Block Your Time, Be Deliberate, Stay Flexible
Leadership has transformed over the last couple of years. It will continue to transform as leaders are faced with unprecedented complexity and change emanating both externally and internally in their organizations. This series of articles titled “The Leadership Blueprint” offers a blueprint on critical elements of leadership that you, as a Learning and Development (L&D) leader, can adopt and adapt to your organizational contexts. The series focuses on essential leadership functions, including driving digital transformation, leading people, harnessing data, driving culture change, and concentrating on the future, among others. This article offers 5 tactics to strategically manage your most valuable and scarce resource, time.
Why Is Managing Time Necessary?
Time is literally running out and cannot be replaced or replenished. As a leader, you must become very deliberate in how you allocate and use your time each day. To optimize your time and energy, you will need to observe when you are most productive in the day. For example, if you are a morning person, you will be more productive in the morning versus the afternoon, so it is best to schedule your most important, strategic, and energy-consuming meetings in the morning. Similarly, you will need to shift your schedule to later in the day if you are not a morning person.
According to research from MIT Sloan, being deliberate about how much time and where you spend your time is critical. Most leaders often make the mistake of “commission and omission.” The mistake of commission is spending time on the wrong project, whereas the mistake of omission is missing out on the right project.
Block Your Time
Blocking your time on your calendar is crucial and can take many forms. Some leaders literally put blocks of time in their calendars each day and they color-code them. So, meetings can be red, thinking time yellow, cultivating coalitions green. The color blocks help you visualize where you are spending your most time and where you may need to make changes to rebalance your time on the most important projects.
Another way to block your time is to create a two-sided schedule for each day in two columns: on the left column, list the tasks and the amount of time for each, and in the right column, list the intent and outcome of each task. This approach can help you quickly calibrate and shift your time to achieve the most important outcomes first.
A third approach, developed by Gil Shwed, Check Point Software CEO, is to create three columns for all the tasks: the first column includes small tweaks or improvements that take a relatively short time; the second column includes the bigger goals that will take more effort and time; and, finally, the third column includes the moonshots that will scale and grow your organization. If you find that you are spending most of your time in column one, you are consumed with trivial things you should be delegating so that you can focus on columns two and three.
Be In The Moment
Being present in the moment is an effective way to manage both your time and your energy. Being present means that you stay in the moment and you’re not concerned or consumed about the past or the future. Being present also means that you only focus on the task at hand, and this helps you ideate and engage with others to address the task at hand.
Retired US Army Lieutenant General Neil Thurgood advises leaders to “be where your feet are” at any given time, meaning that you have to be present in the location, space, and time where you are physically so you can focus and optimize your time. You do not worry about what precedes or comes after this moment, and you squarely focus on the moment. After that, you move to the next most important intent and outcome and execute the associated tasks. Another way to focus on being in the moment is to compartmentalize your tasks, big deliverables, and crises so that you can focus on them separately and independently in your mind.
Saying no to new projects, invitations, or people’s requests can be quite difficult. However, if you are deliberate about your time, you only say yes to things that align with your intent. By saying no politely, you eliminate things that deplete your energy and waste your time. In her Forbes article, Frances Booth offers ten different ways you can articulate your negative response professionally and politely. By saying no, you become more productive and optimize your time and energy for the things that matter to you, your organization, and its mission.
A key element here as you block your time, strive to stay in the moment, and say no is flexibility. This may sound paradoxical, but you have to remain flexible with your time during the day to allow space to manage crises that may pop up (many usually do during the course of a day), leverage unexpected opportunities, and allow you to glean new learnings. Lockheed Martin’s former CEO Marilyn Hewson uses a time framework to both structure time and also allow flexibility throughout the day.
Just like with everything else, if you can measure your time, you can manage it effectively. As such, it is important to be deliberate about tracking your time against the big goal outcomes every week or every month, if not every day. Ferris State University offers students a nifty online calculator to understand where their time goes and make adjustments as needed to allocate the right amount of time to studying. You can access the time allocation calculator here.
Time is our most valuable resource, and as a leader, you must learn to use it and leverage it wisely. This article offered 5 tactics to help you get started: blocking your time, being in the moment, saying no, remaining flexible, and keeping track. As you practice one or more of these tactics, you can add more to your arsenal and watch your productivity and energy increase as you lead your team and your organization.