Four Vital Information Age Time Management Strategies
Feeling caught between a clock and a hard place? Know that you are not alone. More and more people report feeling stressed-out, overwhelmed, burnt-out and beat-up. In over 20 years of facilitating time management workshops participants have described their most significant time management challenges and frustrations with growing intensity. I have distilled and organized their pain into the most common themes …
- Increasing workloads that are seemingly more undefined
- Multiple and ever shifting priorities … Having important projects consistently pushed to the back-burner by urgent, short-term, day-to-day operational crises and problems
- Technology that leaves us never “out of touch” blurring lines between work and personal, losing life balance
- Communication breakdowns between and within teams and departments
- Information and communication overload … Overflowing email inboxes
- Frenetic work environments that seem to be nothing more than a constant stream interruptions
The root causes of these common debilitating effects are to be found in the jaw-dropping workplace changes occurring in the last couple of decades, and fasten your seatbelt because the rate of change is increasing at an increasing rate. The 21st century workplace is now fundamentally different than that of industrial age or even just a decade ago, thus the challenges we face are not only different in degree they are different in type than those your parents and grandparents faced. The game of work has changed and if your mind-set, skill-set and tool-set have not changed these prevalent and painful problems become highly predictable, as a result of trying to solve new problems with old, dangerously obsolete solutions.
However, before we look to apply strategic solutions, let’s make sure we have an accurate perspective on what is happening and why. A clearer understanding the new playing field of work will ensure the solutions we do offer are highly relevant. Over the last couple decades there have been game-changing, inter-related trends that have been converging to create the white-water reality of the information age workplace in which we are expected to perform and produce. I have listed below the most significant on-going macro-trends and resulting Time Management demands or problems that these changes have created …
- Downsizing has created a stripped-down, every-job-count, do-more-with-less world which has created the most fundamental of new demands, which we is will all have to learn to handle ever increasing workloads. Many people lament that they are doing the job that used to be done be two or three people.
- Flatter Organizations have created the need for broader and more ambiguous job descriptions frequently resulting in people having to wear a lot of different hats and suffering from role confusion. To quote the brilliant management theorist Peter Drucker … “The greatest challenge knowledge workers are going to face in the 21st is trying to figure out what their job really is.” In the industrial age manual work was obvious when it started and stopped; not so with knowledge work.
- Marketplace turbulence has increased the need for organizational responsiveness. To succeed or even survive in today’s dynamic marketplace organizations must be able to quickly adapt to the rapidly changing needs and demands of customers and competitive challenges. Every organization must be fast and flexible which requires excellent horizontal communication across the organization. Organizational silos dramatically restrict responsiveness! And yet the problem of perspective myopia far too commonplace – which means that departments or teams that desperately need to collaborate, have broken communication with little mutual understanding or clarity as to what they really need and expect from each other to help each other succeed. Broken interdepartmental communication wreaks havoc on people’s ability to set priorities and contributes to a reactive culture of crisis and confusion.
- Increasing Complexity. Just a couple of decades ago the vast majority of knowledge required to complete ones task was in our own heads. The explosion of information means the amount of self-contained knowledge required to complete tasks has and is consistently been dropping. This has created the need for constant and instant interaction with team members. The information age workplace this is highly and increasingly interdependent which requires more teamwork and time for ever-more communication. The challenge created is that many people’s times are consumed with what they define as interruptions.
- Business Pace, evermore demanding customers combined with technological communication breakthroughs have combined to ramp up business activities to a frenetic pace. The challenge this creates is the greater the forces of urgency which can quickly create a culture where people confuse urgency with importance. This confusion results in allows urgent task to consistently trump truly important tasks which inevitably leads a death spiral of ever increasing reactivity.
- Technological Change happening at lightening speed is the tap root of all changes and has created two specific time management challenges. One, there is an increasing need for all of us to spend time learning. Secondly, is it has created the dangerous “obsolesce trap” where time is spent on tasks that have been rendered obsolete by technological changes. Lots of people are still spending valuable time on tasks that have become redundant, and if they stopped doing no-one would notice. The larger and bureaucratic the organization the greater the severity of this problem.
