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Prioritisation, time management and delegation

With two thirds of the workforce struggling with professional burnout, prioritisation, time management and delegation are not just essential components for being an effective manager, they’re essential for your health. 

If you’re anything like me when I first became a manager, you will find that your calendar very quickly fills up with invitations to meetings and a lot of the time, you won’t even know what they’re about. But you’re new to your role. You want to show willing. You don’t want to come across as not being able to handle your workload by questioning why you are in the meeting. So you should accept them all, right?

Wrong! I promise you, this won’t serve you and it certainly won’t serve those around you as you will never be able to bring your best to anything you do. 

At times, it used to feel like people were using my calendar as a colouring book; if I had half an hour not blocked out for a meeting, you could guarantee someone would want to ‘colour it in’! What I learned very quickly as a manager is that the only person who can protect your time, is you.

Prioritisation, delegation and time management go hand in hand. If you prioritise well and delegate effectively, you will find time management becomes less of a challenge. But then there’s always extra ways to bring in efficient time management…here we will look at all three areas. 

Prioritising your new responsibilities as a manager

I’m going to make an assumption here; you already know how to prioritise your workload. Why do I say that? Well, you’ve been promoted to management so you clearly knew what areas to focus on as an individual contributor.

But that’s just it isn’t it. You knew what to focus on when you were responsible for your own results. Now you have leadership responsibilities. And with leadership responsibilities come more and more conflicting priorities…

Your people are your results; they will always be your priority

Now that you are a manager and leader, your definition of results needs to change. No longer are your results based on your contribution alone. Instead, you own the results of everyone on your team. Your job now is to get results with and through others. And while you’re still responsible for your personal deliverables, they will likely need to take a back seat to ensure that your direct reports are supported to hit theirs, while allowing them to grow and learn.

If you know the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, prioritisation gets easier

I don’t know about you, but for me, when I have a long list of ‘things to do’ without a clear objective, I find it pretty overwhelming.  This is why, as a manager, it’s crucial to take time to understand what your goals and objectives are, and why they are important. Once you know what you’re working to achieve and why, the actions required to get there and the priorities you set become much clearer.

Share your priorities

Before I became a manager, I used to wonder what my manager worked on. They always looked busy, but I had no idea what they actually did. I therefore always made it my mission to share with my team, where possible, what my current priorities were. This openness and transparency helped to cultivate a feeling of trust among the team and likewise, helped people to see how their work fit in with the overall team and business objectives (and as an added bonus, allowed people to volunteer to get involved in projects that peaked their interest).

But perhaps the most important reason for sharing your priorities lies in it opening you up to saying no, while also maintaining healthy relationships. In other words, if you’re clear on your why and what, and others are clear on your priorities, it allows you to protect your time to ensure you and your team can deliver on what’s important.

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Plan time for curveballs

Unexpected ‘urgent’ work will always crop up. Whether your CEO needs some data in the next hour, a client requirement lands or a member of your team can’t deliver what is needed due to being unwell, it’s an inevitable part of our work. 

We might not be able to predict when this might happen, but if we plan ‘flex’ time into our schedules throughout the week, it will help us to approach these curveballs with more flexibility. And if a curveball doesn’t arise, you just got some additional time to work on your priorities or to spend some time building connections with your team.

The big rocks and gravel metaphor

In his 7 habits book, Stephen Covey uses the metaphor of fitting big rocks and gravel into a jar when discussing priorities. The big rocks are the actions that will move you closer to your overall goals and / or where there will be negative repercussions if they don’t get done. Always fill your jar with the big rocks first to ensure they fit in.

Only once all the big rocks are in can the gravel enter the jar. The gravel reflects the smaller actions that can be done quickly or are less important; brilliant if you can fit them in, but there might be some that have to wait for a later date.  

