This week, I led a teleseminar called The Productive Leader (you can learn more and order a recording of it here) . As I said at the start of the call, it doesn’t seem to matter what the topic of the training or conversation, time management always comes up. People want to manage their time better – as leaders in their own work, or helping those they lead to be more effective with their time.
It shouldn’t be a surprise – time management books and courses are perpetually popular. I don’t believe the issue is about time management at all. It is about choice management, and that, my friends, is a torch we as leaders must carry.
So rather than talking about time management, let’s talk about choice management, and when we are done, we’ll see how that can impact our effective use of time.
Here are four examples for you.
Values. Of ultimate importance are our values. Are you clear on your values? Are you able to state them clearly? If you can, you have a chance to make better choices with your time. After all, how can you possibly expect to make good choices if you don’t know the boundaries inside which your decisions need to be made? This is true for us organizationally and personally. This must be the place to start.
Mission and Vision. Why does your organization exist and what is your ultimate goal? Choices must be based on these always. Without these clearly in focus, drift is inevitable, and choices difficult. If these aren’t clear for you personally or organizationally, why not? And if they aren’t, this must be job one – whether as a C-level executive or a front line leader.
Focus words. Awhile back, I discovered a great new book titled, One Word That Will Change Your Life. This book recommends that you have a single word on which to focus your energy and effort for the year. In the past, I have done something similar, both personally and with my team, using three words rather than one. Whether one word or three, the idea is the same, and is extremely powerful. This exercise helps you define your direction and focus for the year – or any time period. When you view your work and tasks through the prism of these words, you work knowing you are heading in the right direction. Those focus words can help you make choices on how to spend the large and small blocks of your time.
Goals. The lowest level and perhaps the most concrete of the four factors are our goals. Are your goals clear? Are they meaningful and understandable? Do people know what they need to do to reach them? And are you making them visible to everyone all the time? If you have read my writing for a long time you know I write about these ideas often. It is not by mistake. Goals keep us clear on what we need to do every day.
These are four important stating points. As a leader, we must be clear on these four factors and help our teams and organizations be clear on them too. These things give everyone a chance to make the best choices. Then we must make them.
That is the other challenge for us as leaders. We can’t just talk about values, visions, focus words, or goals. We can’t just set them and move on to the next task. We must keep them in front of us. We must make them the criteria by which we make decisions, large and small.
As leaders, the choices we make matter, but they matter twice. They matter for the results we personally get, and they matter for the choices others make when they watch us. Therefore, we must not only make good choices, but we must help others see how we are making them too.
Is this easy? Of course not. All of us get sucked into dealing with the urgent, the expedient, and the easy. We are human. But as leaders, we must strive for a higher standard, and help our teams do that too.
Do you see how we have come full circle, from time, to choices, and back to time? I know this hasn’t given you a specific set of time management techniques. Actually, I’ve given you something better. I have reminded you of what is most important – and with that reminder, you will manage your choices, and your time much more effectively.