Time: It’s the one resource everyone needs, but no one has enough of.
As a manager, it may feel like the closer you get to the top, the more people need your time. Small tasks such as approving time cards, training new hires, or completing assignments get less and less attention, as finding the time to do even little tasks can be like pulling teeth. Between all the meetings, one-on-ones, and check-ins, there doesn’t seem to be enough hours in the day.
But even small tasks must get done to keep the business running. Putting them off isn’t just inconvenient—it’s crippling for those who depend on manager approval to complete their own work, whether that’s running payroll or planning employee training. Every level of the business benefits when managers can spend more time with their employees and finish tasks that depend on their approval.
So how can managers free up their schedules? Check out these tips to keep the business rolling.
1. Delegate tasks
Here’s a rule of thumb for good managers: If you can do a task in your sleep, it’s probably a task worth delegating to others. Similarly, if the thought of going on vacation makes you think nothing will get done, chances are good you’re not properly delegating tasks. “To raise the ceiling of your leadership potential, you need to extend your presence through the actions of others,” said Harvard Business Review contributor Jesse Sostrin in a 2017 article on delegating tasks.
He also notes that although managers often struggle to let go of tasks, being able to delegate is the difference between “being involved and being essential.” Here are four of Sostrin’s strategies for helping managers and leaders better delegate:
- Provide context to employees, so they understand what’s at stake when they take on new tasks. You’ll also want to make sure the employee you assign to that task is properly trained to take it on. “You can’t motivate somebody to care when you can’t express the reasons why it matters to you, so this essential step sets the table for effective partnering,” Sostrin writes.
- Communicate all expectations and inspire them to commit to the project they’re taking on. “They can’t read your mind, so if the finished product needs to be meticulous, be equally clear-cut in the ask.”
- Stay involved and track their progress. Offer support when needed and hold employees accountable to your expectations. If you find they aren’t performing as expected, the employee may need some further guidance. However, be mindful of how much monitoring the employee is comfortable with—ask them what their preferred management style is, and be respectful of that.
- Be selective with taking on new tasks, and be sure to pass off tasks that may not require your level of skill but can be completed by members of your team. As Sostrin puts it, “practice saying ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘yes if…’” with the last of these being tasks that can be delegated to others.
“You may still consult, motivate, and lead—but you’re essential as the catalyst, not as the muscle doing the heavy lifting,” writes Sostrin.
2. Keep your communications clear and action-focused
Communication is vital within a business, but not all communication is focused on action. Utilizing “action-focused” language—such as clearly defining the purpose of a meeting or directly asking for assistance on a specific task—can help employees and other managers get to the point of the matter.
To ensure your meetings and messages are focused on action, try these steps:
- Clearly define the goal of the project or meeting at hand. If possible, send out a notice prior to the initial meeting that defines the purpose and goals that will be discussed.
- Outline specific steps that will help everyone achieve that goal. Spend some time considering what setbacks may arise, and outline “plan B” or “plan C” if necessary.
- Communicate that goal and the process clearly and openly with everyone who needs to know it. The more transparent you can be with the goal, the more motivated and prepared the team will be to tackle it.
- Allow time for feedback and questions. Provide as much context as possible in order to get everyone on board. If a team member doesn’t feel comfortable addressing an issue in front of the group, allow time for one-on-one chats where they can speak to you privately.
3. Utilize automated tools
Most modern inventions were created with one goal in mind: convenience. Automated business tools, especially, have shined a light on how sometimes the old way of doing things is simply too cumbersome, error-prone, and time-consuming. Studies into productivity show that lightening an employee’s workload and clearly defining prioritization of projects, among other things, can really help improve job performance.
Time tracking is one example of how automated tools can improve job performance. Regardless of how it’s managed, it’s an essential business task, but done wrong, it can take up a lot of time. Tracking time manually or on an Excel sheet isn’t very efficient, and such methods can create a host of problems including time theft, duplicate time entries, and payroll errors.
Automated systems, on the other hand, can notify you of errors, integrate into your payroll system, and may require little more than a glance from managers prior to approving employee time cards. They can also save administrators hours of time—on average, about 3.2 hours of time could be saved through integrating time tracking with payroll.
Project management tools are another example. Keeping track of who is in charge and when the project is due can easily get overwhelming or confusing. Project management tools can help illustrate the chain of command for projects, show due dates, and help managers assign out new projects with ease.
There are benefits to managing your time
Imagine a world where tasks are delegated, meeting agendas are action-focused, project management tools are implemented, and managers like you can enjoy more flexible schedules. You’ll have more time to spend with your team, and more time to sit down and work on projects that need your attention and approval. In turn, administrators and leaders will find you to be more responsive to requests and more on top of the small administrative responsibilities that keep the business running.
The ripple effect can be felt across the company, and—although the number of hours in the day won’t change—your schedule will start to clear up. But such a world isn’t fantasy—you can make it a reality with effective time management.