“Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things”
– Peter Drucker
By Chemistry Consulting Group
It’s September 2023. An employee on your team has earned a reputation as producing high quality work, and they have recently been asked to take on special projects, not only by you as their manager, but also by senior leadership. They’re also taking on training a new hire; they are a high performer after all, so it makes sense to have them share their knowledge with the new employee. All the while they are tasked with their regular workload.
While they may have taken on more work than they can handle in the past, you have seen them excel and manage multiple priorities successfully. However, this time it’s different. While they are completing a higher volume of work, you’re noticing that the quality of their work is starting to fall. They are making errors that they normally would catch. They seem to always be running from meeting to meeting, project to project, and may opt to skip team meetings due to their busy workloads. It is evident that they are stressed; while they are staying later than normal, it seems they are frustrated that they aren’t accomplishing more.
When an employee is struggling with managing their time effectively, it can lead to delayed deliverables, lower product quality, and most importantly, a decline in the employee’s wellbeing, which can result in burnout and/or resignation.
Effective time management has typically been seen as a very individual issue; that is, employees are expected to manage their own time and meet goals. However, more and more organizations are starting to see how poor individual time management habits can result in impacts to organizational deadlines, product and project quality, company reputation, and employee retention.
To improve individual, team, and organizational success, managers should take a more active role in supporting their employees by providing the coaching and guidance through the below time management techniques.
A key first step to supporting your employees in managing their time more effectively is by providing coaching on managing priorities. Not every project is high priority, however, an employee may struggle with identifying which tasks take priority and which are not as pressing. This confusion can result in the employee feeling stressed in that there are too many tasks expected of them to meet, and can result in delayed deliverables for tasks that may always be perceived as lower priority. The Eisenhower Matrix is one tool that you can introduce to your employees. The tool focuses the user on prioritizing their tasks based on four different work strategies:
- Do First: tasks that are important and need to be done in the same day
- Schedule: tasks that are important but less urgent and can be scheduled
- Delegate: tasks that are less important to you than others but still urgent that can involve some level of delegation
- Don’t do: tasks that you should not be doing at all
Bonus tip: To take a more active role in supporting your employee with priorities, consider sitting down with the employee at the start of each week to sort through their tasks and place them into the matrix. By doing this, the employee can feel more validated in their understanding of this priority matrix, so they feel more confident in tackling this task on their own in the future.
Building Boundaries and Saying “No”
For many employees, especially ones newer to the organization, the thought of saying “no” to an extra project or responsibility can be daunting. They may be approached to take on a special project by a member of senior leadership, and the seniority of this person involved can cause the employee to feel that this project should take high priority, regardless of whether it is or not. The employee may feel pressured to take this task on and may rationalize that it would be helpful for their career growth, and while that may very well be true, it may result in the employee placing more time into this special project than their regular workload in an effort to impress senior leadership.
To support your employees in creating boundaries, it is important for them to understand that you trust them in managing their workload and that they have your support in saying “no”. After having a stronger idea as to how to prioritize their workload through the above matrix, they may have a better idea of what tasks they can and cannot take on at the moment, and this in itself may better help them communicate their inability to take on any special projects. However, they may also just struggle with setting boundaries and communicating their inability to take on new tasks. In which case, work with them and provide coaching, such as by working through the tips in the Harvard Business Review article How to Say No to Taking on More Work (hbr.org).
Bonus tip: if one of your employees especially struggles with saying “no” and setting boundaries, sit down with them and try to understand what is preventing them from turning down special work. Ask them if there is anything you can do to support them in overcoming this challenge. This may unlock a variety of issues that you as their manager could address, and give them the tools to set clearer boundaries in the future.
Finding the “Check-in” Balance
Many managers struggle with determining the right number of times to meet with their employees to discuss their workload. Some may meet with their employees every day, others once a week, biweekly, or monthly. Every style differs depending on the manager. However, to better support your employee in managing their own time, give them the control to determine how often they want to meet with you to discuss workload. You may find that an employee you normally meet with once a week for 45 minutes prefers 5-minute check-in’s every morning instead, as this may allow them to get the answers they need much faster. Giving the employee the freedom to determine when they want to meet and how often can help them feel more in control of their schedule, and allow them to work in a way that best suits their work ethic.
Bonus tip: Consider scheduling “office hours” for your team. Advise them that once a day, week, or month, you will book some time in your calendar where employees can “drop in” should they wish to ask you any questions. This time should be consistent and should not be cancelled, so your employees can always depend on you being there should they need to discuss anything with you. The benefit of doing so allows your employees an ease at which to reach you should they need to “drop in” and obtain clarity from you on a project. If you schedule an office hour and no one attends, then at the very least you can use the time to focus on your own time management skills.
There are only so many strategies that you can share with your team to support them in increasing their time management skills. After a point, it will be their responsibility to take hold of what you have shared with them and apply these practices in their day-to-day workload.
While it may be tempting to focus your energy on your team’s time management skills, don’t forget to pay attention to your own practices as well. By leading by example, you can demonstrate to your team how effective time management strategies can result in meeting organizational deliverables, producing high quality work, and personal wellbeing.