Time is the only thing in life you can’t get back. You can make friends and lose friends. You can make money and lose money. You can gain weight and lose weight. But you never ever get back your time.
So where is your time going? What are you doing that you know someone else should be doing? What are you doing out of obligation that is devoid of enjoyment? Where do you invest more time than you need to, requiring you to give short shrift to other priorities?
It may seem odd that a communications expert is writing about time management. I don’t speak or train on time management. But I do teach coaching and delegation, and effective managers and coaches know when to give something away.
Here are five time-management questions:
What are you doing at work that you know someone else could or should do?
If you invested a few hours training someone, what could you give up, creating room for something new?
What personal relationships do you invest time in because you think you’re supposed to?
Which family events are you attending out of obligation?
What do you give 110% percent to that 70% would be more than sufficient, leaving more of your time and energy for something more important?
You only have so much time and energy. Where are you going to put it – on the things that matter most or on distractions that seem important?
I’m not suggesting you skip every family event you don’t want to go to. But perhaps go for less time or skip every third event. I’m not advocating cutting corners or doing mediocre work. But sometimes we spend much more time on things than we need to, when investing less time would deliver the same result.
Here are a few examples of what I mean by 70% being more than enough:
You spend 25 hours on the formatting of a presentation when the content is what’s really important. You create gorgeous tables and graphs when five bullets were what the client really wanted.
You host a party and make hand painted table tents describing each food, when your guests will have a great time with typed descriptions or no descriptions at all.
You maintain friendships you know should have ended long ago because it seems like the right thing to do.
You avoid calling friends if you don’t have an hour to talk instead of calling and saying, I only have ten minutes but really want to talk with you.
Invest your time in what produces the greatest results and maximizes your enjoyment. Work hard, do great work, invest in your family and friends, and know when “no thank you” is the right answer.
It’s not unusual to ask who is at fault when mistakes in an organization are made. We want to know who was to blame. Before asking who is accountable for a mistake, I’d ask what lead to the mistake. Was the error a people or a process issue?
If a document with mistakes is shared with people outside of an organization, there is a process issue.
Yes, someone made a mistake. Someone wasn’t careful or knowledgeable enough to catch the error. But if a document’s accuracy is important, more than one person should be looking at that document before it leaves the organization. When only one person looks at an important document, there is a process issue.
Processes include: The practices followed and the tools used when creating, proofreading, saving, and storing work.
William Ury, author of the negotiation books Getting to Yes and Getting Past No, said, “Be easy on the people and hard on the process.” When mistakes happen, evaluate the processes surrounding that work. What allowed the mistake to go out the door unchecked? Would a different process with more checks and balances and more eyes on the work have prevented the error?
After evaluating the processes or lack thereof, coach the person who made the mistake. Fill the gap that allowed the mistake to happen, but first, evaluate your processes.
Frustrated by a control freak, micromanager, or a high-need-to-know type? Controlling behavior stems from a need that isn’t being met. Identify the need, meet it, and your life gets easier.
If someone wants more updates, information, or involvement than you’re comfortable with, the person has a need that isn’t being met. When you meet the need, the person will likely back off.
I ask the people who work for me to not make me ask for anything twice. Meaning, if I ask for an update the week before a speaking engagement, anticipate that I’ll want that information for all engagements. Confirm by asking me and then provide the data without being asked for all future engagements. Getting the information regularly without having to ask builds trust and credibility.
Here are six tips for working with control freaks:
1. If you don’t know, ask:
The person’s work-related goals. What are they working on this quarter and year?
What the person is concerned about at work? What are they worried about?
How do they like to communicate – in-person, email, phone, video, voicemail, or text?
How often do they want information, in what format, and with how much detail?
2. Provide more information than you think you need to, and then ensure the person wants that information in the future.
3. If you’re asked for information, ask why the person wants it, and if they want it in the future. Then provide the information before you’re asked.
4. If someone is overly involved in your work and you feel you have no freedom, state your observation and ask for information. That could sound like, “You’ve been involved with each major decision with this project. I’m used to working with less oversight. Do you have a concern about my approach?” Then you negotiate. Everything is a negotiation.
5. The approach in number four will likely put the other person on the defensive. A less confrontational approach is to discuss and agree upon levels of involvement and supervision when projects begin. That could sound something like, “What kind of involvement do you want to have in this project? What do you want to do? What do you want me to do? What kind of updates would you like, how often, and with how much detail?” It’s always easier to prevent a problem than to fix one.
6. Lastly, don’t take anything personally. Oversight and involvement may be a reflection of how someone feels about your performance, but it might not. When in doubt, ask.
A professional athlete would never get on the court or field without knowing exactly what will score them points and penalties. But many of us go to work every day without knowing how we’re being evaluated.
If you’ve ever had a performance review or received feedback that caught you off guard or have completed a project and were told your work wasn’t quite what was expected, you didn’t have enough information upfront. Don’t wait for people to tell you what they need and expect (which often happens after breakdowns occur), set clear expectations at the beginning of anything new and ask for feedback as you make progress.
