Effective Time Management

Time Management

Time Management

Effective leaders manage time exceedingly well.  Time is a highly perishable commodity with some unique properties.  It perishes at a constant rate, each person is allocated the same amount of time and there is an opportunity cost for time.

Consider the contrasting examples of two people and the culture they establish with respect to time.

In the first case, a few people are ambling into a meeting even though they are already late.  One of them remarks that a few minutes here and there will not hurt and that the meeting organizer always waits.

In the second instance, the same folks are rushing into a meeting not wanting to be late.  In this case, one of them remarks that they should hurry up since the organizer is very strict and his meetings always start on time.

By the nature their own value system, the meeting organizers (or team leaders) have instilled two very contrasting types of behavior in the very same people. 

Effective time management is a critical component of leadership and it can be viewed from the four dimensions as shown in the image alongside.

Kay time management matrix

Time management matrix

a.     Punctuality

I am sure you know of at least one person by whose actions you could set your watch.  My dad is one such person.  When he makes an appointment, boy is he on time!  He does not round up the time to the nearest five or ten minutes.  It is the exact minute for him, however odd that may be. 

Then again there are others who routinely make excuses such as failed to set the alarm, thought daylight savings ended next week, got stuck in traffic and even the line was too long at Starbucks!

Just remember that by keeping good time, you respect the task (or even the person).  Once you respect the task, you will give it adequate importance and be on time.  In the smart-phone age, you can set up multiple alarms to stay on schedule.

Punctuality is a good first step towards becoming an indispensable team member.

b.     Managing your own time

This dimension is about understanding your own self, your capabilities and the time you would need to accomplish certain tasks.  This helps you to prioritize your tasks based on the time you’d take to accomplish each one.  Of course time is not the only consideration and you would want to take into account other aspects as well. 

Once three friends and I slept over at a friend’s home and had to leave the next morning at 7 am.  While each of the other three declared that they needed only 30 mins each to get ready in the morning, I knew that I need the best part of an hour.  So I volunteered to go first and had to wake up at 4.30 am, since my friend’s house had just one bathroom.

They made fun of me for requiring a full hour, but at least I knew how much time I would hold up the bathroom for.  My friends realized that I respected their time and allowed them more time to rest.

c.     Respect for others’ time

Thoughtfulness when you make demands on others’ time is the third dimension.  Once you start treating time as a scarce and perishable resource, you will make very reasonable demands on folks’ times.

I recall an instance when my colleague at work got invited to a one hour meeting during a busy week.  The meeting invitation did not contain an agenda or the meeting objective.  Promptly he declined the meeting citing that the company did not permit him to attend a meeting where no agenda was specified.

People get a bad feeling when meetings meander aimlessly, the agenda is out of control or when the time scheduled is grossly insufficient.  On the other end, when people schedule an hour for a discussion that takes only ten minutes or invite a roomful of people when only one or two are required, that is also noticed and frowned upon.

While this is not an exercise in perfection, giving some thought to the composition (people that need to participate) of the meeting and more importantly estimating time required to achieve meeting objectives is a good habit.  When you schedule an hour’s meeting and it ends with 10-15 minutes to spare, people feel happy.  Once in a while, you are allowed to err.  But when gross mis-scheduling becomes a habit, it is noticed and you build an undesirable value system.

Effective leaders will manage the time by trimming/limiting the discussion when veering from the objectives.  Also they will carry items forward if needed.  By their actions, they indicate respect for others’ time and the intent of achieving the meeting objectives.

d.    Optimize collective usage of time for team tasks

Have you ever been part of a team submission where one person failed to complete their part of the work?  Or simply kept the rest of the team waiting and unable to consolidate the final submission? 

Clear understanding of the team objective, appropriate assignment of work packages and clarity of roles is very important in ensuring a complete and high quality submission.  However, if the submission is delayed, the team stands to lose.  This is where a leader can be effective in weighing perfection against meeting the deadline with an acceptable quality.  Usually the closer the team edges towards the deadline, the more the team scrambles, makes mistakes and quality deteriorates.

If all team members understood and practiced the first three time management dimensions, submissions would be complete, of high quality and done on time. 

Collective time management must be enforced by the leader.  I recall a professor who started the class on schedule even though half the class had still not arrived.  She started off by stating that she was not willing to penalize half the class that was present for the tardiness of the rest.

As an effective leader, you have the power to lay down the culture you’d like in your team or organization.  Wield the power!

Image: (c) Morgan State University

Info-graphic: (c) Kay Leadership Academy