Every month, we speak to an industry expert, seeking advice in their field of business. These Q&As help us gain greater insight into the many different areas of the business world, which we then pass to you.
This month, we’re talking to Karen Meager and John McLachlan, who set up Monkey Puzzle Training and Consulting to support leaders and teams in their professional and personal growth through training, coaching and business strategy events. They take innovative scientific and academic thinking and make it accessible and usable in work and everyday life.
Here, they discuss the different ways business leaders can improve their professional time management.
Some leaders don’t delegate tasks to others, why is this a bad idea for someone looking to manage their time more effectively?
Failing to delegate tasks is usually because the person wants to stay in control. They may have high standards and want to see the task done ‘properly’. The problem with this is that it becomes impossible to use your time effectively. Trying to do everything yourself is inefficient and can cause anxiety if you put all the pressure on your shoulders. It’s much better for both your mental health and productivity to let go and pass on some tasks to others.
Many feel they don’t need to delegate tasks because they can multitask, but this isn’t the best approach. Your brain works most efficiently when it is focusing on one task at a time. Flicking from one task to another means that each task is only getting a portion of your attention and processing power of your brain – this is actually draining yourself of energy and thinking capacity. This may not be as much of an issue for smaller tasks, however, for complex tasks it is better to share the workload to ensure as much brain power is used on these tasks as possible.
When looking to overcome resistance to delegation, start small. Let someone else type up the meeting minutes or choose where the Christmas party will be held.
Every time you delegate, reflect on how it went and what you learnt.
Effective organisation is an underrated tactic when it comes to time management. What can leaders do to improve their organisation skills to help them get more done?
Conduct an audit to see where you’re wasting time. If you can identify two or three areas where time isn’t being used effectively, try to streamline these processes to free up your workload for other projects and thereby become more organised.
Do you think it’s possible to increase productivity by starting earlier? Is working outside of core hours something you’d recommend leaders do?
Employees should always be measured on their contribution and not on the amount of time they spend in the office. According to research, working long-hours contributes to both physical and mental illness because people don’t get the downtime their brain needs. If the organisation isn’t under-resourced, then people should be able to accomplish what they need to within their working day.
The problem with organisational culture is, if left unchallenged, it can result in unhealthy behaviour. Before you know it, it’s ‘just the way it is here’. Sadly, we have also come to value people who are ‘so busy’ as if it’s an indicator of how popular and important they are. If you want a productive and healthy culture these should be addressed.
The key to productivity is to understand when and how you are most productive. We’re all different and we thrive in different situations and at different times of the day. Some people are most productive first thing in the morning while others find it easier to get things done in the evening. Some people work better when they are alone, and others when they are surrounded by people and background noise.
Offering some flexibility in working hours to account for when people like to work should be explored, especially as flexible working is now on the rise. Both employee wellbeing and productivity should be at the heart of working times.
What are some methods leaders can use to minimise distractions that disrupt their work?
Recognise your own energy thresholds and start to notice what activities are most draining. When you’re tired, you’re far more likely to be less efficient and easily distracted as the problem-solving part of your brain is depleted. If you’re more aware of what builds and drains your energy, you can plan your activities in a way that suits you best – maximising your efficiency and minimising the risk you’ll become distracted.
If someone is faced with a complex task that might take a long time to complete, what techniques can they use to complete it efficiently?
A great way to keep on top of a large task is to break it down. Everyone works to different timescales, even if they may not realise it. Some people work in minutes and hours, while others focus on bigger projects and goals that may be days, months or even years away.
Break tasks down into smaller segments. It helps people with less ability to see the bigger picture iteratively achieve their goals. Be careful not to lose sight of the overarching vision.
When creating teams, make sure you have a mixture of these two types of people to ensure you meet long and short goals respectively.
It’s important that people don’t confuse productivity with over-scheduling. What can they do to make sure this doesn’t happen?
Many people will choose to make to-do lists and deadlines because they think this is the first step to being productive and managing their time efficiently. However, this actually lulls people into a false sense of security by believing making a list is contributing to achieving their goals when it could actually be procrastination from achieving them.
How you use your time has much more to do with our deep-seated thinking and behavioural habits than it has to do with our organisational skills. Rather than paying attention to whether you are making a to-do list, it is more important whether you actually fulfil it and act on it.
Use of the word ‘busy’ is packed with underlying meaning such as ‘I’m in demand’ or ‘I’m very skilled’. However, this shouldn’t always be considered a badge of honour; it could be an indication that someone cannot manage their time effectively. Rather than doing what you think you should be doing to be productive, such as packing your schedule, focus more on what works for you.
Some people also confuse productivity with working through tasks quickly. Speed is often required when someone falls victim to over-scheduling. Speed does have its benefits but also some drawbacks, as these decisions can be less thought through and may waste time, money and energy.
Instead, when setting goals, consider two alternative routes to achieving them, as this will challenge you to consider whether the first was the most effective. Take a break of about an hour before actioning the goal, too, as this gives your brain another opportunity to figure out the best route.
At what point in the day would you suggest doing more menial tasks such as sending emails or arranging meetings?
Since everyone is different, there is no universal time that everyone should set aside for performing the more ‘menial’ tasks of the day. Time mastery is individual and the best way to carry out these tasks will depend on whether you’re a person who is energised by getting lots of little things ticked off, or if you find small tasks tiresome.
Some people may prefer to spread menial tasks through their day, completing a few things in between the larger tasks that they find draining. Others will probably prefer to set aside a period of time to focus on these small tasks and then take a break afterwards.
Rather than forcing yourself to be productive when you think you should be, work within your own individual energy thresholds. Always prioritise what works for your time preferences wherever possible and within healthy working patterns, so you are not neglecting valuable switch-off time.
We’d like to thank Karen and John for taking the time to share their expertise with us. Don’t forget to check out the other articles from The Art of Management, if you’re looking for more managerial tips and advice:
- How to successfully manage team growth
- How to approach low-productivity employees
- How to successfully train and develop your team’s skills
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