Avoiding unproductive meetings and not getting buried in administrative work used to be the major time wasters that managers tried to avoid. But with the barrage of interruptions from new technologies and digital communications, getting things done can be even more difficult.
What we do understand is the one thing that hasn't changed: time management is still the way to deal with this dilemma.
Here are six strategies that managers can put to work:
Eliminate digital noise
Social media constantly beckons, as do a myriad of text and email messages. All of these bring benefits to a day's work like speeding communications and enabling online collaboration to quickly address problems, but they can also become counterproductive. If you find yourself checking in on social media or messages continuously and there is no screaming crisis that you are trying to manage through, you are doing it too much. Take a step back. Decide what is important—and eliminate or defer the rest until you have a block of time you can afford to commit to it.
Meet for results
Meetings continue to be one of the major time wasters for managers. Before entering a meeting, take a few minutes to identify the results that you want to achieve from the meeting. If you are leading the meeting, communicate to other participants what you expect the meeting to achieve and develop a tight agenda that you introduce to the group before the meeting commences so everyone can stay on track. This positions you for productive gains from the time commitment you are about to make.
Block out time for yourself
It is difficult for business managers to find much time for themselves at work, given the constant flow of project and staff issues that they must stay on top of. Nevertheless, in the course of a day, it should be possible to designate at least one quality "alone" hour for yourself so you can think through strategies and focus on work without an interruption. Identify when during the course of a day you are going to take that hour — and don't always make that hour a working lunch for yourself. You'll benefit from the opportunity to collect your thoughts.
Focus on non-verbal listening
It's both easy and convenient to relegate conversations with staff and stakeholders to email and text exchanges. Resist this. A lot of communication is done non-verbally. You can learn a lot about how receptive people are to your ideas, how well staff members are focused on their work, etc., simply by observing the unspoken body language that you see during meetings and during the times that you are circulating around offices. The more adept you become at reading body language, the sooner you can unearth issues and solve them before they develop into problems.
Plan for interruptions
Business today is extremely disruptive—and your time as a manager will also be disrupted regularly. These interruptions come in the form of a superior calling a sudden meeting, or in some kind of crisis or opportunity that suddenly emerges for the business. Plan for these by leaving an hour of your day open for the unforeseen.
New analytics tools enable top-level dashboard reporting on the day to day operations that you manage. If you are an IT manager, you can immediately see from a green, yellow or red light how the network, or how a given system, is running. If you see a system go yellow or red, you can drill down into the details to see what is wrong and/or call the staff person in charge to learn more about the problem. If you are a logistics manager, you can see which routes are on time, and which are not-and drill down into the "whys" as needed. Periodic checks into dashboards can keep your finger on the pulse of daily operations as you attend to other tasks during the day.
Keeping your eye on the important details that yield results in strategies and projects is as important today for managers as it has even been. What has changed is how managers go about this. One key is to capitalize on the advantages that digital technology brings, while avoiding the time traps and pitfalls. At the same time, it is important for managers to not lose sight of nonverbal and other non-digital cues that can make or break projects.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.