On average I spend about half of my working time acting as a consulting economist; it’s the role that most people associate me with if they’re aware of me. The other half of my work time is spent actively coaching leaders around the country. The consultant’s role is to analyze an issue and, frequently, to make recommendations drawn from conclusions. In coaching, my job is to rarely make recommendations. In fact, my job is to help clients author their own path forward and support them as they make the changes they need to be more effective in their roles and to be more personally fulfilled. I have clients across several sectors including telecommunications, healthcare, business services, non-profits and government. They’re a mix of ages, gender, and experience but at some level they all face a similar challenge: How do I reclaim my time? Regardless of circumstance nearly all my clients are looking to be more efficient within their work day and reclaim time from within that day to either work on priority projects or increase the time they have for exercise, community service, family, or faith. I’m a big believer in sharing information and tools; one of the great aspects of the coaching community is the willingness to share the ‘special sauce’ and learn from each other. While I can’t coach anyone using a blog, I can give you a couple tips and tricks to help you reclaim your time. If you work with these questions intentionally, I guarantee you can reclaim time in your day and take a step towards greater efficacy and fulfillment. One last thing-don’t tell anyone, but these tips work as well in the home as they do in the office.
Set Your Intention
One of the first things they teach us as coaches is not to stack questions on top of one another without giving the client a chance to respond. I’m going to break that rule for brevity. Ask yourself these two questions:
- What is the action I need to regularly take which will give me greatest sense of accomplishment and make the biggest difference in my day-to-day life?
- How much time do I need to reclaim to take this action regularly?
Let’s say I’m a leader that’s overwhelmed fighting fires and I’m not spending enough time planning my next steps, visioning, or focusing on execution. The first step towards reclaiming that time is having a sense of what I need to accomplish that I’m not getting to right now and how much time it will take to really get a foothold. My work with leaders shows that they need 45-60 minutes at least twice a week to have the strategic space they need to start operating at peak levels. Regardless of what the issue is, the first step in addressing it is setting the intention. Bonus Tip: Before you even find the minutes, start calendaring what you need to be doing. If your current calendar is so booked that you can’t find the space, do not be afraid to look a couple weeks out.
Find Minutes to Reclaim
Now that I’ve set the intention of reclaiming 45-60 minutes twice a week, I need to find those minutes in what I’m currently doing. Time is limited so if you’re saying “yes” to something you have to say “no” to something else. If you’re a swamped leader who life is run by emails, a phone, and a calendar the idea of creating 45-60 minutes a week may seem overwhelming at first, but that’s why I like to ask the following question:
- What are the 20 percent of things I should be doing where I should be spending 80 percent of my time?
Many leaders are inclined to think that they need to do it all not realizing that their job is to lead the doers and be prepared to pitch in; not to be the primary doer themselves. Additionally, they forget that by tackling tasks that are really outside their lane as leaders that they deprive their followers of opportunities to succeed, fail, learn, and grow. Leaders think they’re helping their followers by taking on work that rightfully belongs to someone else. Yes, leaders always need to be ready to pitch in to help at any level in the organization but taking over tasks that don’t belong to you hurts the organization twice over: by depriving the organization of what it needs from the leader and be depriving followers with the opportunity to step up. Leaders doing too much is a common indicator of an underperforming team. When you find things that you don’t need to be doing, it’s time to hand them off to someone else or drop them all together. Bonus Tip: Shut your door for strategic time and put a sign up that tells people what you’re doing. If it’s important they’ll come back later or schedule time with you.
After the 20/80 rule the next most common place that I find my leader clients losing time is with drop-in visitors. You know this event has happened to you- A visitor pops into your office and the next thing you know 45 minutes have gone by and you’re not sure if anything productive came of the conversation. Raise your hand if you’ve had this happen to you… Okay, put your hands down. As leaders we want people to come to our offices and bring issues to our attention and we want them to feel heard. However, by necessity we need to speed up some of those interactions. In the table below I’ve listed five different scenarios and the key question you need to ask to shorten the conversation, make your visitor feel heard, and move them towards independent action. In full disclosure, I adapted these scenarios from coach extraordinaire Michael Bungay Stanier. I teach my client to use them if they’re getting hijacked during their work days.
The keys to using these successfully are to:
1) Firmly, but gently, interrupt your visitor if you can’t get a gap in the conversation (i.e., Hold on for second, I need to ask you something…);
2) Acknowledge the story (i.e., What I’m hearing from you is…);
3) Deploy the key question.
If you follow these three steps you’ll have switched your conversation partner from telling the story to talking about what action they need to take to move forward. You’ll cut 20-25 minutes out of what can be a 45-minute conversation or 5 minutes out of a 15-minute conversation.
Bonus tip: If your drop-in visitors are asking you questions that can be better answered by someone else in the organization try saying “That’s a great question. I want you to have the best answer to it and ‘Amanda’ is the person.” If you’re answering questions you don’t need to answer you’re giving up your time and you’re depriving someone else of a chance to shine and build bonds within your organization.
Jonathan’s Takeaway: In the eyes of time we are all equal; each of us has just 1,440 minutes in a calendar day without exception. Often it’s what we choose to do with our time that defines our sense of fulfillment from work and play.
Jonathan King is a consulting economist and Certified Professional Coach. His firm, Halcyon Consulting, is dedicated to helping clients reach their goals through accountability, integrity, and personal growth. Jonathan has 22 years of social science consulting experience including 16 years in Alaska. The comments in this blog do not necessarily represent the view of employers and clients past or present and are Jonathan’s alone. Suggested blog topics, constructive feedback, and comments are desired at firstname.lastname@example.org.