I thought smartphones, Microsoft Outlook and open plan offices were all supposed to save us time and make us more efficient. Yet most of the middle managers I come across seem to be busier, more stressed and consequently more indecisive than ever before.
Perhaps it’s time to challenge the status quo. After all a packed diary might fool some into thinking we are successful but in truth it simply says we have no time to seize new opportunities, think creatively or sit down with a colleague in need. I’m always impressed that most CEO’s I deal with can make time to meet within a few days. Not so with the majority of ‘rising leaders’ who can rarely consider scheduling a meeting until “next month at the earliest.”
You might argue that the former benefit from PA’s to help them manage their time but I’d suggest it’s a matter of priorities and techniques. Here are 10 of the tricks I’ve picked up from those that seem to have got the balance right:
- Be clear about your priorities – know what your role requires of you and where you want your career to go, eliminate any activity that doesn’t relate directly to these objectives
- Avoid committees – they rarely make good decisions, they spend far too much time discussing minutiae and they steal time from your diary way into the future
- Learn how to close a phone call – with a few well chosen phrases. My favourite is ‘don’t let me keep you any longer’ This way you can politely terminate the call without ending the relationship
- Don’t get comfortable – some of my most productive meetings have been conducted standing up and the worst, in unventilated meeting rooms in comfortable chairs
- Break habits – just because meetings normally start at 10am and last for 60 minutes in the conference room it doesn’t mean that’s the right formula. Try different durations, locations and times depending on the urgency and desired outcome.
- Say no – not ‘I’ll consider’ it or ‘Come back to me, next week’ Busy fools allow their mouths to operate independently to their brain, just say what you mean.
- Ignore email – at the very start of the day, begin by mapping out what you really need to achieve rather than allowing your Inbox to dictate your day.
- Go on a course – If Microsoft Outlook or similar handles your email and diary then set aside half a day to improve your knowledge of its functionality and the settings you use. Most people don’t use these systems efficiently and an hour invested in training could save you days over the next year.
- Take action – Reply, file or delete every email and letter on first sight, don’t let them loiter around, take action immediately.
- Tell the world – how you operate, if you find it best to check emails at defined times, say before 10am and after 4pm include a note to that effect in your signature. Do likewise with ‘out of office’ and voicemail.
In the future, there will be yet more gadgets that need our attention; managers must take back control so that the technology doesn’t manage them.
Written by Dan Collins, founder of Fresh Tracks.