On one of our courses, we were discussing why managers don’t always get done in the day what they need to get done.
Most managers tell me that they are driven by the ‘urgent’…and that interferes with what is ‘important’.
When analysing their time spend, we often see there is a mismatch between what they consider to be really urgent, and what really is urgent. Because we are all connected 24/7, each e-mail and phone call becomes an urgent issue that must be responded to immediately. And the urgent just keep on coming, one seemingly more important than the other. And before you know it, another day has passed without any concentrated thinking time or without any time to attack the major projects.
We talk on courses about the fact that you simply cannot manage time. It does what it wants to do. So, instead of managing time, we must manage and prioritise the activities and ourselves in the time we have available
If you find yourself reacting too much to the urgent, taking time away from the important, try following these ideas:
(1) Make plans for the crises. To manage crises—the urgent—instead of the crises managing you, after putting out the fire, go one step further and analyse the crisis. Ask: what is the pattern here, why did it occur, what can we do to avoid it in the future or who can be trained to prevent this occurrence in the first place? Then implement actions designed to prevent it from happening again.
(2) Establish critical priorities. The reason why the “urgent” requirements are messing up your day is that everything that presents itself becomes urgent. And the only way to deal with that is to get very clear about your top three priorities. These are the make-or-break activities, the ones that will cost you the most if they’re not done.
(3) Analyse your time expenditures. Look at each task listed on your calendar and ask yourself three questions. (1) What would happen if I don’t do this task or activity at all? If the answer is nothing, stop doing it! (2) Will this activity move me closer to the attainment of my top three critical priorities? If the answer is no, don’t do it, unless of course your boss asked you, and in that case it is a critical priority, unless you talk your boss out of it. (3) Can this be delegated? If the answer is yes, ask for a volunteer. If no one volunteers, assign it to someone who will grow from doing it.
By carrying out these ideas, you start to control the time that you have available, rather than having it control you. This gives you more confidence when you make decisions about what is most important for you, and the urgent will have less of an impact on your daily routine.
Head of Training
Originally published: 7 September, 2012