As communication shifts online, time management becomes a group effort.
Time management, the operative word being management, is never easy to master. Scores of books and lectures elaborate on how to stop the interruptions, focus on the important, and liberate one’s ability to get things done. Even so, the challenge has become even more elusive over the past year.
Until recently, time management focused on how to reduce interruptions from various activities and events, such as unwanted phone calls, perpetual cubicle chats, and the length and focus of conference room meetings. Historically, those were leading contributors to inefficiency and wasted time. That was then; this is now.
Communication has become email-centric. Phone tag is no longer the corporate sport. A typical workday commences by sorting the email inbox, vetting the important ones, and then doing the same in the spam folder filled with six zillion missives, many from finance ministers of countries no one has ever heard of. Face-to-face interaction, however, has remained tied to the corporate conference room, where at any time different combinations of coworkers, customers and suppliers meet to solve some problem or communicate about new or changing opportunities.
Over the past year a seismic shift has taken place. Social distancing, travel restrictions and work-from-home have altered the workplace and how we collaborate. Tools that were known but not generally deployed – like Zoom and WebEx – are now the preferred methods of group communication and collaboration. As convenient and spontaneous as these technologies are, they have wreaked havoc on time management as we know it.
Efficient use of time typically means arranging events, such as meetings and customer/supplier visits, into time blocks around which other activities can be scheduled. The sales staff visits several customers in a similar location on a single trip. Ditto the purchasing staff when visiting suppliers. Company meetings are set for a time and date when all participants are in the office. And most of all, because of logistics such as travel time, they spread out to keep those costs to a manageable minimum. Time was managed in advance based on schedules. Effective time management successfully eliminated the sporadic interruptions that torpedoed otherwise well-planned days.
The current work environment has changed dramatically. Employees rarely work in the office. Customer and supplier visits are increasingly virtual. Schedules are flexible. Spontaneous virtual meetings, gatherings and collaboration, often outside the traditional “9 to 5” business hours, have become the norm. And because technology permits it, “regular” meetings seem to be more frequent and include a far greater number of participants. All this tanks traditional time management strategies.
Successful time management is now as much a group effort as an individual initiative. Good time management still includes sharing a schedule with colleagues, communicating it through whatever method – usually electronic – your organization utilizes. It still requires focus on what is important. However, it is more important than ever for the organizer of a virtual meeting, gathering or event to plan!
Think beyond just the purpose of the virtual gathering. Other planning is critical to manage time effectively. Ask: How long is reasonable for the meeting to last? Who must attend vs. who may want to be included? Most important, how frequently will the virtual event be held? This last point may be the single contributor to inefficient time management.
Do you find monthly meetings become weekly meetings, and one-off gatherings morph into ongoing scheduled events? Just because we can meet doesn’t mean we must meet. Spontaneity can be great, and with coworkers and colleagues seemingly so flexible and available, virtual meetings are easy. But when they become too frequent or spontaneous, they tend to accomplish less, and the time consumed outweighs the benefits. The virtual event itself overshadows the reason the event was needed in the first place.
Right up there with meeting frequency is being clear as to who needs to vs. who could attend. Again, discerning need vs. could is critical to effective time management. The more people involved, the more time each virtual meeting inevitably takes. Compounding this basic time management inefficiency is the number of nonessential people who instead need the time to accomplish more important tasks. Most virtual meetings or events are arranged to accomplish a specific result, so it is critical to keep the attendee list to just those who are needed. Be proactive. The organizer should identify which participants are necessary and which participants are welcome only if more important activities aren’t on their plate.
Finally, everyone needs to stick to the schedule. If the event is scheduled to take one hour, do everything possible to keep to that time. If it looks like the subject needs five more minutes to complete, offer that as an option before scheduling the next meeting. Regardless of technologies utilized, locations of employees and colleagues, or the purpose of the meeting, effective time management means a shared focus on getting things done.