The other day I was waiting outside of a conference room for the previous meeting to end. There was a group of individuals near me waiting for another conference room. As much as I pretended like I wasn’t listening, I was. Don’t judge me, we were practically standing next to each other and you would have done it too. Their topic of conversation was about effectiveness and hours worked in the day. The person who initiated the topic stated that she would rather have someone on her team who worked 8 hours a day and was very effective rather than someone who worked 12 hours and was not effective. The question she posed to her colleagues was “how do you teach effectiveness?” I love this question.
How Can You Achieve Effectiveness?
I love this question because I have had similar conversations multiple times with my peers because I have had many people ask me “how do you have time for that?” I have a very strict work-life balance so the answer is never “I work a lot.” Yes I will answer emails at night or on the weekend once in a while and yes I have worked more than 80 hours in one week, but it is not the norm, it is the exception. So without ado, here are five of the things that I think drive “effectiveness.”
Step One: Admit You Have a Problem
It is critical to admit when you are stuck so you do not waste any time trying to figure something out on your own. Too many people are afraid of admitting they don’t know something or they need help. I am no different from the stubborn individuals who says “I want to figure it out on my own,” I just have a different threshold. I have seen people spend hours or days on problems that should take minutes to figure out. For this reason, I once implemented a 20 minute rule with a team I managed. The 20 minutes was fairly trivial and I don’t remember why I picked the number but it was the number I chose to identify the problem. Once you knew the problem and how to solve it, take whatever time it takes to get it right. Alternatively, if you knew the problem but didn’t know how to solve it, you got 20 minutes to figure that out too. The point was to keep people focused and to admit that you didn’t know the answer. It may seem harsh, but I can assure you that once you start following this rule you will not only solve problems faster, but you will learn more, create good working relationships with others, and you will become an expert to help someone else out in the future.
Step Two: Use all the Resources at Your Disposal
The resources that I am referring to can be anything that makes your job quicker or easier. It could be IT systems, other people, other departments, or something else. IT systems is a huge one so we will discuss that. In the professional world we work in, we use dozens of IT systems every day to do our job. My personal goal is to maximize those systems’ output and make those systems work for me. Too many people let the IT systems control them. Most times the people who manage these IT systems get to know me well because I am asking for training on them, submitting problem tickets, asking for enhancements, or sitting on committees during replacement or upgrade evaluations. Yes, I am that guy, but you know what? It makes me more efficient.
The other aspect is knowing other people and departments at your disposal. I had a job once where I had to manage a SharePoint site for the department. I didn’t know anything about SharePoint and I could figure it out on my own because I like technology and learning new things, but it wasn’t the core of my job. I knew I had more important things to do. I searched the company’s intranet for no more than 20 minutes and found an internal department that would actually build out the shell of your SharePoint site for you! Within a week I had the framework of a site that would have taken me months to figure out, if at all. If you think your boss will look down at you for getting help, think again…that’s called being “resourceful.”
Step Three: Optimize What You can so You are Ready for What You Can’t
This is similar to being resourceful, but a little bit more specific. There are many times where people can’t get “their job” done because all they are doing is fighting fires. The fact of the matter is, that will never change. I don’t know about you, but there is not a job that I have had where things didn’t go as planned. So, for those core things that you do, you need to optimize them so they take as little time as possible. This allows you to free up the capacity to account for the randomness in your job. The routine tasks of your job should not be as chaotic as the non-routine things. To get to this point, I have actually taken whole days out of the office just to get organized and optimize things. If you don’t think you have time to do this, I assure you that you do. If your boss came up to you tomorrow and said that you needed to go to an all day meeting tomorrow and you would not have access to phone or email all day, what would you do? You would go and you would do it, and you would figure out how to catch up later. You can take that same approach for getting organized and optimizing your work streams.
Step Four: Delegate
Yes, delegation is typically a leadership activity but really anyone can do it. In fact, if you can do peer or upward delegation (i.e. your boss), you have delegation down to a science, congrats! Too many people “want to be nice” and do the work or take the action items from a meeting but that is just taking away from your work. Thinking back to being resourceful, utilize those around you and their strengths to get your work done better or faster. I know what you are thinking, but they have their own work too! Correct, and they should delegate some of their tasks to you if you are truly better and faster at them. The best teams, departments or companies are the ones that are working people to their strengths and often times that is done through delegation.
Step Five: Know What is Really Important
So if you are reading this one, thank you for sticking with me and now I will answer the burning question you probably have. You may be still thinking that all of this takes more time, but it doesn’t. This is because you have to know what is really important.
The first part of this is understanding your business, its goals, and your leadership team’s vision. If you know that, then it should be much easier to make some more of your day-to-day decisions and it should therefore be easier to say “no” to things. If I ever asked someone on my team to do something and they didn’t think it aligned with the business’s vision and direction, it was a good day.
The second piece may be unique to people leaders. In one of my roles where I managed a team, I spent no less than a 25% of my time on things outside of my job responsibilities or other special projects. I was often asked by my peers, “how do you have time for that? I don’t even have time to do my regular job.” The answer was how I defined “regular job.” As I talked about in my The Middle Level Leader post, I saw myself as a middle leader and the special projects I took on were things that would directly impact my team. If I heard my department was evaluating a new IT system my team would use, I wanted to be on the evaluation team. Someone creating or updating a new policy? I want to review it first. I did all this because I needed to ensure things were not implemented that would take my team away from their work because unfortunately no matter how well intended many of these projects were, they often led to more work for us. I saw my job as ensuring that decisions led to less work for my team, not more, so they could focus on core business functions and projects that moved our business forward. That is what I valued as being really important.
So when people ask me how I have time to do the things I do, I usually tell them that I have no more time in a day then they do and neither of us will ever have more time. The difference, however, is what you do with your time. Those that are more effective with the use of their time will ultimately be more successful. This five things are some of the general guidelines that I follow that think make me productive. I am always working on improving and finding faster and easier ways to do things. Work smarter, not harder.