Key questions to ask yourself when deciding where to spend your time:
  • What’s the potential payoff? If a task has a significant long-term impact, address it now. Recruitment is a great example here; if you have forecasted significant growth in an area in three months time, you might think that job spec can wait until next week or month but if you take a long term approach, you understand that the impact of not getting someone in in time for the uplift in work will be significant. 
  • Will the task help my team, company or me meet an important goal?
  • Can it wait? Be sure to address things before it becomes a crisis.
  • Should I be the one to do this? We will come on to delegation shortly…
  • Is this on my schedule because it’s comfortable or easy? Be honest with yourself here. It might feel good to tick some things off your list but will doing those tasks stop you from working on your other priorities?
  • Is this my priority, or someone else’s? Just because someone has put an invite in your calendar does not mean you have to accept it. If you have bigger priorities right now, let them know and ask if they can reschedule. Be honest with them and it will help you to maintain your relationship.

Top tips to work smarter, not longer

Block out time in your calendar

As I referred to at the beginning of this topic, if you have ‘free’ time in your calendar, people will assume you have time to meet with them. At the beginning of every week, make sure you block out the time you need to work on your priority actions and don’t let anyone book over it (unless it’s absolutely business critical). Equally, look at what other meetings you have in your calendar; if you have a 121 with a member of your team, block out extra time to prep for it. If you have an offsite meeting, plan in your travel time. 

Things change, you will need to pivot, so do a quick review every morning to reprioritise as needed for the day ahead. 

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Get a system for emails that works for you

Everyone is unique when it comes to email management. I’ve known people who use a colour coding system so complex you need sunglasses to look at their screen…but it works for them. I’ve known people who seem to have folders for folders…but it works for them. I know people who have that many unread emails that just the thought of it brings me out in a cold sweat…but again, it works for them.

Do a Google search. Try some different email management techniques until you find one that works for you.

Don’t use email as a distraction

If you’re anything like me (inbox to zero), the thought of leaving your inbox unmanned for an hour or so might fill you with anxiety. But how about half an hour? Emails can be a massive distraction and reduce your productive time considerably. Try setting aside specific times within the day which is solely for reading and prioritising emails. At all other times, you’re not to look at them. Let people know that this is the method you use so if anything urgent comes up, it’s best to call you rather than email. You could even add an auto reply to your emails letting people know that you only check emails at specific times to manage expectations. People will quickly learn and adapt to this. 

Energy
Energy peaks

I do my best work in the morning. I have worked with others who are most productive after lunch and others who are night owls. Plan your time around yours, and your team’s, peaks and troughs. 

If you’re like me and are at your best in the morning, plan to do some work on that complex report in the morning and schedule your admin for the afternoon. If most of your team are more effective after lunch, plan the ideas session around them.

Be smart about how and where you work

Does your mind wander when you’ve been working on the same task, in the same place for too long? Do you find you become less productive as the day goes on? 

Try getting some fresh air and exercise or move to another space in the office. There’s a reason I encourage all my clients to step out of the office for some fresh air at the start of every session. It’s an ideal way to help people refresh, releases endorphins and generally makes us feel good; helping with focus and overall productivity.

The person with the greatest flexibility has the greatest influence

Belief of excellence, NLP

Personal time

As a manager, it’s usual to work early or late to get through everything that you need to. But don’t allow it to become a habit as this can simply mean you become less productive and inefficient during the day. If you want to commit to two exercise classes a week that start at 6pm, commit to it by putting it in your calendar.

Keep meetings action focused

Have an agenda, and encourage your team to have an agenda, for every meeting. This way, it is easier to keep a focus on the objectives, leading to less inefficient time. Before the meeting is over, recap on the actions and next steps to keep the momentum going.

Make use of productivity tools

Whether it’s Trello, Asana, Todoist, Slack or any of the hundreds of other productivity tools out there, find something that works for you and your team so that you can quickly keep track of actions, projects and communications.

