If there is one statement from hard-pressed managers today that gets a weary grin of recognition more than most, it’s “I don’t have time to think anymore.” The time stealers of meetings, emails, social media and other people are eating away at people’s capacity for reflection.

I’m working with some new managers in a design and manufacturing context at the moment and time management is high on their agenda. It’s a misleading label because this is really about how you manage yourself and other people in the time available. Time is not tangible, people are.

Buffeted from above by demanding leaders, from the teams they manage and by internal and external customers, these harassed managers are trying to put quarts into pint pots. Yet, their passion for the work and a genuine desire to not let people down means they get things done, sometimes at a cost to their wellbeing. Like hamsters on a wheel, they are forever running to stand still or they risk falling off.

Taking Back Control

What can be done to break this kind of vicious cycle? The key is shifting to time leadership – focusing on what is within your control and being proactive in making positive changes. Leaders act as role models so this has personal benefits and sends clear messages to others. Here are the 7 Ds of reducing your stress and getting the right things done:

  • Do now?
  • Delegate to someone?
  • Do it quicker?
  • Defer it?
  • Delete it?
  • Don’t go?
  • Disconnect?

Doing Great Work

Author, thinker, and business strategist Michael Bungay Stanier suggests how we can do more of the work that matters and less of that other stuff. He differentiates Bad Work, Good Work and Great Work.

Which pot are most of your efforts falling into now?

One of Stephen Covey’s seven habits for effective people is “put first things first”. Managing yourself is about organising and executing around priorities to achieve results. Focus on what is important to you and what urgently needs doing and manage the distractions. Just ensure that prioritising doesn’t become “an avoidance strategy” which according to journalist and self-help commentator, Oliver Burkeman, results in simply reorganising your ‘to do’ list.

Attitude and Focus Make a Difference

In today’s complex and multi-dimensional age, the reality of our lives is of competing demands on our time and the potential to be easily diverted from our goals. Our ability to get things done and on time will depend upon a range of skills, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviours.

For example, your values and experience will inform your attitude. Whether they are about efficiency, achievement, integrity or creativity, they will affect your approach to managing yourself and others. Using values as a compass enables you to keep on track through focusing on your own and the organisation’s goals.

Some people’s frame of reference is the past

‘I’ve done this before…’, ‘This has worked for me in the past…’, ‘I’m quite traditional…’

Other people focus on the present

‘I am doing “X” right now’, ‘I need this now’

or the future

‘When can you get it to me?’, ‘How long will it take?’

The trick is to give attention to all three. If you are too past-focused, your mind will be on what has just happened. If you are too future-focused, you can get ahead of yourself. If you are too present-focused, you can miss lessons learned or be short-sighted.

What Employers Want

Employable people are self-aware. They understand their preferences, how they like to do things and what they are good at. They can describe their approach to time – attention to detail, systematic, spontaneous, last minute, early finisher, caring so they prioritise other people’s needs over their own etc. They find techniques and approaches that work for them, play to their strengths and know who to rely on and when.

Whether you are employed or seeking a job, employers want to know that:

  • You are aware of the time stealers, know what works for you in addressing them and get the balance right.
  • You have personal and professional standards such as punctuality and respect for others in meeting deadlines.
  • You have the resilience to handle lots of tasks and prioritise them effectively.
  • You will be productive in a way that delivers what is required, and when, by colleagues, partners and customers.

How well do you manage yourself and others so you do Great Work more of the time? What is your attitude to time? How do your personal preferences and values affect how you manage yourself and others?