Saturday, May 16, 2009

It's About Time (Time Management Part 2)

If you want to make good use of your time, you've got to know what's most important and then give it all you've got.
-- Lee Iaccoca

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 second in a series of posts about time management. I meant to post this mid-week but...I never got to it! Perhaps together we can accomplish something that I am clearly struggling with lately -- making good use of my time.

Time Management -- by the book

There are any number of publications that chronicle useful time management techniques. Take some time to examine each of the suggested procedures below. Determine those worthy of incorporation into your daily battle rhythm. Incorporate these procedures to work better, faster, more efficiently.

-- Use checklists and To-Do lists.
-- Come in early or stay late. Find a quiet time to get things done.
-- Have a clear purpose and agenda for each meeting.
-- Start and end meetings on time. Establish a clear suspense for each action. Identify minimum essential attendees.
-- When possible, eliminate meetings!
-- Don’t answer the phone. Call back at a time of your choosing.
-- Handle correspondence once. Use short responses and write quick notes.
-- Throw away (or file) unneeded material.
-- Maintain an accurate, shared calendar. Find a good tool – and stick with it…until it no longer serves you. Then throw it away and get something better.
-- Learn to say “No!”

While all valid, these procedures may only make you incrementally more productive, at best. These are time management “blocking and tackling” drills. What is still required is an application of the deeper, strategic leadership issues associated with time management.

Put first things first

Time management begins with the establishment of priorities and following them. When we don't do this, no little technique from the list above will help. Be disciplined enough to do what is important first. Leaders have to invest in determining what is important, personally and organizationally, and ensure that scheduled activities are consistent with these stated priorities.

A few years ago, I spent a morning with the CEO for Temple-Inland in Austin, Texas and watched as he began his morning with an examination of his company’s daily financial snapshot. Income, expenditures, specific metrics from each subordinate business unit, progress towards goals, and key events were sitting on his desk for him to scrub while he had his first cup of coffee. What better way to start each day than with his fingers on the pulse of the organization!

New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani began each day with his famous “morning meeting.” Activities and performance measures were reviewed daily to allow constant follow-through. Goals were assessed. Calendars were synchronized. Important events were reviewed and future plans were adjusted. Every work day began with a clear understanding of current status, future operations, and the priorities of the city.

How could we rearrange our schedules to put first things first – personally? What is important to us and what might our failure to prioritize be causing us to neglect? Family? Health? Spiritual fitness? How could we reorganize our activities to insure that these critical issues reflect our stated priorities?

I like to think that we change “if” to “when” by doing first things first. Get up early enough to satisfy physical and spiritual fitness needs. Do it first – no excuses! Go in later in the morning and spend some time getting the kids off to school, especially when we know we will be home late. Tackle difficult projects first, when we are fresh. Rearrange the schedule consistent with priorities. Remember, when first things are first…every thing else…is second!

Have a plan

Effective time management demands an investment in good planning. Doing so will help anticipate contingencies and minimize crisis situations. Effective planning enables leaders to provide the necessary vision, objectives, and key tasks that will facilitate subordinate planning and maximize productivity.

Military leaders use the “1/3 – 2/3 rule” in allocating sufficient time for subordinates. This battle tested formula allows no more than 1/3 of the total time available for planning to each unit, leaving 2/3 of the time for subordinates to complete their own plans and necessary preparations.

Leaders who are ruthless about the “1/3-2/3 rule” recognize that “chasing the tail” of perfection, in other words taking proportionately more time for only incremental returns, robs subordinates of any opportunity for success. There is no “perfect” plan. Time is better spent providing adequate guidance, clear vision, and purpose, while allowing teammates as much time as possible to be successful.


Consistent with “putting first things first” and having a plan, leaders recognize that all organizational efforts are not equal. It is critical to know, understand, and even formally designate a “main effort” within the organization. This is the task or event the accomplishment of which leads directly to mission success. Other elements of the organization (supporting efforts) must necessarily be subordinated to, and nested with, the designated top priority. Energy, resources, and time are allocated accordingly.

Leaders begin the critical time management principal of delegation by delegating tasks associated with supporting efforts. Find someone who can manage or execute tasks that are not directly linked to mission success while focusing on those that are. (For that matter, if they are not directly linked to mission success, maybe they don't need to be done at all!)

Key to this concept is this Leader Business time management corollary: Once delegated, don’t take it back. Avoid the time waster of doing what you have already asked of subordinates. Follow this three step Leader Business approach to delegation:

-- Give good, clear, consistent guidance. Ensure that subordinates understand the task (and purpose) up front. Be specific when assigning deadlines, performance measures, and desired end state. Doing so, the first time, will minimize the time required to reassign the task or reorient a misdirected effort.

-- Empower those to whom you delegate. Subordinates must clearly understand what decision authority is retained and what limitations apply to their own decision making. Adequate guidance from the leader, coupled with subordinates empowered to make decisions consistent with that guidance, will liberate both parties.

-- Hold those to whom you delegate accountable. Rather than “take it back,” turn them loose. Treat adults like adults. Providing them the freedom to succeed will bring a return on investment (time) many times over.

Now, what might you do with the time no longer spent on providing redundant guidance? What could you do with the time saved by not doing that which you have already delegated? What else might you do instead of personally managing tasks which are admittedly of lesser priority? Could you better invest in those “first things?” This is where our time is best spent. That makes it...Leader Business.

Read Part 1 in this series here and Part 3 here.

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