Updated: Feb 27
In the final installment of our Strengths Summer Safety series, we’ll focus on the one thing everyone wishes they had more of – TIME. If you’re like most people, you think “If I just had more time, I could get it all done.” That seems to make sense on the surface, but it’s not true. There will always be more meetings, student crises, and things you want to do. No matter how you tweak your time management skills you’ll never really be caught up. That sounds depressing, but really understanding that can be a huge relief.
PROTECTING YOUR TIME
Time and energy often go hand in hand. Technically, you have more time than peak mental energy (see Part II) but if you’re not coordinating the most important things with that energy, you’re wasting both. Your time can quickly be eaten up by things that aren’t helping you be productive. I don’t just mean how many things you’re checking off your to-do list. I mean what do you need to accomplish – including building relationships, creating balance, increasing your wellbeing, etc. – and what do you need to do to accomplish those things? Let’s focus on three actions to begin the process of protecting our time.
1. Establish Priorities | What are the three most important big picture things you need to focus on right now? Why three? Jim Collins says in his book, Good to Great, “If you have more than three priorities, you don’t have any.” I’m sure you have more than three things to do, but look at everything on your plate. What three, big picture items would make the biggest impact? There can be several underlying goals or action steps for each priority, but make sure they’re related (no cheating to fit more in). Maybe there’s something on a deadline. Maybe there’s something your boss said was a priority. Maybe it’s improving systems or processes. Then figure out the time frame for those priorities. Three each semester makes for education, but do whatever works best for you.
The most important part of this process – and one that will probably make you the most uncomfortable – is once you’ve decided on those three things, everything else other than necessary job tasks that can’t be delegated or ACTUAL – not contrived – emergencies, goes on the back burner until you’ve finished them. Yes, of course if you finish a priority you can move something else up, but if you’re going by semester maybe just enjoy the sweet sense of accomplishment. Ultimately, setting priorities makes time management easier. Your options for what to do next drop off significantly. Having three guiding big picture items also makes it easier to say no to non-priority items. Now, obviously if your supervisor comes and tells you some new thing is a priority, you’ll might need to adjust, but as long as you still only have three priorities that’s fine.
Take time right now – yes, right now – to start listing all the things you feel are priorities. Begin looking at where you’re spending your time. Begin focusing in on that list to create the three big picture priorities that you are going to use as your guide to protect your time.
2. Be Strategic | This action is similar, but more nuanced. How many things are on your to-do list that don’t actually need to be there? We’re all so busy doing, we rarely have time to stop and think about why we’re doing it. The problem of course is that when you never take the time to assess what you do; there’s an excellent chance you’re wasting time – your own, your students’, and your teams’.
If there’s something you’re doing that’s not really accomplishing the outcomes you want, cut it. This is be challenging because we all have those programs or events or activities that we love or are a tradition. You may love doing something, but is it really a good use of your time and resources? If not, create something else you’ll love doing that actually achieves those outcomes. This isn’t about cutting all the fun out of work or life, but rather strategically focusing the MOST fun, the most JOY, and the BEST results.
Likewise, ask your team to analyze and give feedback about your processes and systems. Inefficient or outdated process can be the biggest time wasters. Do you have to enter info in two separate programs or multiple screens? When students come in to your office are they shuffled back and forth between people? Is there a form everyone fills out but no one does anything with it? Cut things. Fix things. Make things as efficient as possible so you, your team, and students aren’t wasting their time. Even if you don’t have many or any Strategic Thinking talents, find the people who do. The reality may be that there are systems that are inefficient that must be used because resources don’t exist to change them right now, but have the information so you can find temporary fixes and continue to advocate for positive change.
3. Delegate | I’ve written a few blogs on delegating (links below), but I’ll mention it again here. How much of your time is wasted on things other people could, and should, be doing? The quick explanation of delegation is this: identify things that others can or should do and assign them to your team. It’s just that easy.
That being said, if it were really that easy, you’d already be doing it, right? It can be difficult for some supervisors to delegate. Maybe you think your team already has too much to do and you’d be a jerk if you gave them more. Maybe you think it’s just quicker to do it yourself instead of taking the time to teach someone else and deal with questions later. Maybe you think as the supervisor, it’s your responsibility to do it. Maybe you’re worried about your team liking you.
If those apply to you, please read our other blogs on delegating:
If you’re not good at delegation, reframe it. Your job as a supervisor is to make sure things get done, not to do everything. You’re being paid to make sure an entire team is running efficiently. If you spend your time doing rote tasks, you’re not making the decisions that will best benefit the whole team. You’re not thinking about the big picture, you’re not being strategic, and often you’re not allowing your team members to use their full potential. When you help your team set priorities and be strategic with how they spend their time, everyone benefits.
Remember, just like your energy, you only have so much time. Being busy, for the sake of being busy or because it’s what you’ve always done, doesn’t benefit anyone. Once you stop thinking about getting everything done and start focusing on the most important things, you’ll worry less about time and be less overwhelmed.