Managing Time When You Have No Time
Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.
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In the last two weeks, I’ve run six sessions exploring obstacles with clients, and a couple training sessions talking about other obstacles. The most common ailment when it comes time management is…. lack of time. I hear this especially from those people in support functions who are getting the work done – no time to focus, not enough people to do the work, too much rolling downstream and so on.
In my graduate class on managerial skills, we spend two weeks on time management. It is the Achilles heel of even the most organized, devoted students.
While we cannot manufacture more time, there are some things to consider that will ease the frenetic rush to get things done, only to find out the pile of things to do has only grown. In this week’s article, I’ll share some best practices.
First, when we think about time as an obstacle, we have to categorize it. There are three categories of obstacles: Those you can control, those you can influence and those out of your control. Time is one that falls into all the three categories. You certainly can’t control the number of hours in a given day (which translates to 86,400 seconds), but you can influence how you work with others, what you agree to, and you control how you prioritize and manage what is available to you.
Ways to Influence Time
In many cases, time is difficult to manage because other people are giving you things to do. It might be demanding or concerned clients, clients experiencing an urgent situation, or team members or those in charge needing you to take care of something. While you might start your day with a well-organized calendar (something you can control) and a plan of action, your day quickly gets derailed because you aren’t controlling what requests are coming at you and when.
Many excellent service and support people are behaviorally strong in the process area. They have a clear plan of steps to take to get things done and they like to follow their steps in an organized fashion. This is a key skill. But one of the downfalls is that people with this style are often loathe to delegate. They accommodate – take on work from others, even that which does not belong to them. Giving work up is much, much more difficult.
For someone with this style, asking, “When is it necessary for this to be done?” or “Where does this fall in the existing list of priorities?” or, “Is there anyone else right now who might be able to help with this?” or, “Is it possible we could outsource components of this?” is a critical skill to develop. It’s hard, however, because the reason someone with this style and approach is so good at execution is because they tend to keep the work to themselves and follow through where they need to. If you know you have too much on your plate, but you hesitate to delegate, see how you can work with the people who are handing you the work to perhaps allocate the request more fairly.
Another way to influence is to seek clearer communication. In many cases, when someone is asking you to complete a task, they give you some of the information needed but not all of it. Or you may believe you know what they are asking, but you have some questions and even some reservations. But being busy means that often there isn’t the opportunity for check-in and clarification. Assumptions get made and time is wasted because steps are taken that either aren’t necessary, aren’t accurate or are in the wrong direction. Taking a few minutes to make sure everything is understood and that who, what, when and how has been defined is important.
One last way to influence others who put demands on your time is to ask more about relevance, urgency, necessity and lack of alternative options. It isn’t saying “no,” which many people chafe at and have a hard time doing. It’s simply asking questions to learn more about the requests and to ensure the request is understood completely.
Ways to Control Your Time
The number-one, most effective thing I’ve ever done are time studies over a two-week period to review where time goes. For two weeks track in 15-minute intervals each and every thing you do. Then, at the end of the two-week period, review the list. Code each item with either green (necessary and important and you had to be the one to do it), yellow (questionable as to the importance or if someone else could have helped with it), or red (why in the world did you spend time on that!?). Find themes. In many cases when my coaching clients who complete this exercise will talk about how they became more aware of what they were agreeing to do and how long it was taking them just by having to do the tracking in the first place. It raises our awareness and helps us have that couple of seconds we often need to consider what we are doing next.
Prioritize every day just three things you will get done. If you are clear on your overall goals, you can choose three things that must get completed to allow yourself a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. I teach people about the Zeigarnick effect. It’s named after a Russian psychologist in the 1920’s, Bluma Zeigarnick, who found that people remember unfinished tasks much more than completed ones. When you have a long, long list of things to do it is imperative to put some important things on there to make yourself feel better – focus on what’s been done for the day, not what remains for tomorrow.
Use all the tools available to you – the rules function in Outlook to create folders, the task function, color coding of your calendar, apps on your phone, your CRM, and even the old-fashioned notebook you carry around to capture ideas. Don’t use too much, just use ones that work for you. But use them! Even something as simple as the rules function to allow new emails to flow into the proper folder saves you the time of trying to remember what you still need to follow up on. And remember the four Ds:
- Do (take care of it right away);
- Delegate (send it along to someone else);
- Defer (put in another folder for when you can focus on it); or
- Drop (also known as delete and get rid of it).
Try not to open emails until you are prepared to take one of the four Ds into consideration, so you aren’t spending time opening, re-opening and then looking at something yet again.
Time management is more about personal management and productivity. Why do some people get so much done in the same time others get very little done? The amount of time is the same, and often the task focus is the same. But being organized, recognizing your own strengths and areas for improvement and getting smart about how you use your time differs greatly depending on the person.
Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry, in 1995. The firm also founded and manages the Advisors Sales Academy. The firm has won the Wealthbriefing WealthTech award for Best Training Solution for 2022 and 2023. Beverly is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate and graduate students Entrepreneurship and Leading Teams. She is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).
She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.