If you asked your team members what saps their productivity, what would they say? They’d probably mention unnecessary meetings, interruptions or poor communications, right?
What if — shockingly — you were listed as one of the reasons that your team couldn’t get their work done? Wait a minute, you say, I’m not a micromanager; I give them space. And I’m here to help them prioritize if needed. Even though you might not directly interfere with your team members’ daily actions, you may still contribute to their lack of productivity. How? Because you have ignored the one element that helps everyone focus on things that matter most: You haven’t helped them create the space to attend to those important tasks.
The modern office is notoriously bad when it comes to supporting work that requires deep concentration or creativity. Add to that the difficult-to-avoid distractions of technology and interruptions and your team risks operating on a sugar-based work rush, which offers a direct hit to productivity. As a leader, it’s up to you to create an environment that makes it OK to devote more than 15-minute increments to a project. If you don’t proactively set up systems that help your team do that, in essence, you are just one more roadblock that stands in the way of your team getting things done.
Most of us tend to think that we’ll do the high-value thinking or planning work “when we are less busy” or “when we get the time.” The reality is that an uninterrupted block of time will never magically appear on our calendars; we have to create that space. Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith says that we all operate under this “dream” that “tomorrow will be different than today,” we’ll have more time, things will slow down.
In this video, Goldsmith has some bad news for us: “It is always going to be crazy out there, and we are always going to be under pressure.” As the saying goes, “Someday is not a day of the week.” One of the biggest gifts you can give to your team is to assist in creating that space so they can concentrate on the most important work to be done.
The concept is simple: Create a system that allows people to focus for an uninterrupted amount of time. You might try “Theme Days,” in which people give focus to a whole day (or a four-hour block of time) related to a theme such as “Business Development Day” or “Customer Outreach.” Forbes contributor Kevin Kruse interviewed highly successful people in all domains of work and found that theme days are powerful because they establish a rhythm of focus and attention. Or, you can suggest a time-management method called “batching,” in which people do similar tasks, such as setting aside a morning to tackle all of the week’s paperwork. For the highly analytical among us, ask your team to plan and analyze their common tasks using a timer and 25-minute bursts of work, using the Pomodoro technique.
Regardless of which system you implement, keep these ideas in mind to improve your chances of success.
Get input. Research a few time-management structures and ask your team which ones will work best for the department. You’ll likely find that different people prefer different structures. Set up a few different types so that the majority of people will adopt the system that works for them. Research indicates that most people do well with a 90-minute chunk of time, so start with that if you think that setting aside a whole morning or afternoon isn’t feasible. When people know they can count on one or two times throughout the week when they have time set aside, it frees up their mind from the stress of figuring out, “When will I find the time?”
Try it yourself. Take one of the systems your team identified and test-drive it. When you do this, you set an excellent example. You’ll also uncover flaws in the system. Share these discoveries with your team. Ask them to brainstorm ways to work through the roadblocks. You’ll likely learn something that will help you — and them — improve the use of the system.
Stick to it. If you don’t honor the process you set up, your team will see it as just one more “flavor of the month” idea that you cooked up. If someone comes to you with a request for improving their productivity, back them up. Remember that everybody has differing ideas of how to organize their work, so what works for Tom may not work for Rory. As long as the work gets done and adheres to your company’s values, who cares if it’s unorthodox? You might also have to sell the idea with other departments (“we can’t meet on Tuesdays from 10 to noon, that’s our team Think Time”) so you can gain acceptance throughout the organization.
Pair it up. Chery Gegelman is a leadership-development consultant and owner of Giana Consulting. Years ago, as a team leader, she used a “pair and share” idea as a way to cope with an overwhelming influx of work her customer service team experienced. She created teams of two and batched tasks into two main categories: phone-related work and work requiring direct contact with customers. The pairs worked together on their assigned category (phone or people-related) for a three week cycle. Then the team members switched roles. This method, she said, prevented burnout and kept team members’ skills sharp. There was a positive business aspect as well: of the 10 similarly-structured teams throughout the nation, Gegelman’s team was the only one to meet all of its goals that year.
As a leader, it’s important to consider the role you play in how well your team members manage their time. When it comes to time management, good managers avoid micromanaging and help team members prioritize. Great leaders take things a step farther to create and support systems that help team members devote quality time to solving organizational business problems.
Jennifer V. Miller is a freelance writer and leadership development consultant. She helps business professionals lead themselves and others towards greater career success. Join her Facebook community The People Equation and sign up for her free tip sheet: “Why is it So Hard to Shut Up? 18 Ways to THINK before you Speak.”
If you enjoyed this article, join SmartBrief’s e-mail list for our daily newsletter on being a better leader and communicator.