by Alberto Aleo While doing my military service in Italy, I served with the Engineer Corps and throughout training and beyond, we were continually instructed on how efficiently managing supplies, together with the targeted and controlled use of resources, can decide the outcome of a conflict. There is a whole range of literature illustrating battles…
One of the issues that most frequently crops up among the participants at our training courses is how to manage time more productively. Just as often, when we explain the strategic role of before and after sales marketing tools, many object, “If I had the time I would do it …”. To manage time is, in fact, one of the most important aspects of any management activity.
But how can you manage time and increase your personal productivity?
There are four basic elements to consider in order to best manage time:
- Define your goals
- Translate these into actions or plans
- Know how to delegate
- Manage contingencies or emergencies
As to the first point, obviously to manage time well you must have a clear idea of the goals you wish to achieve; without this knowledge you can’t define your priorities and you’ll end up dealing with the issues that seem most important because they appear pressing at a particular moment or depending on your mood.
Anyone who just plays things by ear, without planning or setting goals, will be bound to manage time poorly.
From clear goals, to action and delegation
But clearly formulated goals are not enough to enable you to manage your agenda successfully. If they are to be useful, they must be translated into programmed actions that will follow a schedule and be divided into sub goals. And this is where the problems generally arise, because many of us know where we want to go, but frequently don’t know where we’re at! You have to check that you’re on course, and be aware of what actions you need to do today to arrive at your destination tomorrow.
Moreover, many of those who work in a team or may even have a coordinating role, are unable to exercise the duty/right to delegate. The priorities of their staff become their own priorities, thus their work agenda is overloaded. Our experience in the coordination of sales teams has taught us that the inability to delegate often arises from poor or absent structuring and scheduling of monitoring. Errors may range from excessive control, with staff being monitored continuously (thereby rendering delegation useless), or total absence of checks because you do everything off your own bat …
The first important step to becoming good “delegators” is to learn how to schedule monitoring regularly over time and space and to implement careful procedures.
Urgencies, priorities and programming
Even after establishing these points, people will argue, “but something urgent or unexpected always comes up, so how can I optimize my time?” Well, first of all, let’s reflect on the fact that if urgencies or unexpected events occur frequently this means that they have become normal and should be treated as such. In fact, if an abnormality occurs regularly on your agenda, this means that either there is an issue with planning or else the importance or a particular activity was underestimated.
Many urgencies, if properly analyzed, can fit easily in the list of scheduled activities.
Once this first filter is in place, real urgencies may actually arise. So, how do you tackle them? Once again, you must be guided by your goals and their hierarchical organization. You have to ask yourself the question, “how will this situation affect success in most important goal?” If you’re a salesperson and you’re about to lose an order, the answer is simple! But when it comes to dealing with an urgency that might possibly produce a disadvantage, before assigning it top priority you should analyze its place within your strategic goals and evaluate its real effects. Once again, delegation is important when managing urgencies because you could, for instance, create a “hierarchical pyramid” of critical issues that will correspond to different levels of responsibility that will allow you to absorb the exceptional workload. The “filters” that define the degree of urgency or priorities when tackling the task should, however, be in line and consistent with the hierarchy of goals. Yet often we adopt a personal yardstick when deciding what to do first, and this may not be the correct way to operate for the benefit of our organization.
Studying a “hierarchy of critical issues” is also helpful to understand the best order in which to deal with problems according to your team, and not just in your personal view.
In conclusion, when drawing up your agenda we suggest you distinguish between:
- Deadlines, those preparatory or bureaucratic actions that must be completed punctually to avoid blocking the workflow. The focus of these activities is not on “what” but “by when”;
- Priorities, related to your goals. The focus is on establishing the correct order. These activities are not linked to specific times like deadlines, but they will be related to other tasks;
- Urgencies, will include unexpected issues that you must manage (or get another person to manage), assigning priority over scheduled actions. The may require completion “by such and such a date…” and hence resemble deadlines, or alternatively determine a reshuffle of the order of actions and hence set new priorities. You will have to reconsider your agenda and you will programme these activities depending on their strategic importance and the time available.
To manage time effectively is primarily a cultural, and secondly a methodological, fact. To address this activity properly you must change your perspective, namely abandon beliefs and operating modes that have perhaps been consolidated over the years but need to be thought anew, shared with your team and best suit with your organization’s goals.
The fact that you’re convinced you are really busy, doing so many things, does not necessarily mean you are productive. Productivity can only be measured by our ability to achieve the goals assigned in the times indicated.
| partem claram semper aspice |