Perhaps you made it a New Year’s resolution to better manage your time. If you did, you’re not alone. I have wrestled with time management for most of my career, always feeling I still have more to do at the end of the day. There never seem to be enough hours to get things done, right?
Struggling to complete projects, stay on top of new trends and lead a staff can be daunting for managers, and most, according to a survey from McKinsey & Company, feel they are falling behind. But what’s particularly insightful about McKinsey’s research is the conclusion that “[t]ime management isn’t just a personal-productivity issue over which companies have no control; it has increasingly become an organizational issue whose root causes are deeply embedded in corporate structures and cultures.” (See “Making time management the organization’s priority” by Frankki Bevins and Aaron De Smet in the latest McKinsey Quarterly.)
The problem is that few organizations treat their executives’ time as a finite and measurable resource. According to Bevins and De Smet, leadership time “too often gets treated as though it were limitless, with all good opportunities receiving high priority regardless of the leadership capacity to drive them forward.”
The authors give examples of overextended executives being given even more assignments without any consideration of the time it will take to complete the new projects. Does this sound familiar? As a result, even the most skilled people are so overloaded that they lack the capacity to lead crucial new programs.
The proliferation of big strategic initiatives and special projects has led to “initiative overload,” says McKinsey. “[P]rojects get heaped on top of ‘day jobs,’ with a variety of unintended consequences, including failed initiatives, missed opportunities, and leaders who don’t have time to engage the people whose cooperation and commitment they need. Organizations often get ‘change fatigue’ and eventually lack energy for even the most basic and rewarding initiatives.”
What’s the solution?
Judging by the “satisfied” executives in the survey (those few who actually got things done!), the key is balancing your time. These execs spent about a third of their time interacting with external stakeholders, 39 percent in internal meetings and another 24 percent working alone. They tended to divide their workday evenly among: making key business or operational decisions, managing and motivating people, setting direction and strategy, and managing external stakeholders. They also spent less time on administrative tasks.
More specifically, here are five recommendations from McKinsey that all leaders and managers should consider:
- Have a “time leadership” budget—and a proper process for allocating it. As McKinsey puts it, how much leadership capacity (time) does your company really have to “finance” its great ideas? In other words, treat human capital the same way as financial capital.
- Think about time when you introduce organizational change. That is, how much time is it really going to take to achieve the organization’s goals?
- Ensure that individuals routinely measure and manage their time. McKinsey discovered (surprise!) that while most executives can tell you how much of the budget is dedicated to their organization’s priorities, they often don’t have a clue about how much time is devoted to them. Time also gets misallocated when employees spend too much time on measurables that aren’t aligned with strategic objectives. McKinsey recommends putting time-related metrics in managers’ performance reviews to keep them focused on what matters most to the company.
- Refine the master calendar. Not only should organizations keep a master calendar, but they should use it to root out corporate time-wasting such as unnecessary meetings.
- Provide high-quality administrative support. McKinsey found that effective time managers receive strong administrative support. The CEO, in particular, needs to have a capable admin who can “own” the master calendar and ensure that the executive team’s time in meetings is devoted to the organization’s priorities.