I recently heard Peter Hawkins, author and expert on team and systems coaching, speak at a conference. After joking about how busy leaders are, (after all they have the same number of hours in the day as everyone else), he encouraged us to think about how in the most hectic of times we are “not time poor but choice rich.” This is an excellent reminder for entrepreneurs and pretty much everyone working in a startup.
Limiting your use of technology and changing your frame of mind are good first steps to rethink how you spend your time. If you really want to improve your time management skills, you'll need to commit to making some behavioral changes. It's important to recognize what's at the root of your busy–ness.
A couple years ago while leading HR for PopCap games, I got some of the best feedback I've ever received during a performance review. In the Development Areas section, it said “Mikaela should be more selfish with her time.” Now I love the idea of being selfless, (are you seeing the root of my problem?), but there's plenty of research and common sense to remind us that we cannot help others unless we're helping ourselves first.
This important feedback from my fabulous boss and mentor Mala Singh was about a strength overdone. By telling me to be selfish, she meant that I could be more effective. I've spent the last few years digging in to how I could use my time better.
More recently, I asked my team to share their feedback with me as part of a 360 review. One of the most common themes was – you guessed it – concerns that I was doing too much, going in too many different directions, and risking burnout. When my coach Jan Gelman asked for my reaction I was adamant that while I do a lot, I really don't consider it too much. When she asked why I thought my team might have shared this feedback I had to confess – it's because I'm sometimes triple booked, with morning and evening events and little down time.
I don't believe time management is something we master; it requires periodic attention and monitoring. My time management goals have led me to be more selective about how I spend my time. That includes saying no, prioritizing, and delegating more.
Here are the questions I ask myself before making a commitment:
How important is it, and can it wait? It's easy to say yes to work, especially if the assignment is coming from your boss, will make you look good, or get you closer to the next raise or promotion. Whenever you can, take time to evaluate the request carefully. Ask yourself – is this project important? Is it urgent, or can you push it out a quarter? If it has to happen now, can you move something else down on your priority list?
Can someone else do it, or at least pitch in? Let's say it's important and nothing else is going to give – maybe you can delegate some of the work or get help from a peer. If someone on your team has the skills, or needs more visibility, that might be a win/win solution. Or, maybe the work can be divided between you and a couple team members.
By saying yes to this, what am I saying no to? Always make sure you have a clear understanding of the results of taking on something new. By taking on one more thing, will your other work suffer? Can you meet the deadline and still do a great job? Maybe you'll get home late or wind up working a couple extra weekends. Make sure your choices are measured, and intentional.
Recognizing when you've taken on too much is your cue to revisit your work and personal commitments. See what you can postpone, where you can get help, or what you're doing out of habit that you may not need to do at all.
Do you struggle with time management and prioritization? Are you a leader who's so busy with day to day operations that you lack time to plan for the future? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how coaching can help.