21 Feb If The Quick Sand of Time Demands Are Swallowing You, Read This
Ever start your day feeling overwhelmed – and go down from there? Find the sheer amount of “stuff” that crosses your radar makes it almost impossible to ever feel like you’re making progress?
You’re not alone…the number of workers throughout the world struggling to survive in this, the Information Age, is growing.
And many of us are effectively losing the battle.
Technology and all of its trappings has changed the American (and the Global) economy – making all of us knowledge workers to some degree. But there is a stunning downside to being constantly connected.
Like the merchant who lives “over the company store,” employees have a difficult time navigating the storm of information that never slows…. and the stress that comes with it! Best in class medical institutions like the Mayo Clinic confirm what most already know – time demands can kill us.
Rich Horwath, in his book Deep Dive, offers a definition of strategy that is beautifully simple – “the intelligent allocation of limited resources in a unique system of activities to outperform the competition in serving customers.”
For most of us, the greatest resource at our disposal in our career strategy is our time and our talent…and our inability to effectively manage the former is compromising our ability to leverage the latter – in a big way.
In The Compass Solution: A Guide to Winning Your Career, I talk about what, for many – is the greatest single source of stress in our lives…. optimizing precious time. In candor, I had no idea when I wrote about The Planning Golden Three and the cure it potentially offers for Corporate and Career A.D.D. that I was scratching a universal itch.
Time and energy management – it turns out – is one of the greatest obstacles to both individual and organizational effectiveness for almost everyone…and the situation is worsening. Here’s why:
- The blessing of technology comes with the curse of technology. Three plus decades ago an American worker depended (for the most part) on the telephone, physical meetings, and yes, “snail mail” for most of the inflow and outflow of information. Today – we are literally surrounded with it … unceasing and ubiquitous.
- Stunningly, few professionals (from teachers to corporate executives) have ever gone through what might be considered even basic time management training. Significantly less than a quarter of workers profess any exposure to skill training in this area. And yet the need today is greater than at any other time in human history.
- Time management is a bit of a misnomer – the real challenge is larger than that and it involves time, energy, and attention management – how to optimize the latter in the context of the 1,440 minutes we are allocated each day. Dan Pink’s marvelous book, When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing introduces us to the concepts of Peak, Trough, and Recovery…. and how those who understand each can become far more productive in their daily lives.
- Traditional time management programs, for the most part – are terribly dated. I carry with me one of the seminal works on the subject – and still occasionally refer to it … reminding myself that I feel a bit like a Porsche driver looking at a horse and buggy and wondering where the ignition is.
- Many employees don’t see the scope of the problem – and so time, energy, and attention management (I call it TEAM) goes unnoticed until it reaches crisis proportions. I invest much time these days drilling into organizational and individual execution – and uncovering what is and is not facilitating excellence. Here is the flashing NEON SIGN for almost all – ineffective TEAM is crushing productivity – and at almost every level.
- There is an assumption that TEAM is understood and/or is a subject that most simply will figure out … in time. This line of logic could also be applied to learning to drive an automobile, surviving high school calculus, or deciding to become a doctor because you think you look good in scrubs. The single greatest obstacle to job effectiveness – when we have determined the individual has been trained and is capable of performing – is the demand on time, energy, and attention that prevent us from focusing on the task at hand – and like a silent killer that steals away in the night, many don’t even recognize the predator. “Being busy” it seems is just part of life…. right?
Not completely. Being busy is one thing… but a constant state of cognitive dissonance is another. The stress associated with compromised TEAM affects careers and robs companies of productivity.
The fix requires some definitive steps. At the individual level they include:
- Get agreement that a problem exists. If you are one of the fortunate few who optimizes each and every day and doesn’t experience time related stress – stop reading now. Go back to other priorities. If you are part of the 99% who doesn’t enjoy that luxury, read on.
- Decide on what’s most important in your current role – and align that with what you’re actually paid to do. Sound simple? It’s not – I work every day with leaders who struggle to get their mind around aligning behaviors with priorities. Classic example – first line leaders who often juggle enough administrative assignments to build their own temporary employment agency and can’t focus on coaching direct reports.
- Assess your organizational skills – do you have a system or is it the wish and prayer approach? A majority of American workers begin their day by checking email – satisfying the cloying call of technology…. and often sacrificing productivity to get to less important items from their list of “To Do’s.”
- Build a method for prioritizing – the single greatest miss for most. No prioritization system/no productivity. The essence of The Planning Golden Three centers on a proven approach to help people actually separate the urgent (a majority of what dominates our day) from the important (the minority that will dictate our future.)
- Learn what’s really involved in working your calendar – A great many use a system that neither serves or potentiates – it simply imprisons.
- Work your plan. Tomorrow a thousand distractions will cross your radar screen. That’s OK…if you have a system you have already budgeted time for crisis – if you haven’t you are simply responding to crisis.
Now – reality check. The points outlined above grossly oversimplify a challenge that is systemic. It does not address equally compelling points – and Best in Class companies recognize the complete fix involves:
- Organizational recognition of the value of TEAM – and corporate commitment to better managing the resource. Senior leaders who make this clear are infinitely more effective – and build a coalition around optimizing it.
- Acknowledgement that the greatest drain on TEAM often comes from within and not externally. Translation – the storm creators often don’t know they jeopardize organizational effectiveness – they simply create more winds for peers to struggle through.
- Time/work analysis. Great companies do more than talk about TEAM, they take steps to assess where employee hours are invested – and then take one more definitive step. They align the findings with the vision/mission of the company and the job assignment(s). This one exercise can and often does become a catalytic lever for change – systemic conclusions are force accelerators.
- Trade-offs. I navigated 38 years in the corporate world. It took me far too many before I began to appreciate every “ask” must in someway take something off the platter for direct reports. The assumption that time is limitless is an illusion that many of us help perpetuate.
- Everything is important. Circle this one in red. All of us struggle to differentiate the must do’s from the nice to do’s. Few can. As a result we default to the earlier position – and we simply stay busy.
I invest a great deal of time, energy, and attention today in helping companies and individuals optimize TEAM via The Planning Golden Three – and constantly remind myself of this famous quote from arguably the greatest business strategy thinker of the 20th century.
“Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed.” ~ Peter Drucker
To learn more about this subject please visit my website at www.thecompassalliance.com or see my book, The Compass Solution: A Guide to Winning Your Career.