Whenever I run a leadership program, I ask participants to list what they consider to be the essential traits of effective leadership.  Along with “being trusted”, there are always those old clichés of “having vision”, or worse “charisma”. I never hear “time management”.

Don’t get me wrong.  Charisma is a wonderful trait, but it’s what I would term decorative.  It’s a nice to have, alongside a great smile and a welcoming handshake.

Time management is not decorative. Or optional. It is the very foundation of effective leadership.

Time management starts with the commitment to change

Once you commit to action, you can improve your time management through better planning, prioritizing, delegating, improving your self-awareness and identifying what you will change about your habits, routines and attitude.

Time management is like a fitness program for managers who want to build leadership muscle

You’ll need Emotional intelligence

As Daniel Goleman and others have found, this is an area that can be practiced and improved, like any other behavior.

The key elements of EQ are:

  • Self awareness
  • Self regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social Skill

Hopefully you can see how each of these comes in handy when managing your time.

You need to understand what your de-railers are

You need to identify how, why and when you get distracted.

And then instead of saying “that’s just the way things are” or “that’s the way the company works” you will get yourself motivated to make what will be some tough changes to the way you behave and the way you interact with others.

You will need to self-regulate

Many people who rise to a leadership position possess the Hurry Up Driver.  Which ironically makes you late.  You always think you can fit in one more thing.  I know, I have that driver myself.  Being aware and then controlling that impulse is essential.

You will most definitely need empathy and social skill

Time management requires you to have difficult conversations.  You will need to learn the art of saying “no”.  Sometimes to very senior people.  You will need to diplomatically manage other people’s expectations of you.

These are some steps you can take on Monday to improve your chances of being seen as a leader:

Cut your email umbilical cord

Turn off email notifications and establish a new habit of checking your email at certain times in the day.  This could be when you start work, then just before or after lunch time, then around an hour before normal business closes.

Audit how you really spend your time

Keep a time-log for a week. Just like people who keep a food diary, you will be surprised at how different reality is from your perceptions.

My coaching clients never fail to be amazed at how many interruptions they have to deal with. They are often lucky to get fifteen minutes at a stretch to concentrate.

If that’s you, you need to make changes.

Review what you do against your short-term and long-term goals, and prioritise accordingly

Put preparation and creative thinking time in your diary for the long-term jobs, because they need it. If you don’t plan for the preparation you’ll never do it, and all the work will get left to the last minute.

Short-term urgent tasks will always use up all your time unless you plan to spend it otherwise.

Question, challenge and drive habit change

Be creative in finding and implementing different ways of doing things. Challenge and question your own habits, routines, and the way you defend your time when others try to dictate how you should use it.

Challenge anything that could be wasting time and effort, particularly habitual tasks, meetings and reports where responsibility is inherited or handed down from above.

Remember the other Peter Principle

Not the one about being promoted one level beyond your level of competence but the Peter Drucker mantra:

“Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” 

Being in control of your time and focusing on the right things is the leadership destination.  The HOW you wrestle control of your time is the leadership journey.

I’d love to know what else has worked for you out there in the real world?

I would highly recommend journal writing. I joined one of Moyra’s journal safari sessions a couple of weeks ago and have been keeping a daily journal ever since. The main benefits for me is it’s helped me to keep perspective in these times, not to be too hard on myself and be thankful for the things I have achieved.

Justin Ellis

Innovation & Strategy, British retail bank