Time management is a popular topic well chronicled in leadership and sociological discourse. Yet, despite the large amount of ink it gets, many leaders still get stung by the time bug while ploughing through their leadership functions. Reason: They don’t heed the warnings about the slippery nature of time.
Leaders lament about the little time they have. “No time” is a wailing refrain one often hears in leadership circles, especially when leaders need a scapegoat to bear the shame of organisational failures. They argue it isn’t their fault if they fail to run the organisation well or move its fortunes upwards. Blame time! If the organisation keeps dancing away to the tune of inertia, or seems averse to visioning, the leader holds time as the culprit.
“We don’t have the time,” he may say with rue, “to conceive and birth new ideas. So we settle with the old order, make our traditions sing and refuse to be stymied by the vision thing!”. When planlessness sticks out in the organisation like a boil on the nose, unleashing crisis and crippling growth, the leader blames the mess on time. “You see, I have little or no time to think through a plan”, you may hear him say. “There are so many things competing for my attention and I try to attend to all.” Hmmn!
Even on the African public leadership scene, time has been blamed for leadership failure and maladministration. Many a leader in the continent may blame the fleeting nature of time for his dismal performances. “Had we had time,” you may hear him say, “we would have achieved our goals. We needed more time to conclude the vision trip.” But, Sir, you can’t have more time than you have had for all the things you have had to do. Time is fixed in quantity: Twenty four hours are in one day, sixty minutes in one hour, and sixty seconds in one minute. These limits are inelastic in nature; so you can’t have more time.
Anyway, the fact is you don’t need more time. The backlog of work, the cluttered table, the overflowing in-tray, the rash of blighted visions and the litany of complaints are not creations of time shortage but upshots of time abuse. Therefore, the fleeting inelastic nature of time isn’t the problem, but your failure to do things within the confines of the time you have. Time management is a popular topic well chronicled in leadership and sociological discourse. You probably have read about it many times. Yet, in spite of the large amount of ink it gets, many leaders still get stung by the time bug while ploughing through their leadership functions. Reason: They don’t heed the warnings about the slippery nature of time. If you find that you’re always overtaken by time, it’s because you’ve ignored the ticking of the clock. Time won’t surrender to your whim. You may choose to work at your own pace and in your own style; but you can’t stay the time to suit your work attitude. Time keeps going though you choose to knock off, unwind and have some fun. By the time you’re back in action, time is gone and you’re in trouble.
Therefore, to ensure that time’s scarcity doesn’t impose restrictions on your leadership ability, you must avoid wasting time. Time wasting doesn’t only mean doing nothing. The loafing leader is wasting as much time as the leader who stops now and then to answer phone calls while working on a report with a close deadline! Time wasting is doing the right thing at the wrong time. Thus, the only way you may save time is to ensure you aren’t in bed when you ought to be in the trenches.
There are three groups of time wasters. The first are certain activities and events that intrude into your schedule. They pop up and fold your wings during your flight with time. Long chit-chat telephone calls, friends stopping by just to say “Hi”, unanticipated conflicts and crises are a few examples. In the second group of wasters are the benumbing consequences of flawed management such as lack of planning, poor organisation of tasks, haste(!), unnecessary details and errors, misplaced perfectionism, and absence of procedures, delegation, unnecessary meetings, and unrealistic goal setting. The third are tell-tale marks of the leader’s character flaws such as procrastination, indiscipline, frivolity, fear and shortsightedness. You may eliminate time wasters by applying this simple time management wisdom: Plan your work and stick to the plan. Ironically, some leaders aren’t comfortable with planning. They feel it boxes them in and discourages creativity. Probably. But planning pays with promptness in management practice. This is a great dividend. Management decisions and actions come with deadlines, and delays may spell disasters for your organisation. In the corporate world speed and accuracy are a key decider of who rules the market and plays the bully at the stock exchange. Lack of planning results in crisis management. If you desire the dividends of timeliness in management and leadership you have no alternative to planning your work.
