You Can’t DO It All Either: A Strategic Approach to Time Management

Last year the debate raged over whether women could “have it all,” based on an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter in the July/August 2012 issue of The Atlantic magazine titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” I posted my take on the issue here.

Its about Time Series III’ve been reminded recently that you can’t do it all either. We all must prioritize our time, and how we do so is critical to our success. The January 2013 issue of the McKinsey Quarterly contains two articles related to time management.

In Making time management the organization’s priority, Frankki Bevins and Aaron DeSmet describe a study of executive time management. They argue that companies should tackle time problems systematically rather than leave them to individuals.

“Time management isn’t just a personal-productivity issue over which companies have no control; it has increasingly become an organizational issue whose root causes are deeply embedded in corporate structures and cultures.”

According to Bevins and DeSmet, almost 50% of corporate executives report that time management is a problem in their organization, so it is clear that changing how organizations prioritize tasks is important.

Executives are also not happy with how they spend their own time. Those that are dissatisfied with their own time management think they spend too much time

  • on online communications,
  • in meetings with other employees (as opposed to customers),
  • schmoozing with customers instead of working strategically, and/or
  • putting out fires.

By contrast, executives who are satisfied with how they spend their time focus on managing operational decisions and people and on setting the organization’s direction and strategy. They have significant blocks of time to work alone and with clients and customers, and they spend more time in face-to-face meetings than in online communications.

As a solution, Bevins & DeSmet suggest budgeting employees’ time like any other scarce resource. View time as a scarce resource, not as infinitely expandable.

In my experience, some institutions – those that bill time – are often already proficient at this. But even law, accounting and engineering firms are likely to take on more projects than their employees and partners can accomplish in a timely fashion.

And organizations often pile more work on the most competent employees, diluting the effectiveness of their best people. Instead, companies need to keep track of individual time commitments and re-allocate employees’ time where it can most benefit the organization.

Bevins and DeSmet also suggest that organizations set metrics for how much time is devoted to strategic priorities.

Time business concept.A companion article in The McKinsey Quarterly, A personal approach to organizational time management, by Peter Bregman, sets out a three step process for managing time as a strategic resource.

  1. Identify no more than five things you will focus on this year, based on your strategic goals. Spend 95% of your time on those things, with no more than 5% of your time on other things. Keep your focus on these strategic priorities.
  2. Help your staff create their list of five priorities. Their lists should be aligned with yours.
  3. These lists of priorities guide your management of your staff, so that they accomplish their priorities, which are aligned with your priorities, which are aligned with the strategic direction of the organization.

This is a process that any individual manager can adopt, although it will work best if the entire organization focuses on time management. Otherwise, a higher-up executive can foil his or her subordinates’ attempts to manage their groups with this process.

I worked for one vice-president who managed this way. He kept track of how he spent his own time every week. He set goals for the division, and worked hard to communicate those goals throughout the many-layered organization he managed.  He was the most focused manager I ever had, and I learned a lot about management and leadership from him.

How good are you at prioritizing how your time is spent? How do you help your staff members align their time with organizational priorities?




Filed under Human Resources, Leadership, Management, Work/Life, Workplace

2 responses to “You Can’t DO It All Either: A Strategic Approach to Time Management

  1. Great posting, Sara! I’m not sure if you’ve read this article, from HBR, but thought you might enjoy it.

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