When good technical people excel, they are usually promoted to leadership positions. Sometimes, new leaders are given training on people management, and sometimes not. However, what is almost always missed in the training of emerging leaders is how they can use their time to the best advantage of the company.
This is a great pity because, in fact, it is on these “hidden” aspects of working life that one’s success depends. The usual time-management tips trotted out in most books and seminars are helpful but not really enough in this 24/7 world. Steps that are more radical are needed if you are to succeed as a leader and maintain your health.
This next statement will shock you. Analyzing how you use your time, making to-do lists, and detailed planning for most tasks are a waste of time. If you are to excel in these days of slim organizations and demanding customers and bosses, you need to be braver and resort to what some might call “unprofessional” and “selfish” practices.
Here are 13 radical steps I have learned over the years.
1. Never commit to a meeting—do whatever it takes to get what you need some other way or to give your client what they want on the telephone or by e-mail. Most meetings are not necessary, and we call or attend them out of habit or for comfort.
2. Escape from as many meetings as possible. Make sensible excuses and explain to the chairperson or send someone else. As long as you explain that you will be doing something more valuable for the organization, they generally accept it and indeed welcome it.
3. If you know a meeting will be waste of time and if you have tried to escape legitimately but your boss or client does not care, you have to resort to extreme measures. Take some work with you and draft a letter or a report during the meeting. This may seem unprofessional, but aren’t you doing the best you can for your organization?
4. If you have to give a presentation for 25 minutes, prepare for only 15 and then fill the remainder with questions. Prepare no more than five slides. People cannot take in more data than that, so why waste your time preparing more? People enjoy asking questions, and it makes the presentation more useful for them. Do not waste time making fancy complex models and flow charts. People will not follow them.
5. Become tougher, but in a polite way. Do not allow people to hijack you in the corridor to tell you about their holiday. If people “pop in” at inconvenient times, tell them politely to come back. If people are late getting back to you, get politely upset; people respond to those who shout loudest. If people are waffling, ask them politely to get to the point. If someone is doing something that distracts and wastes your time, ask him or her to stop.
6. Do whatever it takes to escape from reports. Often an e-mail or pro forma is sufficient, so why do a full-blown, time-consuming report? If you cannot scrap the report, ask to reduce the length and frequency.
7. Develop “sloping shoulders.” Keep thinking “who else could do this for me?” Keep experimenting with ways of asking bosses, clients, colleagues, friends, suppliers, neighbors, and your family members to do things for you. This is not being unethical. People appreciate the trust you have in them. As long as you ask politely, explain things properly, and thank them in the end, it is good practice to delegate as much as possible.
8. Do not do anything for anyone until you understand exactly what he/she wants. You could spend weeks doing something only to be told, “It isn’t what I wanted.” Push people to clarify things right at the start.
9. Be lazy—less is more. Again this seems unprofessional, but it isn’t. Do enough and no more. Being a perfectionist will hurt you and your organization. Of course, be careful that you judge “enough” correctly.
10. Be uncontactable for most people. Your client or boss has the right to reach you, especially when you are on call. However, in most cases, do not give out your mobile or direct number. If you do, anyone can get you anywhere and any time. This is a major time-management problem today. Work away from the office as much as you can—explain to your boss what you are doing.
11. Be more acceptably pushy. Ask up front for what you want. Get people’s mobile and direct telephone numbers. When people say “no,” try asking another way or another day. Telephone people before 8:30 a.m. or after 5 p.m.
12. Love technology. Use an answering machine to filter telephone calls and take messages. Double your productivity by using a dictaphone. Make sure you and your staff know how to get maximum benefit from the equipment (e.g., photocopiers) you have. Duplicate your office on your laptop, and take it with you.
13. Do not read reports, books, and instruction manuals. Read only executive summaries and chapter summaries. Find someone (a friend, a child, a neighbor, or professional) who can explain things to you instead of reading the manual. Of course, this does not apply when safety may be compromised.
Are some of these suggestions unprofessional? Are you cheating your company? No! If you have to skirt around bureaucracy and others’ incompetence to give your best, so be it. If you don’t feel comfortable with these 13 suggestions, it is because deep down you don’t want to upset people, and if you will not take the risk of politely upsetting people, no fancy leather-bound time-management system can save you. For an emerging leader, the suggestions in this article will probably have been an eye-opener. You have to toughen up—your family life, your career success, and quality of life depend on it. Is there an easier way? No!
Bill Robb is Managing Director of Profit Improvers Ltd., an Aberdeen-based management and safety consultancy. Glasgow-born Robb grew up in Rhodesia and has been helping companies in the oil and gas sector improve the performance. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill Robb of Profit Improvers Ltd. has been making presentations to young professionals in Europe for the past 3 years. Robb’s interactive soft skills sessions, which are always well received, are known for their catchy titles, humor, realistic situations YEPPs can relate to, and clear advice to take away. In this issue of TWA, we have been fortunate enough to secure an article from Robb in which he reveals his recommendations on how to control your time, your life, and, ultimately, your success—critical advice in this day and age when ever-increasing demands are made on our time. Robb’s no-nonsense approach will make you sit up and pay attention. Provocative advice? Not what you were expecting? We hope so!
Natalie Pestana, TWA Interim Soft Skills Editor