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Stop Feeling like a Headless Chicken: Taking Control of Your Time & Productivity

March 12 2018 - by Dr. Lois Parkes, CLP's Regional Project Manager

I often get complaints from many leaders that they do not believe that they manage their time well. Consequently, they have less than desired levels of productivity, and their health and wellness often suffer in the end. The most common cause cited for this problem is the frequency with which they get pulled into ad hoc meetings by supervisors and other senior leaders. The second most cited cause is the frequency with which persons (staff as well as other clients) drop by unscheduled, seeking their intervention in relation to one matter or another. The result is often that well-drafted to-do lists get ignored, tasks requiring concentrated attention are left undone, addressed late, or have to be addressed during personal time. Leaders are left feeling torn between trying to meet the competing demands, satisfying their stakeholders and clients, and addressing a number of other matters that require their focused attention. In the end, they are left feeling like the proverbial headless chicken, very busy and not accomplishing their targets.

So what is a leader to do? Here are some suggestions that was shared with me from others who have faced similar challenges:

  • Give yourself permission not to have an open-door policy at all times – Having an open-door policy has been touted as a sign of a good leader, who is accessible to his or her team. However, it is impractical and unproductive to be available all the time. A leader must realise that a balance has to be struck, and not feel guilty about it. This creates that much-needed boundary.
  • Carve out time to focus on tasks that require undivided attention – This requires a deliberate effort to not take calls, nor check e-mails and texts. Identify and enrol a gate-keeper, such as your Administrative Assistant, to help you in this process, by taking messages (for example), and even addressing some matters without necessarily consulting you, if they are so empowered.
  • Carve out time to give focus to meeting requests – The aim is not to avoid meetings altogether, but rather, it is best to have a designated space in your schedule where these meetings can be slotted in, making them less ad hoc.
  • Have that difficult conversation with your supervisor about your time management challenges – In the situation where you are constantly being called into ad hoc meetings by your supervisor, it is important to have a conversation about how this is impacting your productivity negatively. There is a strong likelihood that your supervisor feels equally overwhelmed. The aim of the discussion is to consider strategies for operating more proactively, while meeting all of the various organisational demands.

Do you have any other winning strategies for better time management and increasing personal productivity? We invite you to share these in the comments.

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Joy - Reply

I agree with all that has been said above.  

I wish to add something which I have observed.  Time management is key in any organisation.  If there is flexitime in organisations, that can help as well as we all have preferred times where we are more productive.

Look at delegating certain tasks while maintaining overarching responsibility.  

When meetings are being held, try to manage the time by not being distracted by side discussion.  Meetings can be draining both on your mental and physical energy.

Take into consideration other people's time as well.  Do not have meetings which run ad infinitum as they achieve nothing in the end.

 

Lois Parkes

All very useful suggestions, Joy. Thanks for your response

Kim Martin B2B Skills Training - Reply

Great pointers Dr. Parkes, thank-you!

In addition to your comments, I would encourage leaders to take a close look at what can be delegated to others.  As a leader, the dollar value attached to your time is more costly to the organization than that of your subordinates.   As a young leader I don't think I fully understood this and used to try and do everything.  I quickly learned that by investing in my team through delegation, I was able to clear my plate for those key tasks that needed my attention.  At the same time, delegation helped my team members grow professionally and let them know I had confidence in their abilities.  Delegation serves as a great engagement tool.  Any time I invested in training staff to do certain tasks paid off ten- fold in terms of the time it saved me in the long run. 

 

 

Lois Parkes

Effective delegation not only leads to better time management and productivity, but is a powerful capacity building strategy. Thanks for sharing.

Nat - Reply

I am in full agreement with the advice on delegation. I have found that it allows me time to focus on matters that need my specific attention, while it gives junior staff the opportunity to hone their skills in handling certain areas of responsibility.

I also manage my day with a written checklist. So despite the ad hoc meetings or staff interruptions I have a point of focus to which to return.

Lois Parkes

Great comments and suggestions. Thanks, Nat

Marie Alexander Nantonjames - Reply

A headless chicken indeed...wow! What an analogy. Flailing in every direction and gushing every which way.

First and foremost - join the Caribbean Leadership Development Network through participation in the Caribbean Leadership Programme. Your tool kit will be overflowing with practical techniques on how to  calm things down and get "your head back on" .

Secondly - a reality/perspective check - we tend to focus on what people should do or what people must do but your "should" and your " must" is most likely not that of the "offending party". We run amuck at drawn out meetings because of our failure to do reality/perspective checks. If such checks are done we will get to remedies and move forward quicker - shorter meetings.

Thirdly - I agree with the checklist. As a leader, things may not go as planned - that's reality - does that mean that you are not being productive - not necessarily so. If you were to undertake a survey of how your feedback at such "interruptions" has had a positive impact on the work environment - you might very well have to tweak your definition of productivity. Notwithstanding, try to accomplish at least 2 activities on your LONG "to do" list and live to fight another day.

Finally - Murphy's Law - smile, take 3 deep breaths...don't forget to release ... move on and get yourself "above the line".

Lois Parkes

Thanks for your feedback and tips.

Lyndonna Marshall - Reply

Thank you all for the useful tips on dealing with our busy schedules.

In aaddition to all that was shared, i suggest we learn to say "no" at times and mean it without feeding guilty.  As dedicated leaders we tend to try to meet all requests for our participation but realistically it is just impossible.  It means we will have to pass on somethings base on an assessment.  (We  can send a representative or send in  our comments/suggestions). Therefore, we must plan, prioritise systematically and practice saying "No" when we have to.

This, I believe will help with our time management efforts - and avoid feeling like a headless chicken 

Thanks again for sharing on the relevant issue.

blessings :)