I have recently been promoted to a Director position and have several areas working for me. The nature of my job (public relations) takes me away from my office and I find myself in many meetings, some which are urgent and can’t be planned for. The problem is that I am so overwhelmed with tasks, meetings, people wanting “just a minute,” that I am having a hard time making my goals.
My boss has suggested that I attend a class on time management and read some good reference books but the reality is I can’t find the time to even sign up, or go to the bookstore!
I have regular meetings with each staff group (I have four different areas but two areas work closely with one another), one-on-one’s with each specialist to coach them (six in one group, four in another), and usually end up canceling meetings with two of the other groups, who are more administrative in their roles. In addition, I have a hard time finding time to meet with my boss, who is also very busy. Then there are the emails…I could spend two hours a day, just responding to them and taking action on them.
Do you have any tips for me, so I can get control of my day?
Sound familiar? I hear this everywhere I go, and suffer from some of it myself. Many of the executives I coach struggle with the juggle. Here are some ideas that may help you.
Take a hard look at the frequency of your meetings, to determine whether to decrease—or increase—the number of times you meet.
The first thing a busy person does is cancel meetings, or move them from once a week to once a month. The problem is that when meetings are less frequent, they last two or three times as long because there is so much to cover. In addition, the boss ends up having more interruptions throughout the day, or problems explode because issues aren’t getting discussed in a timely manner.
Ideally, a meeting schedule could look like this:
Emails can be both the most efficient and inefficient use of time. They can fragment your day if you check in frequently, since they can scatter your concentration and send you off in many directions. If possible, batch them. Some people check in three times a day—morning, lunch and an hour before they leave. For others, emailing in the evening works for them. If you have a trusted assistant, or someone who can screen emails and forward the urgent ones, you can get better control of your day.
The one person you don’t want to blow off is your boss. You need to have this discussion with your manager and find out what time would work out best for him or her. Perhaps it will be a breakfast or lunch once a week, or Friday’s at 3 pm, if the dust settles around that time. If face-time seems too difficult to achieve, try doing a weekly activity journal. This can be a simple email with significant issues, questions and progress reports. Email may be the only way you can get input and keep your boss informed. It’s better than nothing at all.
Office hours work for some people. Some managers who are out of their office frequently have some success posting when they will be in their office and available to drop-in visitors. For example, one executive I know arrives early every day and anyone, who has an issue they wish to discuss, is free to stop by. In another case, a manager told his staff that he would be available from 1:00 to 2:00, as frequently as possible.
Scheduled one-on-ones are a great way to have staff and others “batch” their questions and save them for the scheduled time. It also allows the manager to track their progress on projects, coach and give feedback and provide career advice. Many managers who do this create binders with tabs for each person. These binders are a great way to organize notes and monitor progress. The binder allows the manager to grab everything at once to bring it into a staff meeting, if needed. Some managers have a standard agenda: profits, productivity and people, for example. For others, they let the employee run the meeting and bring whatever they want to talk about.
Stay organized. Use your electronic and paper systems to keep you on top of projects. For example, I use a drawer file which includes one file for each month of the year and 31 daily files. When I have to work on a project or make a decision by a certain date, I put it in the file marked November, for example. When November rolls around, I pull all the notes and information out of that file and sort them into the daily files. For instance, if I must be finished with a project by November 15, I might put the information into the November 10th file, so I have enough time to make my deadline. I then put a “P” for “pending” into my electronic calendar on November 10th, to remind me. If you’re not organized, solicit the help of someone who is. That way, you can force yourself to work on your goals, instead of always having them get bumped off of your To Do list.
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Joan Lloyd has a solid track record of excellent results. Her firm, Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding. This includes executive coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, customized leadership training, conflict resolution between teams or individuals, internal consulting skills training for HR professionals and retreat facilitation. Clients report results such as: behavior change in leaders, improved team performance and a more committed workforce.
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