Building a strategy to reduce wasting time

If you read my blog regularly, you know my arch enemy is meetings. Companies lose millions of dollars on meetings in wasted salaries and the hidden cost is even higher, with people who could be growing the business instead sub-optimizing their time. In addition to meetings, the structure of many companies leads to inefficient use of their senior leaders. I recently came across a classic article published by McKinsey, Making Time Management the Organization’s Priority by Frankki Bevins and Aaron De Smet, that highlights how an organization can improve its time management.

Many people are working long days, checking email and Slack in the evening and on weekends, and still finding they cannot get their work completed. Leadership time often gets treated as though it were limitless, with all good opportunities receiving high priority regardless of the leadership capacity to drive them forward. Bevins and De Smet point out that companies should not look at this situation as a personal-productivity issue but an organizational issue that can be improved systematically.

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There are multiple causes exacerbating the problem of poor time management, many of which were highlighted by Bevins and De Smet

  1. Initiative overload, where side projects and strategic initiatives are added to a leader’s day job.
  2. No clear direction for new leaders, who start a job without understanding what meetings to attend (and not to attend) and how to prioritize their diary
  3. Meeting creep, as more and more people are added to regular meetings and nobody is deleted
  4. Leaders feeling they need to be included in all transactional decisions
  5. The multiplier effect as companies grow. As organizations grow, new verticals are formed and the leaders feel they must consult with regular 1:1s with each other. Thus, every unit added adds separate meetings for all leaders.

How to build a time management strategy

To combat inefficient use of time, Bevins and De Smet suggest several ways to build a strategy for better time management. First, there should be a leadership budget for projects. Rather than adding these projects chaotically, companies need to consider how much oversight they will require and set a time budget for approved initiatives.

Second, companies need to consider time when creating organizational change. According to the article, “companies typically look at managerial spans of control from a structural point of view: the broader they are, the fewer managers and the lower the overhead they need. Augmenting that structural frame of reference with the time required to achieve goals is critical to the long-term success of any organizational change. The hours needed to manage, lead, or supervise an employee represent a real constraint that, if unmanaged, can make structures unstable or ineffective.”

Third, companies need to ensure that their leaders measure and manage their time. By creating an atmosphere where leaders must measure how well their time allocation meets their individual strategic objectives. Whatever gets measured becomes a priority.

Fourth, companies need to review their calendar and decide what meetings support strategic goals. According to the article, “companies can make even more progress by identifying which meetings are for information only (reporting), for cross-unit collaboration (problem solving and coordination at the interfaces), for managing performance (course-correcting actions must be adopted at such meetings, or they are really just for reporting), or for making decisions (meetings where everything is approved 99 percent of the time don’t count, since they too are really for reporting). Executives at the highest-performing organizations we’ve seen typically spend at least 50 percent of their time in decision meetings and less than 10 percent in reporting or information meetings.”

Tackle the time management issue

Ironically, many companies do not tackle the waste and inefficiencies from poor time management because they cannot find the time to address it. Improving time management is not sexy like entering a new market or launching a new product but the long-term benefits can be huge.

Key takeaways

  • People are working long hours as well as checking email and tools like Slack off hours yet often still do not have enough time for their important projects, highlighting the poor time management in many companies.
  • This time management problem is created by initiative overload, no clear priorities for new leaders, meeting creep, leaders being included in meetings about ALL decisions, and organizational growth adding new layers of meetings.
  • To allocate time efficiently, companies should budget time for new projects, consider time demands with changing organizational structure, ensure leaders measure their time and review their corporate meeting calendar.