Planning your task for the purpose of time management is simple. All you need to do is set priorities. To do this, you must evaluate your tasks in relation to the global picture of your leadership functions and goals, and then rank the task in order of importance and urgency. In ranking your tasks, remember to consider the amount of time at your disposal.
Your tasks will come under one of these rank groups. (1) The group of very important and very urgent; (2) The very important but not (or scarcely) urgent; (3) The highly urgent but less important, and (4) those that are neither urgent nor important.
Notice that the tasks ranked highly urgent and important don’t carry the same amount of urgency and importance. So when you finally draw your scale of preference, your ranked listings of things-to-do must make allowance for this distinction. For example, you must place the most important and most urgent tasks first on your list. Now, certain tasks that are important but aren’t urgent may not command your immediate attention; but you shouldn’t ignore them as though they don’t matter! You may discover, much to your chagrin, that such tasks suddenly become due at a critical moment when you have little or no time to attend to them. Your safe measure for this is to delegate such tasks to your staff to work on before they are due.
The following nine rules will help you manage your time so well as to accomplish all your vital organisational tasks.
* Start it. Procrastination, as an adage goes, is a thief of time. Don’t postpone what you have to do now for any reason. Today’s task may not find a time slot in tomorrow’s schedule; or there will be crises. “Tick tick, says the clock; what you have to do, do quick” isn’t simply a rhyme for your kid’s fun. It rings with a subtle caution for you, too!
* Schedule it. If you want to be free from the tyranny of time, plan your job. You must operate with a workplan, an agenda for your day-to-day duties. If you think you don’t need a things-to-do-list bearing time-span for each job item but prefer firing the shots on call, you will soon watch your leadership come under siege. Crisis management isn’t a smooth productive way to lead an organisation. It stifles and leaves the organisation’s success to chance.
* Stick to it. Once you’ve drawn your schedule, stick to it. Hold your priorities sacred and beware of fouling their sanctity by accepting other invitations outside your schedule. Of course, you might make allowance for emergencies; but it isn’t always safe to trade your priorities for life’s demands of others.
* Stay on it. If you are in the habit of doing things in fits and starts, time will be cruel to your leadership ambitions. Time moves so fast that you can’t be sure you will have the time to return and complete the project you once abandoned. Once you start on a thing stay on it till you’re done.
* Sift it. This is a key principle in time management. You must distinguish between priorities that are central to your purpose and vision and those on the fringe of your leadership functions. Also, you should separate the important functions from the urgent. Often, what consumes the leader’s time aren’t the core duties but the secondary that present themselves as the most urgent, needing immediate attention. For example, while attending a chat meeting today with Charles (a marketing research expert) to develop a business relationship may seem more urgent, preparing the manual for your staff’s training scheduled for next week is more central to your leadership and should take top place.
* Share it. When you have many equally important and urgent tasks competing for your time, save some time by sharing them among your competent staff. Delegation multiplies your ability. Assign some tasks to your subordinates and then supervise their performances.
* Slice it. An elephant can’t be eaten whole; but cut in pieces men can have it for lunch. Break large tasks into a series of small manageable undertakings that could be finished within your time schedule. When the bits are done the whole is accomplished.
* Simplify it. Often, precious time is wasted trying to give a project an angelic finish. I admit that perfectionism has its place in an organisation image building; but the fickle nature of time won’t allow you to adorn every leadership activity with flawless precision and final flourish. The leadership scholar, Donald Clark, was right to have observed that: “There comes a stage when there is not much to be gained from putting extra effort into it. Save perfection for the tasks that need it”.
* Set the time. This borders on discipline. Don’t give yourself “unlimited time” for any task. Before you start, allot a time-span for the job and keep to it.
In sum, know you can’t increase the amount of time available for your present tasks without losing time needed to meet future job demands. The best you can do to bring time under your control is to allow time to control you!