Editor’s Note: This week Actionable and Chris Taylor are hosting a guest post this week from Edward G. Brown! Edward is the author of The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had and co-founder of the #1 firm in culture change management consulting and training for the financial services industry, Cohen Brown Management Group. For more information, please visit, www.timebanditsolution.com and www.cohenbrown.com and connect with Mr. Brown on Twitter, @EdwardGBrown.
When you take on a different set of responsibilities, don’t be surprised if you have to learn new ways of managing your time.
Talk about embarrassing. I teach time management to executives around the world, and yet when it came to writing my book, I had to reteach myself!
My foundational skills held, but I had to learn new ways of applying them. Focal Locking, for example, is the skill of staying laser-focused on the job at hand. Why is that important? Because people tend to lose a scandalous amount of time each day simply because, when they most wish to concentrate, their minds wander while time flees.
In my traditional work of training executives and writing curriculum, I’ve cultivated the ability to Focal Lock. Now I find it easy to stay attuned to the expressions on the faces of my students. I can listen attentively to each person’s input and move the conversation forward. I don’t lose time to inattention in those circumstances.
But when I sat down to write my book, I caught the worst case of Mental Leakage I’d had since high school Latin class! I would find myself thinking about everything except the work I intended to do.
I realized I would have to adapt my Focal Locking techniques for the new challenge. The total lack of distractions was, well, distracting. I had to learn new ways of moving work forward in silence without constant feedback from an audience or team, to write about events in my life without losing myself down memory lane. I had to discover and create the best conditions for writing without interruption.
How about you? If you are changing jobs, being promoted, or taking on a new project, be sure to think through how your time management must change.
New Supervisor or Manager?
Interruptions can be a huge challenge for a first-time supervisor and manager. Our research shows that when people are asked to self-assess how much time they lose to interruptions, they are horrified to discover that it’s three to five hours a day! And here you are, suddenly the go-to person for many people who in turn are figuring out their new leader. They will “check in” with you frequently to get your reaction or seek extra face time just to make a good impression. That’s normal behavior, but you’ll never succeed with all those interruptions!
The answer? Learn how to politely and productively deter those who interrupt you. Let them understand how it’s preferable for both of you if you work uninterrupted so that you can give their needs your full attention at the right time. I call that Time Locking, and it works best if you form Mutual Time Locking Agreements with other members of your team so that they, too, realize the benefits of working without interruption. Work out a plan to spend appropriate amounts of time with them, and keep them apprised of the plan, and you will find yourself with fewer interruptions and more productive interactions all around.
From Team Member to Individual Contributor?
Your team project wraps up and you move to a research and analysis position. Now that you’re not sitting around the table or online with a team, it’s up to you alone to keep the work your sole focus. It’s time to utilize techniques from my Mental Hygiene Process that give you power over your wandering mind:
- Transcending the environment means rising above physical issues that you can’t change. You might tell yourself: Working alone has never been my thing, but if I just forge ahead and create some small successes while working alone, I know I will learn to enjoy it that way.
- Constructive acceptance means accepting gracefully the things that can’t be changed. I’m not going to get perfect data, so instead of worrying about that – which wastes my time – I will just draw the best conclusions I can from the data I already have.
- Visualizing the ideal means picturing the positive outcomes of staying focused on your work. The team I used to work with will find my research so important for their project. I can’t wait to provide it to them! The mind follows the imagination, and the physical follows the mental. You hustle, instead of wasting time.
- Positive affirmation uses a positive phrase of your choosing to program your subconscious mind to think favorably about your work, give you a rush of mental energy and physical energy to follow. Again, you’ll find yourself working instead of fretting. Find a short, positive mantra that works for you.
From Close Supervision to Distant
Distant supervision gets ever more common with today’s far-flung offices and remote workers. You go from having a supervisor looking over your shoulder most of the day to being accountable for your own schedule and motivation. You cannot afford to “wing it”—to decide as the day or week goes on what you’ll do next. You need to map your own work plan based on some important distinctions:
- Hard vs. Easy: Know what tasks demand more energy and concentration—versus those that are easy, even fun—and then schedule them for your high-energy periods.
- Important vs. Urgent: Don’t mistake other people’s urgency for your own and use up precious time and energy by trying to take care of their needs at the expense of your own.
- Critical Few vs. Minor Many: If you inspect your to-do list carefully, you’ll find that very few items are essential to keeping your job and doing it well. Focus on those Critical Few first. Save your Minor Many to be Batch Processed so that they take little time.
Follow these tips and you will be surprised how quickly you succeed in your new position.