Everyone is busy these days. So how can executives with multiple, cascading priorities achieve success in the workplace? It all comes down to practicing good time management skills.
How to Better Prioritize Work and Projects
The first step in effective time management is prioritization. Review your task list and get curious. Think about your goals for your individual growth and the organization as a whole. Are you working on what matters? As a leader or high-contributing member of a team, is your involvement in each task necessary? Declining unnecessary involvement or participation enables improved focus and greater progress elsewhere.
As you review the projects your organization is working on, determine what needs to be done and when. Organizing projects by the due dates (and creating due dates for projects that don’t have one) is one of the most important time management skills you can put into practice.
Also think about working smarter, not harder. It’s important to right-size the amount of resources and effort given to a project. Effective communication and greater transparency across the team provides improved context to business challenges and team alignment. When you and your team have a clear vision of top priorities and deadlines, you can push forward and work more effectively.
Learn to Delegate
As a leader, one of your most important time management skills is learning to effectively delegate work. When you took a 30,000 foot view during the prioritization stage, you determined which tasks you should maintain. Did you find some that didn’t need you? Those are the tasks to delegate to team members, trusting their abilities to solve those problems. The key to successful management is knowing each of your team members’ areas of expertise and using those to your advantage for better business.
Communication Helps Team Alignment
Communication goes hand-in-hand with delegation. As you hand off tasks to your team, be very clear in communicating your objectives and expectations and any other details necessary to move forward. As leaders, we need to be as specific as possible to create greater team efficiency and maximize our own productivity.
As projects evolve, so do the context, background and facts that we’re using as the basis of the project. Is all this information organized, shareable and properly communicated across the team? Does a project’s priority change as we learn more information, and how do we communicate that? What happens when new projects are introduced with higher priority? Providing very direct and open communication allows you to keep everyone on track with priorities.
Multitasking: A Big Don’t
Research has proven, time and time again, our brain cannot effectively multitask. Don’t fool yourself. Multitasking can be misleading and disruptive. Rather than trying to do several things at once, which will likely result in lesser quality of effort given to each of those things, learn to maximize the value of your time and focus on a single task to maximize effectiveness and efficiency.
Along similar lines, it’s critical that you find the right space to work effectively. Even when you have the best intentions of single tasking, if you are surrounded by distractions, you’re likely not doing your best work. Specific types of work require a specific type of mental and physical work environment. If you need to write a case study, but have been staring at a blank screen full of disjointed thoughts in a noisy coffee shop, it might be time to shift your focus elsewhere until you’re in the right mental and physical space. If you have no choice but to work in an environment that is high-traffic with countless interruptions and not conducive to focused work, figure out a way to minimize distractions. You could put in headphones and listen to music or white noise, find a conference room or isolated spot where you can focus and shut-off distractions, or come in to the office before the crowd.
The base of your time management skills should be creating rituals and structuring your days to work best for you. Competing priorities, unnecessary meetings and lack of organization all negatively impact our ability to be productive and effective. Have a clear vision of how you want your day to look and timeblock accordingly.
For example, if you’re a morning person, block out a consistent 8:00-10:00 am timeblock each day absent of conference calls and meetings to focus on high-impact projects that require focused effort, whether it be critical thinking, writing or presentations. Translated, you’ve now blocked off approximately 20% off your work week to focus on high-impact initiatives. Building routines and rituals to fit your work style is a crucial time management skill you can implement for success.
The Power of “No”
As a busy executive, it’s very probable that everyone wants a little piece of your time. That adds up. Open your work calendar and look at all the different blocks of time consuming your day. Are you running from one meeting to the next? Do you get back to your desk for 30 minutes before running to another meeting? Is getting quality work done in short bursts in between meetings conducive to productivity and focus? Of course not.
Be protective of your time, and learn to say no graciously, with minimal guilt. You can decline meeting invites if you won’t be playing an integral role in that meeting. It’s okay to delay a discussion for a week (or even two) to better focus on more pressing needs. When you timeblock your calendar to reflect your priorities, you’re using another important time management tool to focus on key projects and objectives.
Learn to Track Your Progress
Now that you’ve implemented some key time management strategies, how do you track your progress? The answer to this question is unique to each person but, given the amount of competing priorities, interruptions, and new tasks each day, being organized is critical to maximizing your success, and the success of your team.
Our digital world is abundant with tools that can help you track your time management skills:
Trello – Project management and ticketing work
Basecamp – Project management software
Evernote – Great for personal to-do lists and note taking
Google Calendar (or Outlook) – create timeblocks and task lists
We all want to work smarter over harder. Utilizing some key time management skills in your work day can help keep you on track to put your maximum effort into your most important goals and projects.