How to prioritise effectively (get the right things done and become a better manager)

One of the issues that many of my coaching clients bring up time and time again is not having enough time.

In terms of leadership and management, not only does poor time management and inability to prioritise impact your career, it also sets a poor example to your team.

When I work with teams on helping them improve performance, one of the main things I see get in the way is the manager’s inability to plan and prioritise effectively.

Here are some of the common symptoms of poor prioritising and time management:

  • Cancelling one-to-one’s with staff
  • Missing a report deadline
  • Catching up on emails in the wee small hours or at weekends
  • Losing temper at the smallest thing
  • Not being approachable, your staff walking on eggshells
  • Running to catch up – always turning up to meetings late
  • Working long hours in order to try and get everything done (but still not getting everything done)

Any of these sound familiar? (*whispers* not for you, of course, but someone you work with)

Never fear…

…There is a way to conquer this issue but it requires you (or whoever) to dig deep and be prepared to make the change.

Here are some of the tools and techniques that past coaching clients have used to great effect:

First up…The four-box matrix

I first came across this when I read Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’. Download every single item on your ‘to do’ list by allocating each of them to one of four boxes:

  • Important/urgent
  • Important/not urgent
  • Not important/urgent
  • Not important/not urgent

You can download the four-box template I use for my own planning and prioritising.

Allocate some time in your diary to plan out your week

Getting everything out of your head is key if you are to feel in control.

Some of my clients have a notebook which is purely for actions – their portable to-do list if you will. Others have an Excel spreadsheet which they plonk everything down into. This is an approach that I used to do.

Some people do this brain-dump on a Friday afternoon, some on a Monday morning.

Key is to find whatever works for you.

Block out a good chunk of time – around two hours. I tend to do this on a Friday, where I go through all emails, update my four-box planner (adding in new stuff, ticking off stuff done). The aim is to get everything out of my head, so I’m free to go into the weekend and the following week with a clear mind.

I then block out time for tasks/activities in the week ahead (sometimes weeks ahead, if needed).

Once you’ve done this, manage your diary ruthlessly. If you don’t, then it will manage you.

Push back at meetings

Empty space in your diary is like manna from heaven for those running meetings, looking to make you part of their busy work!

Push back at meetings. Check out this great TED talk about this.

This is about the art of saying “no”. Part of your planning session is about identifying which meetings you won’t attend, which action you won’t do (simply because it’s not important enough).

Don’t let email eat up your precious time

Block out time in your diary to check email and then switch the damn thing off!

I tend to block out 20-30 mins first thing, again at lunchtime and again at the end of the day.

You can also set up a rule so that emails you’re copied in to get moved in to a different folder. The sender gets a message from you saying that unless they expect you to take action then you’ll assume the email is for info only.

Prioritise what’s important to you as a manager

The managers I work with have reported increased energy and improved performance (for them and their team) when they’ve implemented the following:

  • Blocking out time each week for planning the week ahead
  • Reviewing the month ahead – identifying the three big things that need to be done. The goals that are going to progress you, your team and your career.
  • Blocking out (and protecting) thinking time in your diary – really important if you are in a leadership or management role
  • Blocking out time for emails and then switching my email off.
  • Blocking out (and protecting) time for team members – ‘open door’.
  • And then there is, of course, blocking out (and protecting) time for you. It’s not just about work, y’know!

I hope you found this post helpful. What techniques have you found work for you in managing your time effectively? Why not post your thoughts in the comment box below. Sharing might help others learn from your experience.

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