An exercise in time management

If you are using this as a team exercise, you can customise this scenario to make is more relevant to your current work pressures.

Scenario: Chris the Account Manager
Chris is an account manager who works really hard, his job involves looking after clients, producing marketing plans and liaising with colleagues from across the organisation to offer best value for clients and improve the company’s revenues.

Monday morning starts at 8.30am, Chris has planned to get a head start on a major project due in a couple of weeks. As ever though, plans are interrupted as soon as Chris walks into the office: A colleague catches him in the lift to say that there is a major storm brewing around the new launch and they need a meeting ASAP today. The management reports which were submitted on Friday have come back with queries from the board and Chris’s line manager has asked for additional information, the deadline given is, ‘Now’. A client has left several messages to call them urgently from 5.30pm on Friday onwards and Chris doesn’t know why. On top of all this it’s Monday morning and there are and over 500 emails in the in-box, Chris skimmed through 300 before leaving work on Friday but needs to go through them again and go through the most recent as well. Most seem to be FYI (For your information).

What Chris really wants to do is spend some time thinking about how he’s going to respond to some worrying downward trends in the industry. On top of all this he can’t seem to find an RFP (request for proposal) from his biggest client that came in last week.

What advice would you offer Chris to stop this happening in future.


Click here for time management tips for Chris

Notes on the scenario:

Urgent vs. Important work
In this scenario lack of priorities and disorganisation will sink poor old Chris. There are however some things that will help. First Chris needs to prioritise properly, Chris can start by organising the work into what is urgent and what is important. Clear the most urgent quickly but make time for the important as well, otherwise it will be served up as tomorrow’s urgent work and there will be no opportunity to be proactive, Chris will continue to react by fighting flash fires.

Senior management's deadline of, ‘now’ is nonsense, Chris should negotiate it and get a realistic deadline. This isn’t always easy with senior managers and any response that sounds like, ‘I’m busy’ won’t be well received. Negotiate the deadline and offer reasonable times and dates for completion.

The colleague’s concerns are worrying and should be checked straight away; Chris should determine the real priority and schedule a time that suits both and is realistic, keep meetings to a minimum, a call or stand up chat might be just as effective.

Email hygiene
Emails are the digital version of 'paper shuffling' we can go through them a thousand times without filing them or dealing with them. The same principle holds true as we used in the olden days, ‘touch each piece of paper once’. Chris really needs to try to read emails as close as possible to once only. File important ones for further action but don’t read everything and then leave them where they’ll have to be re-read later.

Email control
Chris has to cut down on ‘FYI’ emails, they are usually just a way to cover the sender’s back, and they waste huge amounts of time. He should insist on being sent information not data, the difference is that data is raw numbers or facts that need to be analysed whereas information has a purpose that is relevant to you.

Out of all the issues on the desk that day for Chris the urgent ones are the client who needs to talk to him and possibly the colleague’s concerns. The important issues are the proposal and drawing up a strategy to deal with the downturn. Those emails are a massive barrier to work and probably contain something that will explode into an urgent issue if not tackled so Chris has to clear this. Everything else needs a relevant time slot in the diary. Once it’s all scheduled Chris will be on top of it again and ready to face tomorrows raft of impossibly urgent tasks.

Key tips on managing your time in brief

  1. Prioritise your work and set a time to complete tasks wherever possible, this way you will have time to do the important as well as the urgent work.
  2. Clean up! Both your physical environment and your online files. It’s cathartic and gives your brain a rest from the stress of worrying where things are and what’s about to grab you unawares.
  3. Negotiate deadlines where you can, don’t say yes to everyone (but be careful how you say no).
  4. Clean up that in-box; stem the tide of rubbish at the source wherever you can.

Behind the lines run Time Management courses that can be written specifically to improve your team’s performance call us if you’d like further information.

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