Estimated Reading Time is 4 Minutes
We often believe we don’t have enough time to do things we feel are important but the reality is that we either aren’t prioritizing or we haven’t taken the time to study how we are currently using our time to determine what the high-pay off activities are.
The Job Will Expand to Fill the Time Allotted
We have all experienced this phenomena. It’s almost as certain as a law of physics. You have a task to do and you choose when you want to start, but you don’t put a limit on how much time you want to spend on it. The classic example is a household project like cleaning the garage. You say to yourself, “I’m going to clean the garage on Saturday.” So Saturday comes, you have a leisure breakfast, and about 10am you get started. It takes all day. It’s 5pm and you think to yourself how long it took.
Now run the tape back and let’s approach this job differently. Let’s say that you have an event you need to attend Saturday at 1pm. You still need to clean the garage. So you say, I’m going to need 2-3 hours if I really get after it. So you commit to getting started at 9am and you put a hard finish time of noon on yourself.
What changed? How did you get done in 3 hours what took you 7 hours in the first example? The power of a deadline forced you to be intentional about your use of time. Because there was no real end time in the first example, except the end of the day, it took all day.
A Real Life Example
Recently I observed a real life example of this where a pilot program was conducted to test a theory that might improve performance for a group of managers. One of the time consuming jobs that these managers routinely performed was identified as being an activity that potentially could be delegated to another department where it could be done just as well, but at a lower cost. While this meant adding to the total cost of getting things done, if the manager was now given an additional 90 minutes per day because of delegating this task, the manager should be able to invest that time in activities that would increase productivity to more than offset the costs of adding the other department.
At the end of the test, it was determined that indeed the activity could be delegated to another department and performed reasonably at a lower cost, but because the overall productivity showed no improvement, it increased the cost. The test concluded that this was not a good strategy.
The nagging question is how did the manager use the 90 minutes?
Being Intentional Requires a System
These are responsible, motivated, and hard-working managers so I’m pretty sure they didn’t work 90 minutes less per day. What I think happened is that they may not have taken the time to identify specifically how they would use an extra 90 minutes each day and set up a system to insure the time got used in that way.
Like most managers today, the job is endless. There is always more to get done in a day than you can do. It’s never been more critical that as managers, we build systems and automations into our schedule to insure we don’t spend our entire day reacting to the brush fires that surround us. Don’t get me wrong, you are the fire department when it comes to these persistent blazes, but you have to have some intentionality in your time use.
Here’s two examples of how the job expands to fill the time allotted. If you have time to talk, the other party will gladly keep talking beyond what’s productive. If you have the time to solve your people’s problems, they will be glad to let you. If on the other hand, you have a list of intentional activities you have identified as high-payoff, you will by necessity conduct the phone call efficiently and you will resist handling the problem you pay your people to handle.
Understand What’s Important
A few months ago I published a post titled Understand What’s Important, and I made the suggestion that you take the time to list and keep visible those activities that are the most important to achieving your goals and objectives as a manager. Honestly, that’s the easy part.
Next, you need to track your major blocks of time usage for a week. Think activities like those you identified earlier and don’t worry about getting the time spent exact. Some activies might include:
- Reading and responding to emails
- One on one time with your people initiated by them
- One on one time with your people initiated by you
- Talking to your boss
- Doing reports
- Communicating with other departments
- Customer interactions
At the end of your week, add up the time spent in each activity and think about whether this allocation fits what you consider to be your priorities. If not, you now have some decisions to make.
Set aside a few minutes to answer the question “What don’t you have enough time to do?” Chances are the answer is an activity that you believe could significantly influence outcomes for your group or department. Next ask “What am I doing that is less important than this, and could be either delegated or minimized so that I have more time for the higher impact activity I just identified?”
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