Leaders – how to regain control of your time

A common problem that I encounter when coaching leaders, whatever their seniority in the business is that they have lost control of their time. Some of the typical things they might say are “I have so many meetings, I don’t have time to do the work”, “I don’t have time to think” or “I have lost control of my calendar” and “I want to be better at time management”.

This seems to have been amplified by the pandemic and virtual working with back-to-back Zoom meetings being scheduled. This seems to be more about losing control of the diary than losing control of time itself. It is more about being so busy and reacting to external factors and it is time for us to step back and break this unproductive cycle.

The challenge is not to manage time, but to manage ourselves.

Dr Stephen R Covey (author of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)

What can you do if you have lost control?

Time is time – there are 24 hours in a day and there is nothing we can do to manage or control that.

What we can do is manage how we use that time. With so many people working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, they have reclaimed the time that they would have lost commuting. So how come I am hearing that people are working long hours, answering, and sending emails in the evening to catch up as well as the problems that I mentioned above?

This will still be a challenge as offices open and many move to hybrid working.

Solutions

The solution is slightly different for everybody and here are some of the ones that work for the leaders that I have been coaching:

  • Be clear on your priorities – what are the two or three most important areas for you to focus on?
  • Concentrate on activities that support those priorities
  • Be proactive with your diary. This is one of the major factors for taking back control. Factor in time between meetings even if it is scheduling a meeting for 50 minutes rather than an hour. Block out time – for appointments with yourself, for specific projects and for thinking time.
  • Say “No” to meetings – do you need to be there, what is your role, can they be at a different time/shorter, is there a different way of achieving the objective?
  • Understand when your most productive times in the day are – your peak concentration time. Listen to your body clock and schedule specific tasks for those times. For me, especially in the winter, my energy is low between 4 and 5pm.That is a good time for me to have a meeting as I am energised when with others.
  • Take your personality into account. For example, one coaching client I worked with felt that they always had to be available to their team members. The impact of this was that they were never available to themselves (and their more strategic work) until the end of the working day which had a huge impact on not only them but to their family too. For them, the answer was, firstly, a mindset shift that it was okay not to be available all the time. And secondly, to communicate when they would be available – or, if you like, when their door would be open.
  • Delegate effectively – are you doing work that could be done by others? In delegating to others, you are both developing the people you are delegating to and gaining time to work on more strategic projects.
  • Leave room in your day for the unexpected.
  • Managing emails and other online communication – one of the biggest time (and concentration) stealers is the constant interruption by incoming messages. Switch off notifications, even if you think you are not noticing them, your unconscious brain is, and check and answer emails and other messages in blocks of time.
  • And finally… plan, plan, plan!

If you have lost control of your time, which of these will make the biggest difference to you – and what will you do with the time that you gain?

If you need a bit more help in finding the right solution for you, reach out to me (j.harris@breathoffreshair.uk.com) so we can explore how coaching can help you.

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