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By Bill Catlette and Richard Hadden
We can't expect others to follow us, let alone part with their Discretionary Effort, until and unless we've gotten our own act squared away. How well we manage our time and priorities is an essential element in this process.
Leadership is about taking the time to do a bunch of stuff that, in the moment, may not seem especially fun or consequential, but whose cumulative effect over time-especially when observed by others (those being led)-ends up making a big difference in how enthusiastically people perform.
What kind of stuff, you ask?
The reason, we tell ourselves and others, that so many important things go undone, is that we "didn't have the time." In point of fact, we have all the time there is - 1,440 minutes per day, every day - the same amount of time that Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Ronald Reagan, Mother Teresa, John Kennedy, Ben Franklin, and Marie Curie had. There isn't going to be any more of it. What we choose to do with that time is a function of our choices (mostly) and, in a few cases, circumstances legitimately beyond our control.
As German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, "Things which matter most in life should never be at the mercy of things which matter least."
Time-management gurus have for years maintained that, in reality, one cannot manage time at all. Rather, the best we can hope to do is manage those events that consume our time. But how?
One way is through Delegation.
Responsible delegation involves more than just passing out assignments of things to do-a lot more. It involves clarifying what is to be done, by whom, when, and what tools and resources might be needed to accomplish the task. It involves making sure people have the authority to accomplish the task and that they understand and accept the accountability that goes along with it. We highly recommend reading William Oncken's classic article "Management Time-Who's Got the Monkey? " first published in 1974 and reprinted in the November 1, 1999, issue of Harvard Business Review.
Use the following as a guide when trying to decide what needs to be delegated, and to what degree:
Giving Up Control: Delegation (8 Levels)
Level 1: Get the facts; I'll decide.
Just Say No
Wise managers are finding that one of the best things they can do to develop their staff, not to mention preserving their own sanity, is to occasionally let the staff know that they are going to be "untethering" (turning off phones, pagers, and e-mail) while they are away from the office. It's amazing how much stuff people can get done by their own devices when they realize that seeking permission or getting a lifeline is not an option.
At the end of the day, making the best use of one's time probably hinges more on having a clear sense of priorities than anything else. Without that bedrock, we quickly, inevitably find our time eroded by what Charles Hummel referred to as the "Tyranny of the Urgent." In his essay by the same name, Hummel used the typical human reaction to the ringing of a telephone as an example of how we will quickly abandon more vital endeavors in order to deal with the "urgent" need to put a stop to that incessant, irritating ringing noise. Imagine what Hummel would have had to say in a world replete with e-mail, cellphones, pagers, and the like.
According to Hummel, the issue is not so much a shortage of time as a problem of priorities. Or, as a cotton mill manager once told him, "Your greatest danger is letting the urgent things crowd out the important."
We don't care whether you use the A-B-C prioritization
method espoused by the FranklinCovey folks, or
someone else's 1-2-3 method. The bottom line is that
it is imperative that you operate with a clear sense of
your long-term goals, together with a current set of
near-term priorities that are balanced in favor of the
big picture. On a daily (if not more frequent) basis, you
need to sort out your intended activities according to
their relative importance in the scheme of things. Our
own personal prioritization categories include the
Setting the priorities is the easy part-easy, but necessary. Then, you have to pay attention to what you have designated as most important. Your list is kinda like the lane markers painted on a highway. You should glance at it every once in a while to make sure you're tracking as planned-that the "A" stuff is getting done before anything else. And yes, before you ask, you really oughta write this stuff down, be it on a gum wrapper, in a planning journal, or on a PDA. If for no other reason, it gives you a feeling of accomplishment at the end of the day to sit down and cross off the day's achievements. Whether done with a pencil or a cursor, crossing those items off is such a powerful experience that most folks who have accomplished something that was not originally on their list will actually write it down, for the sole purpose of getting to draw a line through it. You know who you are, and we've been watching!
He that is everywhere is nowhere.
Since we started our blog last month, we've been a couple of bloggin' fools. Come and see what we've got to say - and by all means, talk back!
Richard Hadden and Bill Catlette
Contented Cow Partners, LLC