Managing Time Is The Great Bugaboo

When asked what is the one thing they most want to impact in their work life, most managers mention time. The mantra is always that there aren’t enough hours in the day.

A wealth of systems, tools, and trainings have sprung up in response to the monster that time management has become: work/life balance, delegation, prioritizing, project management milestone setting, blah, blah, blah.

Managers and corporate executives I’ve been coaching have had success in using two tools of Steven Covey’s: his Circle of Concern/Circle of Influence and his Time Management Matrix.

The benefit of these tools, as with many others, is that they help a person visualize and make concrete behaviors that can otherwise seem elusive.

Circle of Concern/Circle of Influence

Managers can lose focus on what they actually have control over and what they do not. The circles help a person actually “see” where they can have impact (the “inner” circle of influence) and where they may want to have impact but can’t because they simply have no real control (the “outer” circle of concern).

Coaching questions using the circles help the individual to acknowledge where they should focus proactively, where they have the necessary skills or authority to meet a challenge, and what they can do to impact or influence a situation. Proactive people focus within their circle of influence with positive energy that tends to expand this circle.

This is reality-based thinking. The process helps a person recognize what may be beyond their reach, or where necessary resources are simply not available for a task to succeed. Instead, they concentrate on being effective within their circle of influence.

The Time Management Matrix

You may be familiar with this exercise that asks people to divide the activities they regularly perform into four quadrants:

  1. Urgent and Important
  2. Not Urgent and Important
  3. Urgent and Not Important
  4. Not Urgent and Not Important

Urgent activities demand immediate attention. Important activities have to do with results. And Covey reminds us that this isn’t so much a tool for time management as for self-management.

Busy managers often dump most of what they spend their time on into quadrant 1. Interestingly, when they are encouraged to consider what they could move from quadrant 1 to quadrant 2, they actually find some. In other words, there are activities that are important but NOT urgent to do. By gosh—they’ve prioritized!

In analyzing their activities in this way—and coaching helps work through this process—a manager may also discover she spends a lot of time and energy on things that she deems urgent but are not really that important: quadrant 3 (some phone calls, some email, some meetings). Perhaps there are opportunities to assign these tasks to someone else. Lo and behold, the manager realizes some of what she’s been doing can be delegated!

Finally, quadrant 4 may start out empty. The manager may initially believe everything is urgent, important, or both. But looking at her activities through this lens is sure to reveal that some things may not need doing at all.

Whether you coach a person through Covey’s tools or find another way to assess how she spends her time, recognizing where she can have real impact, and prioritizing her energy on what’s most important, can help her say “no” when she has to, and transform that bugaboo into a benefit.

What tools or methods have you used to help you or someone else tackle the time management bugaboo?

If you found this post helpful, check out “About the Book” on this blog, and order yourself a copy of “What could happen if you do nothing?” A manager’s handbook for coaching conversations.