The people you work for and with should tell you what they expect. They should give you feedback along the way. And many won’t. Your career management is in your hands, and that’s a very good thing.
When you start a new job, project, or any responsibility ask the person delegating the work some of these questions:
Career Management Question one: What does a good job look like?
Career Management Question two: What’s the criteria for success?
Career Management Question three: How will you know you picked the right person for the job?
Career Management Question four: Why is this project a priority right now? How will it impact the organization?
Career Management Question five: What kind of updates would you like? In what format, how frequently, and with what level of detail?
Career Management Question six: How often do you want to review my work?
Career Management Question seven: Who in the organization should I work with on this project?
Career Management Question eight: What history, pitfalls, or landmines do I need to be aware of? Has anyone tried to do this before, and if yes, with what outcomes? Who in the organization supports this project? Who doesn’t?
If you’ve been in your job for a long time or have been working on a project for a while, it’s not too late to ask these questions. Simply approach the person with whom you’re working and say, “I want to be sure I’m doing great work on _____________ project. Can I ask you a couple of questions about the desired end results and how we should be communicating as I make progress?”
Lots of people aren’t the best delegators. They give us a project, ask if we have any questions, and provide a due date. Don’t fall into the trap of completing an entire project and then asking for feedback. Even if the person delegating the work doesn’t want to see your progress, ask for that feedback. Schedule weekly or monthly review meetings, present the work you’ve done, and ask for feedback. If you get to the end of a project or responsibility and are surprised by the reaction, you didn’t ask enough questions at the beginning and middle of the project.
People will tell you everything you need to do a good job, if you ask. Take control of your career. Ask more. Assume less.
I think Instacart is a brilliant idea. I make a grocery list online, someone else goes shopping for me, and drops my groceries on my porch. What a great way to save time, unless I want a certain brand of canned tomatoes with no rosemary, and two green bananas, three that are almost ripe, and one that is ripe right now. Meaning, if I want my groceries a certain way, I need to go shopping myself. No one else will pick precisely what I will. And delegating work and managing people is the same.
No one will do something just like you will. They might do it better or worse, but either way, work won’t be done just as you would do it. If you want something done precisely your way, you’re likely going to need to do it yourself.
There is little more demoralizing than working hard on a document and having your manager red line it with edits that aren’t wrong, they’re just not her way. This kind of feedback makes employees wonder why they bothered doing the work in the first place. Employees find themselves thinking and possibly saying, “If you’re going to change my work to be more your way, you should just do it yourself.”
This isn’t to say that if you have a vision for how work should be done that you shouldn’t delegate. Managers need to delegate work or they will be focused on the wrong things, exhausted, and resentful, and employees won’t grow, develop, and be properly utilized.
Managers need to set clear expectations, follow up to review work, provide regular feedback as the work is in process, and then expect and accept that completed projects won’t look just like what they would have done. Even when employees produce great work, that work likely won’t be a mirror image of what the manager would have done herself.
If getting work that is slightly askew from what you would have done works for you, delegate the work. If work produced must be a certain way, you should likely do it yourself, or risk both you and your employees’ frustration.
Here are six steps on how to delegate, a skill I think most managers can strengthen:
How to delegate step one: Provide clear instructions to the person to whom you’re delegating. If you have an image of what something should look like, provide a sample document.
How to delegate step two: Ask the person to whom you delegated to tell you what you’re expecting. Don’t ask, “Do you have any questions?” The right answer to that question is, “No,” and gives you no insight about the person’s understanding of your expectations. Instead, ask, “So I know I’ve been clear, what am I asking you to do?” Or you could ask, “Based on what I’ve said, what do you think I’m looking for?” There are lots of ways to assess a person’s understanding. You simply need to get the person talking.
How to delegate step three: Don’t assume people know what to do. We have all left someone’s office with a new project thinking, “I have no idea where to start.” And then that project goes on the bottom of the pile.
Ask the person, “What are you going to do first?” If they give you an answer that tells you they know what to do, step back. They’ve earned some freedom. If they give you an answer that will not lead to the results you want, step in and offer help.
How to delegate step four: Ask to see work as the work is completed versus reviewing all of the work when the project is done. Giving a lot of upgrade feedback after work is completed is demoralizing to employees and wastes a lot of time. Tell employees, “I’d like to see your progress every Friday (or whatever interval is appropriate depending on the length and complexity of the project). This isn’t to micromanage you, it’s to ensure you don’t do a bunch of work that I will want changed. I don’t want you to waste your time.”
How to delegate step five: Give candid feedback when you review work. Don’t say something is fine if it’s not. Ask for changes while the work is in its early stages versus when it’s almost complete.
How to delegate step six: Resist the temptation to edit work or give feedback on work that is correct but wasn’t done your way. Remember, if you want something done your way, sometimes it makes sense to do it yourself.
When it makes sense to do something yourself: When you must have something a certain way and you’re the only person who can and will do it that way. If you’re ok with things not having the same words, formatting or flavor you’d put on them, delegate. If you need your bananas to look a certain way, go pick them up yourself. And both options are right answers. It’s ok to want what you want.
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