Mark was new in his job. He went to his boss for help with the 12 projects he was working on.
"Can you help me sort these into A, B, and C priorities?"
"Easy. They're all A's"
Nancy had a new boss. He came to her one evening and said, "I really need this on my desk first thing tomorrow morning."
Nancy worked all night to complete the task on time.
She never heard anything from her boss on the subject during the day so she just before she went home at the end of the day (to get some sleep), she stopped by his office to ask him if he needed anything else on the project.
"Not sure. I haven't had a chance to look at it yet."
You're probably realizing that neither Mark nor Nancy's bosses were helpful. If, as Michael Brown puts it, the ABC's of behavior change are Antecedent – Behavior – Consequences, Mark's boss refused to leverage the Antecedent she was given to help Mark prioritize things. If everything is an "A" priority, "A" stands for average – with the same priority. Nancy's boss blew the consequence in that there was no positive consequence to Nancy's staying up all night to meet the deadline. Nancy won't do that again.
Even if you're new, you have to manage your own time as it is one of many key leadership skills. Don't expect anyone else to help you set your priorities. Don't expect anyone else to put your needs ahead of theirs. Everyone needs you to do everything immediately – even if it means you have to miss some sleep.
The word "no" is the key to time management
Scope is a function of resources and time. If the scope of what you're trying to accomplish is too much to get done right, you either have to add resources, add time, or cut back the scope, saying "no" to some of the less important items. Think in terms of six levels of things you're going to:
- Do well yourself.
- Do yourself, but just well enough.
- Delegate and supervise.
- Delegate and ignore.
- Do later.
- Do never.
Do well yourself
These are the things that have to go right. Your early wins are here. Your boss's most important priorities are here. Let's be clear. You're going to say no and downplay, delegate, and avoid other things so you can spend more time on these. This is where you and your team need to strive for perfection. Doing well is an understatement. Here's where you're going to do your absolute best.
Do yourself, but just well enough
You accept that you need to do these things yourself. But they are not as important as some others. So, you should do them, and do them well enough to satisfy the people that need them. Yet, they're not going to get your best effort (or inordinate amounts of your time). You'll do them satisfactorily, well enough, but not great.
Delegate and supervise
To be fair, delegation is not alway a time management tool. Often there are others than can do something better than you can. In these cases, delegation is about capability, not capacity. Nevertheless, sometimes delegation is an important time management technique. The items you delegate and supervise are important. You want them done well. You don't care about them enough to do them yourself, but you do care about them enough to supervise the work.
Delegate and ignore
Now we're into serious time management. Items you delegate and ignore are off your plate. You hope the people you delegate them to will do them well, but you don't care about these tasks as much as you care about others. So you're prepared to accept whatever results come to fruition.
Things you decide to do later may get done eventually. They're certainly not going to get done now. They are one step above the bottom rung and delaying them may cause stress with the people that need them now. But that's a choice you're prepared to make.
Not only do you think these tasks are bad ideas for you and for people you might delegate to, you think these are bad ideas in any case. Here's your clearest "no". Not me. Not others. Not anyone. Now now. Not ever. Go away. (Harsh, but clear.)
I could go into more depth on some of this. And I might for one of our books. But, frankly, for this blog, this is something I choose to do myself, but just well enough.