Most executives feel overloaded, at least some of the time. When a client tells me that they need to work on time management, I go through a “Productivity Checklist” with them, looking for areas they can further improve to make their lives more sane.
One place to look is at the people around you. If you’re struggling with too much to do, you may not be fully activating the human resources you have.
Here are some ways to help others help you.
Many people think about delegating in a binary way. They think that either they need to micromanage (which they’ll say is wrong), or they just dump work on someone and let it go completely (which they often think is better). But the truth is, delegation is a more complex task that contains a number of steps.
Depending on the situation you might need to:
- Assess the capabilities of the person you’re delegating to, and their motivation level
- Assess your own capacity to trust, and let go
- Clearly define the scope of work that’s going to be delegated, the outcomes
- Ensure a good hand-off, which includes orienting the person to the work, and any needed training
- Touch base; ask “How’s that going?” and “What questions do you have?”
- Provide motivation, encouragement, feedback and coaching along the way
- Establish deadlines; hold people accountable
- Be clear about your expectations for being kept in the loop
A word about staying informed: making sure you are kept in the loop is not the same as micromanaging. When you delegate, don’t feel bad about asking that you be kept informed. As long as you don’t “take back” the work or the decision-making authority, it’s reasonable that you be kept in the loop.
Good delegation is a phenomenally powerful tool for time management and productivity. It also has the virtue of helping develop the people on your team and making them a better resource, more capable, and more promotable in the future.
Develop your coaching skills
Coaching skills are broadly defined as the ability to help people grow and come up with their own solutions to the challenges that they face. Coaching also includes the ability to provide valuable guidance and advice.
Coaching is a whole skill set that can be learned and developed. To begin, try to move conversations with your staff away from you providing all the solutions, and more towards asking them questions that provoke thought and encourage them to come up with their own answers. “I have some thoughts…but first, what are your ideas for solving this?” By doing so, you help them grow while doing less work yourself.
Coaching skills take effort to develop; but it’s hugely worthwhile. Think about the shift that could happen over months or years if more of your conversations with staff focused on empowering them, increasing their capabilities, and enabling them to be more successful and capable. Coaching expands the impact of your whole organization while opening up room for you to delegate more and to take more off of your plate.
Give more clear, granular feedback more often
I think of giving feedback as related to but distinct from coaching. Many people think of giving feedback as something that happens once a year or a few times a year as part of a more formal feedback process. But really, giving feedback is something leaders should be doing all the time.
Giving feedback includes giving positive feedback, underscoring what you see them doing well, what you’ve noticed, and what the positive impact is. But it’s also critically important that you be transparent in giving clear, granular, actionable constructive feedback to your team on how they can improve.
The reason that giving feedback is important for time management is that it’s often difficult feedback about performance that managers fail to give. And you’re kidding yourself if you think that your direct reports’ performance doesn’t affect you and your time. The better they perform, the better it is for you. Feedback helps them perform better.
I’m very passionate about this because I have seen so many situations where managers fail to fully give the feedback that they have in their minds and hearts, and everyone usually suffers as a result.
Employees suffer by being less effective, and in some cases not getting promoted. They also suffer because the unresolved performance problems affect the quality of their relationship with their manager. And a lot of this can be prevented through courageous, effective, and regular giving of feedback.
For more on giving feedback, see my blog: Feedback: A Recipe for Improvement.
Learn to better leverage your assistant
Many of my clients have a full-time executive assistant, or they share an assistant with others. Few of my clients fully leverage that resource.
An assistant can be a tremendous asset and partner in your work. Even just spending a couple of hours sitting down and thinking of ways that your assistant could take more off your plate could be a very valuable exercise.
Often my clients struggle with their assistant because they don’t feel the assistant is as effective as they should be and, therefore, they don’t use the assistant. Would they use the same approach with an engineer or engineering leader? Would they be so willing to allow a low level of performance with a marketing manager under them? Probably not.
Just because your assistant is primarily devoted to supporting you doesn’t mean you should care less about his or her performance. Think of your assistant as one of your direct reports and make sure that you’re managing their performance, goals and motivation in the same way that you would manage anybody else. What does success look like for your assistant? Are there metrics you’d like to track related to their performance? Treat your assistant like a full, important member of your team and you’ll find they become a much more powerful asset for your business.
Expect and manage your assistant to a high level of performance, and be strategic about the work that they do. It requires a change in mindset but is well worth the effort. Or replace them if they really aren’t working out.
Engage additional people, including at home
This can mean hiring for your team, fighting for resources, getting temp help, or engaging a contractor. But it can also mean getting more help at home.
I have this conversation with many of my clients. Are there things that you could hire out at home, like house cleaning, yard work, cooking, or laundry? There are now more services than ever to help offload work from you and/or your partner, particularly if you live in a metropolitan area in the U.S.
It’s wise to be aware of all the options you have at home for getting help. In some cases, it may not have to be professional help. You may have extended family, friends, a mothers’ group, or other resources to help with the workload at home. Just watch out that you don’t give away the things that you love and enjoy the most.
For even more on the topic of time management and productivity, my favorite resource is a collection of Harvard Business Review Articles.