More time to manage time ?

Once upon a time, in a long lost past , a well meaning manager got an idea : he sent me and all my colleagues to a course in time management. That struck us as a peculiar thing as we weren’t aware that our time management was actually up for improvement.

Granted, our team meetings rarely started on time, our coffee and lunch breaks had a tendency to  take longer than foreseen and there were days that we went home with a nagging feeling that we had been crazy busy and yet hadn’t accomplished anything tangible. We blamed the latter on the same well meaning manager who kept changing priorities with unexpected emergencies.

Does time management really work ?

The time management course that I took didn’t change much.  In fact, it wasn’t the first time we were sent to one of those. In general, these gatherings are cosy enough : you are welcomed with coffee and croissants,  you get to know new people, you can do some fun exercises - sometimes in the shape of a game - and at the end of the day, you receive a solid plastic folder, ideal for classifying your tax return paperwork.

Thus, it may come as no surprise that I am able to colour code my electronic agenda as a modern day artist while the gentle ticking of a cooking alarm accompanies my activities.

In front of me, a matrix displays each task according to two axes : not-urgent <> urgent and not important <>important. Writing this article is not important and not urgent but I simply was in the mood for it (the ax boring <> fun, is sadly not represented in most models).

I made a list with an overview of all that had to be done and decided for each task how I would execute it and/or prepare for it.
Ha ! None of that happened in real life…

It mainly works for those who don't need it 

Why ? These valuable techniques simply don’t work for me.  What’s worse : they are detrimental to my good mood.

You can imagine my relief when I read that research shows that time management only works for those who enjoy working methodically.  For the rest of us time management diminishes focus : while you are working on one item (and most of the time this takes longer than planned), your mind is already drifting to the next item on your to-do list.  A mailbox full of flags or an agenda which looks like a paint-catalogue only adds to the distraction.

Besides, the more efficient you become in ticking off mails in your in-box or in swiftly accomplishing small unimportant tasks, the more of those keep pouring in.  Increased “efficiency” only leads to more work

Not being available on a 24/7 basis and being able to say ‘no’ from time to time, will result in more space and time to focus which is a very effective time management technique in itself.

Do you prefer a time management course or a honest conversation ? 

Following a time management course should be your own choice.  If you manager makes the suggestion, have a conversation about it beforehand : why does your manager think that you need it, what changes does (s)he want to see in your behaviour and do you agree with these ?

And this is unfortunately where things go awry : managers don’t s always seem to be capable of having this honest and open conversation with their team members. They prefer to pull the latest rabbit out of the management-techniques-hat.  They are, however, quite inventive when it comes to giving that rabbit a pretty name.

Many a time, Agile is a fancy name for “more work for less people”.

Efficient Time Management is a different phrase for “ do not complain about increased time-and work-pressure”.

"Continuous feedback is a new excuse for “ even more controlling of what you’re up to”.

I am not saying that it’s a bad thing for leaders to be aware of what brings success, innovation or agility to other companies. But they shouldn’t be blinded by it, let alone copy those recipes without thinking if they are useful for their own context.

"What drives you ?"

The essence of leadership is having a conversation with your employees/team members.

1. Dare to ask more questions :

“What gives you joy in your work?” “What takes energy away from you ?” “How can I help you?” “What would you like to learn ?” “ How would you like to see your work evolve ?”

2. Start with active listening.  

Most employees have a very realistic image of their work. They know why they chose to get up every morning and hit that traffic jam or join the hordes of commuters in cramped trains.  Let them talk and listen to what they have to say.

3. Look for what motivates people.

Be inquisitive and ask what drives them.  Think together on how they can use this drive to contribute to the goals of your team or of the organisation.  And be open to adapt those goals if need be.

Good conversations require time.

A good conversation is not as hard as you might think. All it needs is attention and time. In case you don’t find that time, it might, in fact, be finally the right moment to follow a good workshop about … time management.


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