Unlike money or aptitude, time is the one commodity that every person on earth has the exact same amount of each day. Most expend an amazing amount of effort trying to expand this non-renewable resource. Multi-tasking, out-sourcing to another (a.k.a. using a secretary), and back-to-back scheduling are undertaken to cram as much as possible into a 24-hour period. The belief being that if we can somehow manage our time effectively, we can get it all done.
But is this true? When was the last time you felt that you had adequate time to get it all done? My guess is that if you are operating on a full schedule between family, profession, and volunteer work, you never feel like you get everything done that can be done. For those in that position, time management doesn’t work. What is needed is time leadership.
Leadership Versus Management
The leadership versus management distinction found in organizational dynamics shows-up as well in how we approach our relationship with time. When managing time, you’re controlling a finite element, small-slicing it to get as many things accomplished as possible between sunrise and sunset. Your feeling of self-worth and accomplishment comes from accomplishing all, or at least a large majority, of the items in the schedule and on the task list. Accomplished successfully, you feel good about yourself and that you have control over your time and work. However, enter any unplanned interruption – a sick kid, unforeseen business opportunity, a crisis phone call – and your well-planned day can fall apart. Unless, that is, you’re leading your time.
Whereas time management is about controlling, time leadership is about guiding. Guiding your attention and focus for set periods of time on those things you hold more important. These are the tasks and the issues you know are critical to your, or your organizations, success. Managing time seeks to get as much done in a set period; leading time seeks to get the right things done in that set period. There is a large distinction here; a monumental shift in how one approaches their use of time. Instead of quantity of tasks accomplished, meetings attended, or actions taken; quality is the goal. How effective is the task in accomplishing your more important goals; how effective were you in the meeting you attended, etc. Quantity doesn’t equal quality. When leading time, you’ll leave tasks undone. However, those tasks will be those that have little-to-no intrinsic value to you.
Great in Principle…is it Practical?
If the concept of leading your time seems to be nothing more than a great theory, think again. It is a concept you can bring into your life immediately, albeit with determination for continuous application. The following rules will help:
Get Started. Set aside an hour to identify all of the major programs, projects, or activities you have in your life; both professional and personal. From this list, identify (1) what that item means to your life (i.e. intrinsic importance), (2) what’s the worst thing that would happen if you stopped doing anything with it, and (3) what are the top three most important tasks associated with it.
Don’t Say “Yes” to Too Many Things. From your list, is there anything you can drop? If not, do you have bandwidth for anything more? If no, then don’t say “yes” to anything else until you remove something from activity list. Leadership is about making decisions, sometimes difficult decisions. Make the difficult decision about what you allow into your life and allow your time to be invested in. Remember….quality, not quantity.
Do Not Commit Yourself to the Unimportant. Regardless of what it is, don’t take on a commitment for something that is unimportant. If the task doesn’t fit into your listing of what’s important to you, do not do it. Period. Again, leadership demands that you make strong decisions about what you will and won’t do.
Do it, Delegate it, or Delete it. Whatever the task, continuously assess it for it’s importance and while doing so, commit to either doing it, delegating it, or deleting it from your list.
Plan, Assess, and then Plan. Leaders plan their time investment, just like they plan what will happen in a program or on project. Set aside time in each day to specifically identify what you will focus on that day. Do the same once a week so you have an overall understanding of your most important projects for the week. Once planned, understand that changes can, and will, occur. When emerging tasks or opportunities arise, assess them against your list of important items, then re-plan as needed to address the new addition.
Time leadership requires a process for applying your time in the most effective manner. You’ll find that the principles of time management are still present, however, don’t forget that you’re leading your time, not simply managing it. Don’t allow yourself to be lured into the great feeling that comes from accomplishing a lot of tasks over the feeling that will come from getting the right things done.
“Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.” Zig Ziglar
Christian J. Knutson, P.E., PMP
Engineering Management Institute