The business manager is exposed to more and more distractions in today’s world of smart phones, tablets, e-mails, and social media tweets and updates. The wish to state current by letting information flow freely from internal and external networks is understandable.
However, it often leads to obsessiveness that are counter productive to effective management. Often it creates the wrong examples for subordinates, who will feel emboldened to use the ever present access to various media for personal reasons.
In this age of almost permanent connection to some form of electronic communication platform it is difficult to find quiet time in which to reflect, analyze, and develop creative plans for the future. Or for that matter, provide space for personal coaching and training. But, it is incumbent on all managers to periodically extricate themselves from this noise and chaos, and place themselves in a quiet oasis without interruptions.
Time is an abstract concept, and is defined only by the activity that fills it. We can, however, decide what that activity should consist of by allocating time slots for a particular activity. Happily there are techniques and methods for time management:
Time out – Let your subordinates know when interruptions will not be tolerated. Set a particular time schedule for personal reflection on the business. Use this time profitably by coming up with at least one clear thought for improvement in the areas of your responsibility. Encourage the “Time Out” period for all your top managers, but insist that this be spent on benefiting the company.
It is not necessary to make this a long session. A half to one hour for constructive, uninterrupted reflection is sufficient in most cases. Ensuring that this time is not wasted, monitor the results by actually seeing an increase in new ideas. Turn this time out period into a regular practice from which you will not deviate.
Flex schedules – The office environment has many advantages such as face-to-face interactions, team bonding, quick access to internal IT networks, ready access to decision makers, and constructive group meetings. However, because it is also a social environment it offers many distractions unrelated to business. To accommodate the addition of new personnel, the office space also accounts for rising facility costs.
With today’s video conferencing, smart phone and tablet communications, and wi-fi networks many progressive companies have realized that there are advantages to flex schedules. Not all the business related work needs to be done in the office, which is, at times, not conducive to the uninterrupted time needed for data harvesting, planning and other focused activity.
Allowing for some of this activity to be made in the home environment has produced improved time efficiencies. This must be carefully controlled, however, and subjected to strict guideline on the timely delivery of assigned work.
Prioritize time – Separate the demands for your time into the most to the least urgent categories by setting up an A , B, C list of items that you have to deal with. The “A” items should be the most urgent, requiring immediate response and are critical to the well-being of the company. Follow the job description for your particular functional responsibilities to guide you in setting up the “A” list. Serious customer issues should be at the top of this list. The top priority items should be scheduled for resolution in the shortest logical time frame – that day or that week.
Verify at the end of each week that the problems and issues are dealt with. “B” items are important but may be safely moved into subsequent time frames or moved to the “A” list when delay is no longer possible. The “C” list should contain items that require attention only in the long term, or can readily be delegated to subordinates. Use good delegation techniques to push the “C” items off your table if they do not belong there. Unfortunately, many top line managers concentrate too much time on “C” items to the detriment of the entire company.
Cut back on the flow of e-mail – Reading and answering e-mails is one of the areas of most unproductive time management. Too many issued e-mails send copies to personnel that do not require the information. Micro management is often the cause of this pile up of e-mail, and is sometimes seen as some kind of demonstration of power and prestige. Define what kind of information is appropriate for your particular position and advise others accordingly.
Limit the information sent by e-mail to serious business related topics. Set a target for e-mail reduction in terms of percentage, and work with others to attain it in the shortest possible time.
Use your smart phone smartly – The ever present personal smart phone can be a very beneficial tool for business communication if it is used for that purpose. However, it can also become an obsessive form of distraction which has nothing to do with business. Constantly clicking the phone on to check the latest messages disrupts the flow of work related activity. Some companies have gone so far as to forbid personal phones at the place of work. We are living in an era of super fast communications and much of it transpires on the mobile networks.
Business communications take the same path, and it is often difficult to distinguish between business and personal use. Supervisors should keep an eye on abuse and counsel employees on this none productive behavior. Shutting off the phone at certain times of the day should be promoted at every level of the organization as a path to improved productivity. Being permanently hooked to a phone has its positive and negative repercussions. Good managers use their phones smartly.
Keep a log – For a two week period audit the time spent on various activities. Be scrupulous in carefully recording the exact time spent on each one: every meeting, phone call, interruption, review, and other administrative tasks. You will then have an accurate log of how you spent your time. People are often surprised at how much time is allocated to unproductive activities. The next step is to weed out these time wasters from your schedule and doing another audit in 90 days.
Shorten staff meetings – Management meetings should serve a useful purpose: to identify issues and problems, and find solutions as a team. Responsibility for further action should be defined and assigned to the appropriate individual. There are many other situations that call for the interplay of group dynamics. But too often meetings tend to drone on and on without any additional benefit. It is essential to set an agenda of topics to be discussed and distribute it well before the meeting, so that everyone can come prepared. It doesn’t matter if the meeting is through video conferencing or live.
Limit each topic to a specific time frame – 15 to 20 minutes in most cases is sufficient, and the entire meeting should be completed in one hour or less. This will provide more focused and timely meetings. Prioritizing topics on the basis of urgency, and limiting the meetings to no more than three to four topics is another good time saving strategy.