Final note: it is incredibly easy as a new manager to get so caught up in work that you forget or think that you don’t have the time to look after yourself. This is where another crucial mindset or paradigm shift comes in:

Ineffective mindset

I am too busy to take time for myself

Effective mindset

To be an effective manager, I need to be at my best and that requires taking time to reset and looking after my wellbeing.

Be mindful of what activity you choose in order to reset. When you’re tired and lacking energy, it can be all too tempting to sit on the sofa with Netflix and a sharing pack of crisps. But this isn’t going to serve you in the long term. Movement, mindfulness or connecting with a friend will help you to switch off from your work which is absolutely vital to maintain a healthy balance. Do what works for you; for me, my non-negotiable is getting some form of exercise every single day because I know the impact it has on my mindset, energy and productivity levels. You do you.

Delegation

Delegation is one of the most effective yet delicate tools in a manager’s toolkit. Done well, it can empower your team and help them to reach their potential. Done poorly and it can shut down creativity, lead to disengagement, destroy trust and lower levels of motivation. 

There are two key sins when it comes to delegation:

  • Micromanagement: you delegate but then dictate exactly how you want it to be done. 
  • Abandonment: you use delegation as a way to offload the work you don’t want to do without giving any support.

I have worked with both types of manager and know first hand how both methods lead to demotivated and frustrated teams. 

Empowering managers are those who determine goals with teams, rather than for them, so people understand what is needed, and the why behind that need. When they delegate, they focus on supporting. This is not always easy; it takes a lot of time, support and energy in the short term where you might think ‘I can just do it myself’. But in the long term, it will more than pay off through the growth, engagement and motivation of your team. 

Effective delegation will help your team to grow, leading to increased engagement and motivation.

As you become more experienced as a manager, delegation will almost become second nature. You’ll know when, what and who to delegate to without much thought. But in the earlier stages on management, it can be useful to go through these steps:

Define the project, task or activity: What’s the objective and deadline? What skills are required? What does success look like?

Should it be delegated? It can be tempting to hoard some tasks (you have your standards after all!). But as a manager, you need to consider what the best use of your time is. Make sure you have the time you need to focus on complex or sensitive tasks by delegating some of your other actions. Remember to roll your sleeves up on the less exciting jobs every now and again too – it’ll earn you respect!

Who to delegate to? This will become much easier as you get to know your team’s strengths and development opportunities better. Alongside skills, consider if they have the time, if they’ve expressed an interest in the project or task, if they will work well with the other stakeholders and if they will benefit from the task (either by developing a new skill or enhancing an existing one). 

Scope the activity or project out with them: You may have already thought about the best way to approach the task. Discuss this with the individual, ask them for their view. They may well bring something to the table that you hadn’t thought of. If it has to be done a specific way, make sure you are really clear on the ‘what’ and ‘why’. Give your team member an opportunity to ask questions and clarify their understanding. 

Communicate the impact they will have through their input

Make it clear to them that you are there to support: Adopting the belief that ‘there is never failure, only feedback’ gives people the freedom to try new things. Not only does this encourage them to take calculated risks which can be very empowering and motivational, it also gives them permission to come to you if things start to go sideways, allowing you to prevent a crisis before it happens. 

Learn, implement, repeat: You won’t always get it right, and that’s okay! Learn from the experience and implement those learnings for the next time. Ask the team member how they found the task and take note of their response so that when a similar activity arises, you can delegate accordingly. 

When you first become a new manager, it can very quickly become overwhelming if you don’t set yourself boundaries. Remember to be kind to yourself. As with anything new, prioritisation, time management and delegation in your management role will take practice. The short term may be tough, but if you invest the time and effort to put these things in place now, it will be so worth it in the long run.

Want further support in your role as a manager?

Our Intentional Manager Programme, developed for new and aspiring managers, or for those with up to 3 years’ experience is a unique, year long partnership to help maximise potential and deliver effective, lasting performance improvements.

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