- Information explosion has a lot of people in a state of overwhelm. One senior executive recently said that trying to mange information in his organization is like trying to sip water from a full-blown fire hose. Dealing with an avalanche of information coming at us at increasing rates of speed from multiple sources is a major challenge we all face. The relationship we have with information is that of master or slave. The governing lunch-pin as to which of the two roles you play is your degree of personal organization.
There is just one more thing I think we should get clear on before we move forward with at Time Management solutions … There is no such thing as Time Management! Will Rogers said it best, “You can no more manage time than you can lasso the wind and tie it to the fence.” To manage means to control, and given the hands of time are marching on in lock-step conformity, thus if you can’t control time than you can’t manage it. What we are really talking about when we say Time Management is “self” management or personal productivity. Below are four vital 21st century strategic solutions …
- Know Thy Self
The self evident fundamental first step in successful self management is to achieve depth of self understanding. This knowledge will allow you to achieve the ultimate productivity goal of leveraging your natural talents and strengths while compensating for your weaknesses by surrounding yourself with the right people who possess complimentary talents.Listed below are the key dimensions of self we all must understand in order to be able to optimize our personal productivity …
- What are your natural strengths and weakness? Beware; because it is true to say that your greatest strengths can quickly become a weakness once overextended. A good example would be people who are gifted at analysis often suffer for analysis paralysis.
- What time of days are you best able to focus and produce? There are a couple hours each day when we are at an energy peak, making it most valuable time you have.
- How do you learn best? Are you a reader or a listener or a writer?
- Under which condition are you most productive? Is it under deadline pressure or when you are more relaxed state?
- How do you make your key decisions? … Is it working?
- Where do you best fit? In a large or small organization? …
- What role are you best suited for, a lead or support role?
A powerful self understanding tool is the Myers Briggs assessment that can easily be found on line.
2. Know Thy Stakeholders
To provide people with purpose, meaning and direction, it is vital that everyone and every team have a holistic view of the organization and how their contributions fit into the big picture of driving value to the final customer.
The starting point of providing the required holistic perspective is to use a tool called “stakeholder mapping”. Which is the simple process of placing yourself or your team in a small circle in the middle of a page and drawing lines out from the circle to connect with all stakeholders? This is also an excellent tool for the strategic management of these vital interconnecting relationships. For to teams or departments to successfully collaborate is essential to develop and maintain a clear mutual understanding of what we need, value and expect form each other.
3. Focus on Contribution
Traditional job descriptions are obsolete in that they focus on task and responsibilities. Everyone has a new job description and it is simply …”make yourself valuable”. The key to effectiveness (getting results) is to begin with crystal clarity on the purpose and desired outcomes. The all important 21st century question is – How are you uniquely positioned to bring value to the organization?
Define your job in terms of contributions roles and then determine the key outcomes or key performance indicators in each role. Always remember “Paretos Law” which you know as the 80% – 20% rule. When applied to priority setting it means that 80 % of your outcomes will come from 20% of your activities.
Clarity of desired outcomes and high return activities better allows you to create your “Not To-Do Lists” and spend major time on major things and minor time on minor things.
4. Focus on Improving Production Capacity
As I look back on my 15 year corporate career I realize that I was so busy chopping wood that I failed to spend much, if anytime sharpening my axe. Which leads to the question – How long does it take to chop down a tree with a hammer? It is an old metaphor that is more relevant than ever. The consistent pressure to achieve short-term operational results drives out those activities that maintain or enhance you or your team’s capacity to get results. To put it in trite terms, it is the critical difference between working “IN” things (getting results) and working “ON” things (those activities that enhance production capacity). As a result many organizations I work with are getting the golden eggs but tragically the goose is getting sicker and sicker.
One of the many paradoxes of the 21st century is that the need to work ON thing has never been greater and yet the amount of time available to work ON things has never been less. It is crucial that spend some time to regularly zoom-out so as to assess and enhance our production capacity. Abe Lincoln said “If someone gave me 8 hours to chop all the wood I could I spend 6 of them sharpening my axe.”
I fear that the time management challenges that we all face will continue to grow ferocity, thus the application of these four vital 21st century strategies is no longer an option! I wish you all the best in your exciting voyage through the white water of the information age.