the end state, define purpose, and approve courses of action. Failure to do so will exponentially increase time requirements down the road – often undoing what has already been completed or requiring further allocations of time to fix what could have been done correctly the first time. Post timelines and share schedules that highlight mandatory leader presence at key decision points.

-- Schedule “open” time on the calendar to conduct battlefield circulation. Time spent face-to-face with subordinate leaders, confirming mission receipt and understanding, measuring progress on main and supporting efforts, assessing climate, values, and personnel issues, and anticipating and fixing small problems before they become large – is time well spent.

-- Conduct key leader huddles. Army leaders meet regularly with their closest advisors (Chief of Staff, Operations officer, and Sergeant Major) to synchronize schedules and allocate time and resources for the main and supporting efforts (with the Commander usually taking main effort responsibilities). This is generally done early, before the day begins, or late, to synchronize the next day’s activities.

-- Synchronize watches. Highlight the value of time by emphasizing the importance of precision and discipline. Start and end events on time. Give very specific suspenses for critical actions and hold subordinates accountable.

The Business of Leaders

Author Jim Collins found that “good” is the enemy of “great.” A time management corollary is “perfect” is another enemy of “great.” Here’s what needs to be “perfect:” organizational purpose, values, priorities, relationships, strategic alignment. Time spent in these areas will return dividends in empowered subordinates, capable of acting without further guidance and accomplishing the mission, even during challenging, time and resource- constrained, situations.

Recognize that time is as important to others (subordinates, customers, teammates, students) as it is to you. Value their time as much as you do your own. Be on time. Get to the point. Make yourself available to answer questions, give guidance, and keep the team moving.

To make the most of your available time – seek balance. Invest in family and physical / spiritual fitness. Get some rest. Find time for quiet solitude. Take a vacation. Think. Prepare yourself and your team for the long haul. Develop leaders of the future. Lead by example.

Leaders must manage time (not be managed by time) in a way that demonstrates this requirement for balance – long and short term, personally and professionally, individually and organizationally. Time management books, articles, and advice columns don’t usually get into these deeper, strategic issues but this truly is the business of leaders.

The higher one goes up the leadership ranks, the less one “does.” Leaders allocate time to lead the “doers” by establishing priorities, building policies, procedures and systems, and aligning the organization. This requires brain power. Apportion time to thinking - balanced with the competing demands of doing.

In the Leader Business cycle (Plan/Prepare/Execute/AAR), time management is perhaps the most critical component of preparations – for the leader and for the “troops.” Leaders prepare themselves through an appropriate distribution of time for short and long term priorities and personal and professional obligations. They remain focused on the main effort.

Perhaps more important, successful leaders set the conditions for subordinate success by allowing adequate time for the Leader Business cycle to take place within each level of the organization. Doing so will create a healthy, balanced team, built to last, with plenty of time to achieve greatness.

Time is a finite resource, to be shared and allocated accordingly. I am convinced that we all have enough time. How we use it is up to us. No more excuses! Time management is…Leader Business!

For more on this series on time management read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.


Dan McCarthy said...

Tom –
I’ve enjoyed your time management series. I see so many of our newly promoted senior leaders struggle with this issue. Your military lessons translate well to the business world.

Tom Magness said...

Thanks Dan! I know I still struggle with this on a regular basis. I do think the lessons of the military, where everything seems to be done in a time-constrained environment, demands that we manage time well, that we focus on critical tasks, and that we grow leaders who view time as perhaps our most important resource. Thanks for the feedback, my friend.

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