Monday, October 31, 2011

Making Time

What would you do with an extra hour? It's an opportunity that we have every year when the clocks turn back.

It’s not necessarily an ‘extra hour’ as we have to give it back in the spring, but it is worth considering how we might build in an extra hour of quality time in our day, particularly as most managers complain that they just don’t have enough hours in the day.

Some years ago an HBR article written by Ronald Ashkenas and Robert Schaffer looked at why managers waste time. In the article, a question had been posed to dozens of managers: Imagine if the CEO of your company personally asked you to take on an important assignment — working directly for her. The project would take one day per week but you would have to continue your regular role in the remaining time. Would you take the assignment? Almost all the managers asked said they would take the assignment on.

The reality is that we all have "extra" hours available, without having to turn back the clock. They are buried in unnecessary meetings, inefficient work processes, interruptions, false starts, PowerPoint perfection, misplaced files, and a host of other time-wasters.

We may assume that these patterns are part of the normal rhythm of imperfect organizational life — but unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) we know that these inefficiencies give us a cushion in case we have to suddenly step up the pace or respond to the CEO’s assignment.

So if you need to find an extra hour each day here are some ideas for identifying and capturing a few additional hours:
  1. Do a quick calendar analysis. Go back through the last few months of your Outlook calendar or handwritten diary. Highlight all of the activities or meetings that — in retrospect — truly added value. Then look at the remaining items. Which ones had no impact? If you had not spent the time, would it have made a difference? See if you can find a pattern. Finally, look forward at your next couple of months and see if there are meetings or activities that you could avoid or eliminate without any consequence.
  2. Schedule 20 minute meetings instead of the usual 30 minutes. Most of us fall into the pattern or habit of scheduling half hour meetings without questioning the value of the meeting or whether we actually need that amount of time. If you cut the length of your meetings down your time immediately becomes 50% more productive.
  3. Never attend a meeting without an objective. This is two fold. Firstly, never attend a meeting without an agenda circulated well before the meeting. Secondly, just because someone else calls a meeting doesn’t mean you shouldn’t look for opportunities to meet your agenda – even if it’s only building your network and establishing your reputation.
  4. Finally, ask for feedback. Our time-wasting patterns are often invisible to us — but apparent to those around us. Ask colleagues if they could identify some activities that you could do less often, in less time, or stop doing altogether. For example, one manager who did this was told that he didn't need to attend a weekly operations meeting that was run by one of his people — a meeting that he habitually sat in on as a way of "lending support."
None of us have the ability to find more time by simply turning back the clock — except when Summer Time ends. For the rest of the year, we need to find other ways.

How do you find extra time?

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