ANSWERCompanies manage their capital budgets with intense rigor. So why do so many fail to manage their time with the same level of commitment and structure?
It has been found that on average executives spend 2 full days each week just attending meetings. To make matters worse the last 40 years have shown an explosion in communications. Executives received only about 1,000 external communications per year in the 1970s. This has ballooned to 30,000 communications per year in the 2010s due to emails, phone calls and virtual collaborations with people external to the organization.
By applying rigor to the way companies view time allocation, organizations have the opportunity to free up as much as 20% of their collective hours.
Here are 8 practices that can be used to solve common time wasting problems.
1) Set clear priorities and organizational goals. As a rule, employees are spread too thin which draws focus away from an organization's top priorities. It's better to focus on successfully achieving fewer goals than to fail or deliver mediocrity across too many projects. Steve Jobs understood this. Each year he would gather his top 100 executives to set a list of top priorities for the year. Then Jobs would strike out most, showing the importance of investing time strategically.
2) Use time budgeting to deal with too many unproductive meetings. The idea is to budget time allocations as you would a capital budget. When creating a time budget you allocate a certain percentage of time to planning, a certain percentage to productive work, a certain percentage to meetings, etc. Then as meetings are scheduled you deduct time from a "time bank" constantly tracking how much time has been spent versus the initial time allocated. This places a heightened scrutiny on the value of each meeting before it is scheduled
3) Require business cases for projects and name an executive sponsor to prevent initiative creep. Once business cases are submitted for review, each project will be assessed to determine it's value to the organization. Some projects will not pass the rigor of a formal review. Others will not even have business cases created when teams realize the project doesn't add significant business value.
4) Simplify the Organization. A flatter organization is more efficient. Individual employees need oversight and direction to achieve the team and company goals with efficiency. But management comes at a cost. A junior manager or team lead creates additional work for others equivalent to 1/3 of a full-time employee. This extra work is distributed across the team they manage but it's extra work none-the-less. A manager creates additional work for others equal to 1 full-time employee. While senior executives create additional work equivalent to 4 full-time employees. Management guidance is essential, but eliminating unneeded levels of management is helpful. A flatter organizational structure where layers of hierarchy are removed can free up enormous amounts of time. This also reduces communications points removing both time and communication complexity.
5) Control who can authorize large time investments. Recurring meetings are typically set up nearly by default and often do not receive the proper level of scrutiny or require the appropriate level of approval. Even one-off meetings can burn a lot of valuable time.
First, institute a standard rule such as any meeting longer than 30 mins or including more than 7 people requires 2nd Level Manager authorization.
Second, if a recurring meeting is thought to be necessary to make incremental progress towards a goal, first calculate the total cost of the recurring meeting ('meeting duration' x '# of attendee's' x '# of meetings needed to achieve the goal') and then make a decision about whether it is truly needed. If it's decided that it's still worthwhile, obtain 2nd Level Manager authorization
6) Identify decision rights to avoid confusion about who has decision making authority. This is particularly important for projects among cross-functional teams. Leadership should clarify who has the authority to make the decision for specific issues or discipline areas. This eliminates confusion, roadblocks, wasted time and also tension among teams where clear decision making authority is otherwise not well known.
7) Establish meeting discipline and integrate it into the organizational culture. Starting meetings just 5 mins late results in an 8% waste of time invested by each person attending. Insist that everyone come prepared. Have a specific agenda and set of goals to achieve by the end of the meeting. Save time at the end of each meeting for reviewing decisions made and assign takeaways for members do work and report back. Finally, end the meeting early if the session is proving to be unproductive either from lack of team preparedness or unclear meeting goals.
8) You can't manage what you don't measure. While it's important to avoid micro-managing employees or tracking every aspect of their work, certain types of time investment should be tracked so that comparisons and improvements can be made. Track how much time employees and teams spend in meetings. Analyze trends for opportunities for improvement. If one person or team spends much more time than average in meetings find out why. Perhaps, there is a reason or perhaps there's room for time allocation best practices to be applied.
Watch this Time Management video
Credit: Chris Adams
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