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Time management is a myth – it’s all about choices

Very first thing you will notice as a new manager will be that you run out of time in a day. If you search interwebs for a term “time management”, you will quickly find thousands of tips on how to help you to manage your time more effectively. They are all wrong. You can’t manage time. It’s all about you, your choices, and how you can manage you in time. Time management is a myth.

Being busy is a choice. I think that busy is a decision. We do the things we want to do, period. If we say we are too busy, it is shorthand for β€œnot important enough.”
Simply put: you don’t find the time to do something; you make the time to do things.

Debbie Millman

One thing at the time 🎯 1️⃣

This is something that we all know intuitively. Multitasking doesn’t work. It is the truth short-term – you can type on only one keyboard at the time. This is also the case long-term. If you chase too many goals, if you and your team are not clear on the next big project to execute – it will lead to chaos, frustration and missed deadlines in the end. My recent discovery in this topic is the book: The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. The most valuable takeaways from this book is the concept of The Focusing Question:

What’s the ONE Thing I can do such that by doing it –
everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Gary Keller, The One Thing

I recommend to read or listen to this book. As a manager, you will need to be efficient and also make sure that your team is doing the right thing at the right time. It is a skill that can be trained. It will help you with dilemmas like: should I focus on interviewing for new positions in my team, or should I focus on this burning project that needs to be executed? Should I attend this important meeting with no agenda, or should I meet with my people to clarify their goals?

Time management – External meeting policy πŸ“† πŸ†˜ πŸ”ͺ

Let’s face the Godzilla of the time management myth – I have to attend all meetings. When you start prioritising your meetings, projects, and task to be done, you will quickly realise that your whole calendar needs to be redone. This is the ongoing process. Stuff will always keep coming into your direction. Some people have this evil idea of throwing the biggest number of people possible to every meeting. In their eyes, this is the only way to make sure that information will flow and everyone will be in the loop.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some situations that the quick meeting will solve the case and will save hundreds of emails bounced between people who are confided why are they involved in this anyway. Here is my framework when it comes to meeting invites:

  • Check if there is an agenda attached to the invite (what we want to discuss? What is going to be presented ?).
  • Check what is desired outcome of the meeting (what is the goal of discussion? What we want to achieve? Why the presentation is important for me?).
  • Can I provide any valuable feedback or input to the topic (Am I in “to” or “cc” section and why?).
  • Check if I can delegate, or ask someone more relevant to attend (from my team, or from different groups).
  • Check if there is going to be someone taking notes, sending minutes afterwords and assigning owners of particular action points.
  • If the meeting is reoccurring – recheck previous points, challenge the frequency, check every so often if the meeting is still relevant for me.

Time management – One on one schedules 🀝 πŸ‘₯

The other types of meeting you will need to schedule, attend and keep track of them are one-on-ones. I would argue that for you as a people leader, those are the most critical meetings in your calendar. Make sure you have proper time. You have them scheduled regularly. Here is my framework for one-on-one sessions:

  • Discuss with everyone on the team when it is suitable for this person to meet.
  • Check if this works with your schedule.
  • Send a reoccurring invite for at least 6 months.
  • If the team is new, or the person is new to my team – this will be a weekly reoccurrence.
  • If the person is settled, it will change to every second-week reoccurrence.
  • When the person is early in their career, it may be needed to leave it for weekly frequency.
  • Set up a meeting for 45 minutes (it will make it possible to go overtime when necessary, or takes notes from that meeting before you attend the next one).
  • Avoid like a fire setting back to back meetings with a one-on-one meeting.
  • Avoid in all cost setting more than two one-on-one sessions in the same day. I will not be able to manage energy level throughout the day, and this will be unfair for the last person to meet.
  • I try to make notes through the week, store it in my todo app and cover all topics with this particular person (feedback, commendations, recommendations, tasks, asks, etc.).

Can I cancel our meeting? πŸ“… βœ‚οΈ

One important thing on this topic. I have my internal policy to prioritise meetings with my folks. I prefer to reschedule them if I have to. In these cases, I try to make sure the meeting will happen the same week. There are two cases that I consider essential and justifiable to cancel meeting with people reporting to me.

One of them is when my leadership need help and require me to attend some meetings. The other scenario that it was not evident for me when I was a newbie in people leader role – is when I am frustrated, don’t have enough enthusiasm or, in general, I am lacking the energy. My people deserve the best of me.

