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time management

More Time

Budget this!

Budget this!

Last week, in Time – The Infinite Resource, I wrote about the “time culture” in your organization. If your organization is like most, you keep close track of how employees spend money and no track of how they spend their time. Yet, management gurus like Peter Drucker, say that time is our most precious resource. If you can’t manage your time, you can’t manage anything.

In my post, I outlined three (of five) time management techniques that McKinsey recommends to make organizations more productive and less stressful. The basic trick is to treat time as a corporate resource rather than an individual resource. In other words, we should treat time essentially the same way as we treat money.

Here are the other two time techniques from the McKinsey article.

Refine the master calendar — to identify things that you can stop doing, you first need to identify (to yourself and others) that you are doing them. This often means a master calendar for key individuals and meetings. In fact, meetings are some of the biggest time wasters. (See the Travis Rule). Make them do double duty. If executives travel to a meeting, ask them to schedule other activities at the same time. Perhaps they can visit customers or schedule personnel evaluations on the same trip. McKinsey also suggests categorizing your meetings. Are they for: 1) reporting; 2) collaboration and coordination; 3) managing performance through course corrections; 4) making decisions? (Not approving decisions, but actually making them). McKinsey reports that, in top performing organizations, executive spend some 50% of their meeting time in decision-making meetings and only 10% in reporting meetings. Less efficient organizations often over-schedule reporting meetings and under-schedule decision-making meetings. By wasting time that also increases stress.

Provide high-quality administrative support – how often have I seen companies lay off relatively inexpensive clerical workers and then ask expensive executives to pick up the task? Far too often. That reduces the time efficiency of your most costly employees and adds to their stress. In McKinsey’s study, 85% of executives who manage their time effectively also report that they have excellent administrative support. Only 7% of the poor time manager report that they have excellent support.

It’s also interesting to note how effective time managers spend their time. According to McKinsey, the best managers are alone 24% of the time. That doesn’t mean they’re not communicating — they could be on the phone or e-mail — but it does mean that they’re not in meetings. They also spend 17% of their time in meetings with customers or prospects and another 10% in meetings with external stakeholders. Taking the three activities together, they spend 51% of their time not in internal management meetings. If you’re trying to organize your time more effectively, that seems like a good number to shoot for.

When effective time managers communicate with others, their preferred method is face-to-face meetings. Indeed, such meetings account for 38% of their communication time. This was a revelation to me. I’ve always believed that meeting face-to-face is the most effective way to communicate. But I never thought of them as time savers. Perhaps because face-to-face meetings do provide richer, more nuanced communications, they also save time in the long run. With richer communications, you make fewer errors — and correcting errors is a huge time sink.


Time — The Infinite Resource

Budget this!

Budget this!

Time, cost, and quality. Pick any two.

It’s a good thought to keep in mind when managing a project. You can choose to optimize two  — and only two — of the three parameters. The third parameter will always go in the other direction. Let’s say you want something done in less time and at lower cost. By optimizing those two parameters, you’ve sub-optimized the third – quality will suffer. If you want high quality at low cost, well… it’s going to take a long time. Pick any two.

Interestingly, we only measure two of the three parameters.  We have armies of accountants to keep track of how we spend our money. We have quality control experts to measure quality. We have no one who keeps track of how we spend our time. Are we spending our time wisely? Are we allocating our time based on strategic objectives? Who knows? We treat time as an infinite resource.

Though we treat money and assets and goodwill as corporate resources, we treat time as a personal resource. How you spend your time is pretty much up to you. This higher you rise in the ranks, the more you control your own time.

And that’s a practice that needs to change according to “Making Time Management the Organization’s Priority,” a recent article from the McKinsey Quarterly. As the article notes, “Time management isn’t just a personal-productivity issue … [it’s] an organizational issue whose root causes are deeply embedded in corporate structures and cultures.”

How can you change the “time culture” in your organization? The McKinsey article provides six suggestions. To save time, I’ll cover three today and three more in an upcoming post.

Create a time leadership budget – this may sound obvious but far too few organizations actually do it. When you create a proposal for a new project, you always include a cost budget. How about a leadership time budget?  You can think of leadership time as a general corporate resource – just like money. Let’s say you have ten executives working on new projects. Assuming, that each works 2,000 hours per year, that’s an overall “budget” of 20,000 hours. If you add a new project, how much leadership time will it take? What will you take away to make the budget balance?

Think about time when introducing organizational change – organizational change takes enormous resources, much more than we typically estimate. That includes time. Yet we often ask managers to change things while also doing their “day” jobs. Establishing a leadership time budget can help here. So can managerial restructuring. My rule of thumb — call it the Travis rule — is that more managers mean more meetings. Reducing the number of managers can (within reason) reduce the number of hours spent in meetings and re-balance the time leadership budget.

Measure and manage time – ask your leaders to keep track of their time by keeping a simple diary. As McKinsey points out, “Executive are usually surprised to see the output from time analysis exercises, for it generally reveals how little of their activity is aligned with the company’s stated priorities.” As the old saying goes, if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.

Let’s exercise a little time budgeting here. Most people read at about 200 words per minute. This article is about 600 words long. So you’ve been reading for three minutes. Time to get back to work.

Strip My Gears and Call Me Shiftless

I used to be proud of my ability to focus. When I was a software executive, I could identify my top priorities for the day and focus on

Geared up?

getting them done. That sometimes meant that I turned off my phone and ignored my e-mail. I had an assistant who could run interference for me. Sometimes, I hid in an office where my colleagues wouldn’t expect to find me. I could focus for several hours at a time — maybe even an entire day — and just get stuff done.

Now that I’m a consultant with multiple clients, I’m constantly shifting from one topic or task to another. I can’t hide from my boss to get stuff down. I am the boss. I can’t very well hide from my clients. If they can’t find me, they don’t pay me. I feel like I randomly shift from one topic to another, from one client to another, from one task to another. Like an old car, I’m worried that the constant shifting will strip my gears.

What to do? Here’s what I’ve figured out. I’d love to hear your suggestions as well.

  • Multi-tasking doesn’t really work — I can’t do multiple things at the same time. I need to tuck myself away and focus on getting one thing done.
  • It doesn’t much matter what you do first — when I need to do multiple tasks, I used to agonize about which one to do first. Which one would make the best use of my time? I could waste a good half hour trying to decide what to do next. Now, I just roll a dice, pick the task and get to work. Just pick one.
  • Just finish one — I try very hard not to let Task B interfere with Task A before I’ve finished Task A. Shutting down a task and re-starting it both take a lot of time. It’s more efficient to just finish something.
  • Don’t check messages mid-task — I like to check my e-mail. I always expect to find something exciting. Rather than checking it randomly, I’ve trained myself to check only after I’ve finished a logical task. It’s my reward.
  • Have a plan, even if you can’t stick to it — I always start the day with a plan of what I want to get done. I may not be able to stick to it, but I always have a mental image of where I am compared to plan.
  • Give myself little rewards — when I complete a task, I give myself a reward. That could be as simple as getting another cup of coffee or taking the dog for a walk (she always makes me happy). Knowing that a reward is coming up give me an extra incentive for finishing something.
  • Say no — I do turn down clients from time to time just because I know I’ll have too much work to do. The first time I turned down a new client, it was very hard on me. Surprisingly, it gets easier.

The Single Best Tip

Managing your time effectively is a critical component of a persuasive presentation.  If you run overtime, you’re communicating that you don’t respect the audience, that you’re not an organized person, and that your company probably isn’t either.  There’s an important corollary as well: presentations always take longer than rehearsals.  Here’s how to plan ahead for better time management.

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