by Annette Gregg, CMM, MBA
In today’s business climate, it’s common for employees to be carrying the workload of more than one person—and that new normal isn’t likely to change. As these pressures increase, it’s even more important that we are disciplined in how we invest our time at work.
Mastery of focus, information management and communication will not only help us get more done with our time, but also enables us to focus on areas that have the most impact. “Efficiency is doing things right. Effectiveness is doing the right things,” said management consultant Peter Drucker. This effectiveness becomes a powerful aspect of our professional brands and can be a key differentiator in advancing our careers.
Guarding Your Time and Finding White Space
In The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market, Robert Murnane describes how computers have automated many routine job processes and notes that human skills such as expert thinking (“solving new problems for which there are no routine solutions”) and complex communication (“explaining a particular interpretation of information”) are even more valuable. To grow in our careers, we need to be able to be critical thinkers, and we aren’t able to do this if our days are spent only doing routine work or when our brains are constantly interrupted with multi-tasking. We need to find ways to manage our time to balance the need for meetings, tasks and, most importantly, time to focus on more strategic projects that require deeper thinking.
Taking Control of Email
Email management is a critical business skill and reflects on our professional brand. Because we work in cultures where we feel pressured to respond quickly, our inboxes become our daily task lists.
Your email inbox isn’t meant to be treated as a filing place or a to-do list, but that’s commonly how employees manage their workload. Researcher Gloria Mark found that employees check their email on average 74 times per day. She advises companies to offer email-free times throughout the day to give staff time for project work. When working on email, it’s important to manage the volume and keep your inbox clean by deciding to either delete, delegate, file or assign it as a task.
Meetings: It’s Your Choice
If you are in a company culture that is meeting heavy, this can be a common threat to your productivity. Face-to-face interaction is critical, but how we manage our time in meetings is up to us. The first question to ask: Is a meeting really necessary? Can we solve this issue with a phone call or singular conversation instead? If you’ve been invited to a meeting, it’s your choice whether or not to attend. Ask for clarification before committing to attend, and if your opinion or group is already represented, you may decide that you don’t need to attend.
As the meeting owner, it’s our responsibility to manage it effectively. Send out a written agenda, with any pre-reading to be done in advance so the time together is used for dialogue and not review of background information. Along with an agenda, be clear about the purpose and expectations of the meeting. And try reducing the time to 30 minutes to increase the efficiency of the meeting.
Much time is wasted because we are unclear on expectations. In both written and verbal communication, we need to clarify relevant information so that people are empowered to act. As a conversation or meeting is ending, be sure someone restates next steps, who will do the action and important due dates and timing. Similarly, long and disorganized emails often obscure the message for our reader. We can help them discern the key messages by writing shorter emails and by clarifying actions and due dates at the beginning of the message or in the subject line.
A powerful tool in creating more effective communication is committing to direct conversations and conflict resolution. Much time is wasted with circuitous conversations about other people or misinterpretation of messages. Cultivating a culture of brave, honest and direct communication will not only save time, but create a healthier and more authentic workplace—and a healthier work environment is probably the most effective tool of all.