Does your day look like this?
This is a typical day in the life of Frazzled Freda, UK operations director at Murray’s Medical Moulds Ltd. Having been promoted from lead mould scientist just a few months back, Freda’s finding time management a bit of a struggle.
08.30 Freda pulls into the car park thinking she has a clear half an hour for planning. Looking at her phone, however, she spots a 9.00 meeting invitation had arrived late last night. She’s not sure why she’s been invited, but decides she’d best go along.
09.00 Worrying about a million and one other priorities, Freda’s mind isn’t on the discussion. Through the meeting room glass wall, she spots one of the meeting invitees, Effective Ellie, arrive in the office but go to her own desk rather than joining the meeting.
10.30 The meeting comes to an inconclusive end. Freda heads toward her desk but gets waylaid by one of her direct reports wanting help with a staff absence problem. It’s an HR issue, really, but Freda doesn’t want to say no.
11.15 Freda finally turns on her PC and opens her inbox. She responds to each email in the order she reads them. She also reads some competitor research that’s been sent round, in case someone asks her about it later that day.
14.00 A meeting reminder pops up for the weekly operations team meeting. Freda can’t believe it’s 2pm already, and dashes down the corridor without any lunch. She’s not had time to prepare.
15.00 Going through in her head about how badly she felt she’d led the team meeting, Freda runs out to the car park. She’s due a meeting at the airport with her US counterpart who’s passing through. Her PA has (again) scheduled back-to-back meetings without allowing for travel time. On her way out, Freda glances at Ellie calmly working on her new staff competencies framework.
16.30 Having rushed through the agenda with the US director and postponed a number of important decisions, Freda bolts down an airport muffin and heads back to the office.
17.00 Back at her desk, Freda starts to work on her current priority project, departmental restructuring. She’s quickly distracted by a flood of emails coming in from the LA office. She doesn’t feel she leave them till the morning as that would mean the LA people waiting a full working day before getting a response. As she types her replies, Freda sees Ellie hand a file to the MD, then leave with her squash racquet.
18.30 Freda’s managed to read through the restructuring project notes she made last week, but hasn’t made any further progress. Realising that if she doesn’t go home now she won’t see her son before he goes to bed, she reluctantly puts her laptop in her bag so she can work on the project again later that evening.
The problem of running out of time
Running out of time is a huge problem for so many leaders – and it makes it impossible for them to perform effectively in their leadership role.
But often the root cause of the problem isn’t in fact a genuine lack of time. It’s the way people let others control that time. Note how Effective Ellie seems to be getting much more done, though she works in the same environment.
Are you struggling to find the time to lead?
When leaders come to me for help with time management, the first thing I do is ask them to complete a detailed time log. The results are often surprisingly revealing. Then, once we understand where the time is going, we analyse why and look for ways to make changes
Create a table with 15-30 minute timeslots, staring at 7am and finishing at 10pm (yes, home life matters, too). Make a real effort to complete it at the end of each time slot – later guesses are usually misleading.
At the end of the fortnight, look at the results.
How much time are you spending on your real priorities? What could you schedule more efficiently, delegate, or not do at all?
What different time choices could you make that would help give you the time you need to lead?
Do you want to become a more effective leader?
Learning to say no and managing time and priorities is just one skill required to becoming a great leader.
My latest book, Stop Doing, Start Leading, reveals the six keys you need to realise your potential as a leader and addresses all the practical steps you need to take.
If you feel like Frazzled Freda and would like to learn more about how to master the art of saying no, then Find out more.