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16 Nov 2017

100. TIME MANAGEMENT

Faced with an avalanche of information, numerous pressing responsibilities and demands from all sides, you may feel like you’re fire-fighting the minute you step foot through the door. Solid organisation and time management skills will help you to remain in control amidst the chaos.

Words: Alice Hoey

However much you’ve prepared for the job of manager, especially if it’s your first, the barrage of demands on your time may take you by surprise. Aside from the many things you will want and need to think about and address, there will be people to meet, plans to make and problems to resolve. With so many balls in the air, it’s easy to let one drop and the results can be catastrophic.

The solution is not to work longer or try to shoehorn more and more work into your already packed day, but to work smarter. Building patterns, albeit flexible ones, into your day is a major part of this because it encourages you to be organised, focused and disciplined.

You will need to create some structure, taking into account how you and your team work best, because mental energy needs to be managed as carefully as physical energy. Instead of ticking off the easiest, least demanding jobs first thing in the morning, it may be better to tackle the cognitive stuff early on when your brain is fresh and you’re energetic and motivated. Easier, more mundane jobs can then be saved for when you know your concentration starts to wane, which for many of us is mid-afternoon.

PRIORITISE

Determining what is important right now, rather than trying to tackle everything at once, is also essential. You may want to please everyone and address every issue, but it’s likely you will simply spread yourself too thin to do justice to the key tasks at hand. Precious few of us are able to multitask effectively, so we end up doing lots of things below par or even dropping the ball entirely.

It can help to unscramble the thoughts in your head by writing them down and ordering them according to how urgent they are. Ask what needs to happen now to help the team win and what will help you get the outcome you need to survive. Ultimately, you may never get a chance to tackle the things that lie towards the bottom of your to-do list unless you first address those at the top.

Once you have your priority list, break any large tasks down into smaller pieces and allocate time slots to each to enable you to get the essentials done.

With everyone wanting a piece of your time it can be difficult to concentrate on one thing long enough to come to a calm and rational conclusion. Again, while the desire to please and to be accommodating will be strong, saying ‘yes’ to everyone and everything may be a mistake. Instead, prioritise meeting with those people you have identified as having influence and who can help you to meet your short-term objectives. Acknowledge everyone else graciously and plan to meet further down the line.

STAY FOCUSED

Meanwhile, minimise any other sources of distraction. For example, if you often find yourself slavishly checking emails and text messages, try actively disconnecting for periods each day when you most need to concentrate. While there will be times when you need to be reachable, there will be others when you can justifiably switch off, enabling you to focus entirely on the key issues of the day.

Technology can help save time on many tasks, but be careful how and when you use it. For example, email is brilliant for many things, but if you need a quick resolution then nothing beats picking up the phone. Speaking in person will also help to strengthen relationships in a way that can’t be achieved in writing.

Incidentally, when you do send an email, studies suggest that those sent in the morning get a better response than those sent in the afternoon, evening or at the weekend. Leaving email communications until late in the day is likely to result in more rushed and less considered responses, both from you and the people responding to you.

SHARE THE LOAD

One of the most important time management skills for a new manager is delegation. You may feel especially proprietary over your work and responsibilities in the early days because you want to take ownership of them and prove yourself, but it’s important to loosen your grip.

Delegating some tasks to the team around you not only frees you up to think and act on the really important stuff, it is also the perfect opportunity to get to know those around you and to demonstrate your faith in their abilities. How they respond to the tasks you have given them and go about actioning them will be useful information as you move forward.