Volume #33 - April 2003

Is your organization on-time and efficient? Or does the culture bog people down by supporting multiple, lengthy or poorly run meetings, last minute cancellations and changes, and crazy rushes to meet deadlines? Some organizations just can't seem to get their arms around time; yet, inefficient organizations not only impact productivity but they also impact morale.

Your behavior can feed into and support these inefficiencies. We each have our own internal barriers - attitudes and beliefs - that impact our behaviors. So the first thing you can do in the process of making organizational shifts is to shift your own habits. Analyze your own behavior and look for the patterns that trip you up with regard to time. Are you a procrastinator who puts things off until the last minute? Maybe you have difficulty making choices or can't get yourself organized. Or maybe you are a perfectionist who can't let go of the details. Here are seven keys to becoming more efficient.

If you're not delegating well, you're not leading well. Your job as a manager and a leader is not to be the "doer." This can be one of the hardest lessons to learn. Delegating is an empowering process because it gives others opportunities to learn. So delegate tasks you're not good at, don't enjoy, or deplete your energy or time. Do, however, make sure that you are clear about expectations and explanations of what needs to be done. Clarify responsibilities and the results you want. You might need to lower your standards - others might not do things as "perfectly" as you. You want high quality, but with less demand for perfection, you'll find it easier to delegate. With that in mind, think about whom the person is for certain tasks. Then communicate the level of authority you are giving them. Develop some checkpoints so that they don't feel abandoned and so that you can make sure things stay on track. Then give them the freedom to do what needs to be done. Good delegation creates an empowering and motivating environment.

Look for patterns. Become aware of your own habits and any beliefs that might need to be altered. Also check to see if the environment sets you up for interruptions. Do people expect you to be immediately responsive? Do they feel they can interrupt you whenever it's convenient for them? Does the culture reinforce these practices? What role do you play in being interrupted? Do you have any fears that are influencing the way you are responding? Set up a "no interruptions" time so that you can concentrate on what needs to get done without being distracted. You might even put up a sign on your door or cubicle - one that is humorous or non-offending that lets people know you need some quiet time. Set up special times to answer voice mail and e-mails so that you're not constantly interrupting yourself. For the most part, people don't need instant responses.

If you're in a cubicle in a heavy traffic flow area, you might have to move your desk so that you're not facing the traffic. If you find yourself being interrupted by the same people over and over, schedule regular times to meet with them. When you do allow yourself to get interrupted, make sure to keep the interruptions short. Let the interrupter know that you want to help but have only so much time to talk. Interruptions are so intense in some cultures that some of my clients who work in cubicle environments use conference rooms for uninterrupted work time or they schedule time to work at home.

Many organizations have cultures that are overrun with ineffective meetings. If you're guilty of repeatedly canceling meetings, changing times, or arriving late, you set a bad example for your direct reports, shaking their confidence and causing frustration. Being more efficient makes you more effective. When you run a meeting, start and end on time. Invite the people and ask them to come prepared. Make sure each meeting has an agenda with a clear purpose and objectives. Then, follow the agenda - stay focused and set time limits for agenda items. If people get carried away in discussions have them take the conversation off-line and report back at the next meeting. End meetings with clear decisions and action steps, knowing who is going to do what by when. It's also good to use a check-out process to evaluate the meeting so that you can constantly improve your effectiveness and efficiency.

Streamline processes and procedures and create shortcuts. Many procedures and strategies can be overwhelming. Break anything that's too complex down into more manageable steps. If there is a genuine case of work overload, sit down and talk with your boss about the realities of what can and can't be accomplished given the resources you have. Ask for help in setting priorities or in getting more resources.

If you're a procrastinator, simply get started. Admit you're procrastinating and commit yourself to action. Set deadlines and do the toughest things first. Then keep going using small steps. Put yourself on the hook by promising results to others whose opinions count. If you commit to someone whose belief in you is critical, you will be much more likely to follow through in an efficient way.

Disorganization drains energy and wastes time. Clean house using the small steps approach. Get your office, desk and files in shape by tackling one small area at a time. Set some ground rules for yourself about how you're going to reorganize. What's the criteria for throwing stuff away and what's the process for handling the remainder? Be strict with yourself and seek support from others who can help you get a handle on your mess.

Take the time to do things up front - set clear goals, priorities, policies, and plans. Know what your organizational and departmental goals are. Your individual goals and your team's goals should support them. If you aren't clear on goals you won't know how to prioritize your activities. What should you be focusing on to accomplish your goals? What are those critical and highly valuable activities that will lead to results?

Once you've decided what you should be paying attention to, create a plan and use a planner that acts as a visual guide on a monthly, weekly and daily level. When you are scheduling your tasks into the planner make sure you put a beginning time and an ending time for activities. Don't forget to include travel, set-up and clean-up time - it's not just the time it takes to do something, but all the supporting activities it requires. Then stick to the plan, stay focused, and learn how to say "no." This doesn't mean you shouldn't be flexible, but seeing what you should be doing at any given time frees you up from being pulled in different directions and scattering your attention. In addition, there are always going to be surprises so build some cushion time into your schedule to accommodate the unexpected.

In addition, when creating daily plans pay attention to your own energy levels. At what part of the day are you the most productive and creative? Schedule tasks around your own energy cycle, doing work you find more difficult when you have the most energy.

Continually evaluate what's happening for you and your team and make regular tune-ups. Accept responsibility for being timely and develop on-time habits. Show your respect for others by being considerate of their time. Show respect for the organization by focusing on results and delivering what you promise when you promise it. Work with HR to provide training on time management so that everyone in the organization benefits and the culture becomes more efficient. Then enjoy the sense of power and the freedom from stress that comes when you manage your time more efficiently.


  1. What's the biggest time management hurdle for you?
  2. What beliefs, habits and fears are attached to this hurdle?
  3. What are you willing to do to change those beliefs, habits or fears?
  4. Who can provide support for you in becoming a more timely manager?
  5. What organizational norms get in the way of being more timely?
  6. What steps can you take to raise awareness and change those norms?

Copy © 2003 Virginia O'Brien All s Reserved

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