As a leader, it's your responsibility to help everyone on your team do more of their best work. This means coaching them to prioritize their work, giving them the insights they need to spend time wisely, and most of all, making sure you're not getting in their way.
But with all the other tasks on your plate, helping them with time management seems like a low priority. But it's not.
While writing his book, Master The Moment, Pat Burns interviewed employees at 50 companies and discovered that many of the time management issues employees face can be traced back to poor leadership, including:
Not knowing what work to prioritize
Having trouble saying no even when their workload is full
Feeling overwhelmed with too many tasks
Procrastinating or not finishing what they start because timelines aren't clearly set
Always being in reactive mode due to an unclear strategy
To keep your team on track and working productively, follow this 3-step process for identifying and solving their time management issues.
1. Find out where their time is going
No one wants to feel like you're watching them work over their shoulder. But helping your team prioritize their most important work starts with understanding how they're spending their time in general.
Ask them to track their time over a week, or use simple time-management tools like RescueTime, Moment, or Quality Time. (Disclosure: I write for RescueTime's blog.) At the end of the week, sit down and ask them a few simple questions:
Does your time spent working align with the work that matters most to your role?
What gets in the way of spending time on your priorities?
What tasks took more or less time than you thought they would?
How well are you able to use small pockets of time? Do you work better when you have long periods of distraction-free time to focus on tasks?
This should bring up a few problems that you can address. For example, if a team member is unable to spend time on their most meaningful work due to constant interruptions, have them block out time for focused "heads down" work each day. Or, if they've taken on too much and are missing deadlines, assign them some support to get caught up.
(As an aside, remember to tell your employees this isn't a performance review, bur rather simply an exercise to help them do their job better.)
2. Save them from the "planning fallacy"
One of the most common skill gaps knowledge workers have is being able to estimate how long a project will take. Psychologists call this the "planning fallacy"--when you make a plan for how long a task or project will take (which is usually a best-case scenario), and then assume the outcome will follow your plans, even when you know better.
You can help them here by keeping them accountable to the work they're doing and reviewing their weekly plan and asking:
- Have they thought about what they'll need from other departments or how long research or gathering resources will take?
- Are they being realistic about how long a milestone will take to achieve?
- Can they be held accountable to this timeline?
This might seem like a lot of additional work upfront, but you're investing in a productive employee for years to come.
3. Help them protect their "maker" time
It's easy to fall into the trap of planning for a day of eight hours of productive work. But this is an idealistic idea.
When researchers Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen interviewed knowledge workers across 45 different companies, they found that most were spending 30 percent of their time on desk work (basic, repeatable tasks like admin) with another 40 percent on communication.
This leaves only 30 percent, or 2.5 hours a day, to do their actual work.
To combat all this wasted time, follow this simple exercise:
Look at your employee's calendar over the next 2 weeks and identify activities (meetings, tasks, calls, etc...) that they can most easily get out of. This could mean dropping, delegating, or outsourcing.
Have them create a log of those activities listing what they've targeted, why it was chosen, how they're actually going to get out of it, and most importantly, what they're going to do with that freed up time.
At the end of each week, go back over their log and track what happened to that activity, how much time they saved, and what they did instead.
It sounds too easy. But at the end of the two weeks, the researchers discovered that most people had reclaimed more than eight hours a week to spend on meaningful work.