I have been privileged to have fantastic leaders in my recent roles. One thing that I really appreciate is that after every one-on-one meeting, I have extra power to attack my task, stuff gets additional clarity, and I simply feel motivated to do my job. I want to be the same for my folks.

People will feel when I am not myself when I am muscling through the meeting, and I am just the grumpy smurf. I believe that keeping meetings with direct reports high in priority builds trust, strengthened all team and, in the longer term, helps to avoid difficult situations.

Time management – Batching tasks πŸ–‡ βœ… πŸ”—

We covered how to avoid meetings and what meetings you should never cancel. This is one of the categories that you will need to cover during the day. You will work as a people leader, as a project manager, sometimes a product manager. You will also need to include some other things, depending on your industry specifics. That is a lot. And another myth on time management is that you will have to do things when they come.

A few roles to cover also means quite a few contexts that you will need to switch between. Have you ever attended a meeting where you need to have an awkward conversation about project deadlines, resources or even insertions that you need to communicate to your team? Imagine that next meeting you have in your calendar is one-on-one, where you need to be inspirational.

I think you got it. It is a different context, it requires different “hat”, extra energy, and so on. You will need to switch contexts to be efficient. This is there batching tasks can help. Here is my framework that I’ve been experimenting with:

  • Batch the same category together (write-ups needed for products, report to up the chain command, people development tasks. The idea here is that I needed to create the categories first, and then assign tasks to them, to finally be able to batch them together.
  • Batch current email / tasks / Jira / Trello tickets checking into one block of time (e.g. 11am for 90min).
  • Batch some tasks that require creative energy. I know myself and the best time for this kind of tasks is in the morning for me. You will need to experiment. But I cannot stress it more – it has to be one uninterrupted block of time. Otherwise, it will not be efficient. Even if it happens once or twice per week, it is worth protecting this block of time and go over all the tasks that you need to do in this category.
  • I perform weekly review at least once a month πŸ™‚ This is a kind of joke, but it is a very important to block of time that will allow you to check, review, update and draw next steps for all (and I mean all) projects, categorises, tasks, initiatives that are on your plate.

Time management failure – energy level zero πŸ”‹πŸš¨

I started planning this blog post, and I wrote just general thoughts of what I wanted to cover. Then I quickly realised that there are too many items on my list. I would run out of energy to write them all in one go. You would run out of power to keep reading them all. I decided to divide this post into topics on the same category. It also reminded me about another myth when it comes to time management.

Is the management a myth - time zones
Team members in 3 continents, 7 counties, 5 time zones 🌎

I touched on this already – it is energy management. This is an important topic. Often in the new role, we run on adrenaline, motivation and enthusiasm for a long time. We want to do it all after all. Help to prove ourselves that we are worth this new position. Very quickly we realise that we are humans and we have minimal resources of energy.

We are new in that role after all, so we wearing out not only by doing things but also by learning things. I am trying to be very conscious of this aspect of time management. Following framework helps me to check my internal battery level:

  • Do I have any personal commitments that may drain my energy today?
  • What meetings do I have today?
  • What sessions do I need to drive today? (I am introvert – these meetings will be demanding by default).
  • Is there any meeting that I know will be difficult?
  • Do I need to progress any tasks from the “creative” category?
  • Do I need to time-shift my working hours? I work with a fully distributed team – this is the only way I can reach out to many folks on different time zones.
  • What can I do to recharge my energy during the day? (Go for a walk? Having a power nap? Perform quick exercises? Do I drink enough water?)

Lessons learned from this coffee journey πŸ‘€ πŸŽ“

  • There are many tools in the new people leader toolset to cover – I decided to batch them by categories.
  • One of the very first tasks in a new leadership role is to fact time management myth.
  • Batching tasks into groups is the right way of saving energy and time on switching contexts too often.
  • That means – having strategy with your external meetings.
  • Always prioritise internal meetings with your folks – this will build trust, strengthen your team and bring long-term benefits.
    requests and things that you just want to do.
  • Having regular, weekly reviews may help with the chaos of the daily demands, operational challenges etc.
  • Be aware of your energy – people will require a lot of things from you. You need to balance between important and urgent tasks, daily operations on the one hand, and projects, people development, creative tasks that need to be done on the other side. You will not do any of them if your battery level is close to zero.

Is time management a myth? Are you also constantly busy in your new role? How do you manage yourself in time?

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