Wouldn’t the world be a better place if leaders learnt efficient time management? Leaders are charged with numerous responsibilities and are expected to deliver on tasks and projects. As a leader, your in-tray is always full to capacity, whether its managing teams, securing new markets, steering innovation, growth, renewal…you name it! But how can leaders juggle all this responsibilities and still be efficient at each one of them?
The truth may be hiding somewhere in efficient time management skills. Effective time management skills are what separate astute from inept leaders. Leaders with the requisite time management skills have the knowledge and capacity to optimize their time and complete their various responsibilities.
To better demonstrate the significance of impactful time management for leaders, let’s examine a simple story.
Impactful time management story
An old wise narrative is told of an affectionate teacher who wanted to help his students better themselves in life. Rather than delve into a long lecture on life’s lessons, he placed a jar atop a table and started filling it with large rocks. When the jar was full to the brim, he turned into the young and eager learners and asked;
"Is this jar full?" As expected, all present in the classroom shouted, “Yes.” He looked at them as if in doubt and wondered out loud, “Really?”
The teacher then proceeded to pick some gravel from under his table and filled the spaces between the rocks with it. He kept shaking the jar until the gravel had completely filled the remaining spaces between the rocks in the Jar.
He then looked up at the eager learners and asked once again, "Is the jar full?"
By now, things had changed a little bit. Rather than respond in chorus as they had done the first time, some students said yes while others just kept quite. A number nodded their heads as if in agreement while some remained mum. The teacher then proceeded to pick some sand in a bucket from under the table and poured all of it into the Jar.
Once again, he asked, "Is it full now?"
Now more aware, the teacher never got a loud chorus or nods from the students. Instead, all he got was a mumble from the back of the classroom, saying, “Probably not.”
But the teacher wasn’t done yet! He proceeded to pick a bucket of water from under the table and emptied it into the Jar until it was full to the brim.
Now more aware, the teacher then posed to the students, “would it have been possible to fill the jar if I had started with the water, added the sand and then the gravel?” The class responded in unison, shaking their heads, “No.”
Driving his point home
To drive his point home, the teacher then taught his eager class some useful lessons. He began by asking them, “What are the big rocks in your life that ought to come first? What is important?” The class was so silent. No one said a word!
Then he proceeded, “The important stones are things such as the time you spend with family and friends, giving to others, your education, and faith….the most important things in your life.”
He summed up by telling them, “be sure to put in the big rocks first or you may never get all of them in.”
Learnt anything from the story?
This story highlights some key aspects of time management that determine how effective a leader is. In whatever you are doing as a leader, it is always important to ask yourself, “What are the big rocks? In other words, what are your priorities? An organization certainly has specific things that it considers its big rocks. The same goes for teams and projects. There are specific things that a team working on a project would consider the big rocks. These are the things that really matter and as such must be prioritized when planning and allocating time.
In the final analysis, the only thing you will ever care about, whether as a manager or individually, are the big rocks. The little rocks or sand and gravel won’t matter much at that time. However, most often we let the little rocks get in the way of doing things and end up against a wall!
Time management training
The need for time management training is thus crucial for managers and leaders. Time management training for leaders involves training on how best control to determine which demands receive the most time and attention. It is about learning to properly control available time. This can be applied effectively in the management of teams, crisis, projects or other responsibilities. It is a fact that when leaders have vague priorities, suddenly everything seems like a crisis! The overall result is typically falling productivity, both individually and at the job, as well high incidences of stress. At the individual level, developing effective time management processes is quite essential.
Here are a few time management skills for leaders:
Organize and prioritize email
It looks simplistic but organizing and prioritizing your email is central to how you manage the passage of time. This is especially true for managers who send and receive huge numbers of email on a daily basis. What this huge amount of mail does is eat into your time. Rather than focus on priority areas of your daily schedule, emails can eat into your time as you keep checking and sending. You can circumvent this by re-prioritizing your mail checking frequency. Rather than pop into your mail all the time, check at least two or three times daily. Alternatively, you can create different email accounts for your various contacts, say clients, employees, vendors etc.
How much time do you spend online?
The internet is an essential tool for knowledge and communication. But spending too much time online can eat into time for other essential things. As a leader, spending too much time glued to a computer can be distracting. Whereas it’s important to stay in touch, carry out some research for new knowledge or opportunities, communicate with customers or partners etc, regulation is important. The most efficient way to do this is to monitor your internet using habits. That is, out of the time you spend online, how much do you put into things that are important for your business? Is a majority of that time wasted on things that have little connection with your core priority: business? There are a number of Web-based time tracking and time monitoring tools that can come in handy in this endeavor.
Know when to delegate tasks
The problem with most managers is the fact they want to do everything…or at least micro-manage everything. On the contrary, delegating tasks works miracles. You cannot be everywhere and anywhere, with skills and knowledge in everything. Learn to delegate tasks appropriately to employees with the requisite skills and know-how. In fact, if you are an entrepreneur, you are better off focusing on two or three things that you can do best! Delegate the rest! Learning to properly delegate tasks can save you time a great deal. Give employees tasks in areas they are competent and can handle the tasks within stipulated time frames. Focus on what is important and whatever remains delegate down the hierarchy!