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Posted: May 08, 2012

Collective time management

Prioritize and focus on results

Steven Nichols

Just as individuals have good or bad time management skills, groups of coworkers have strengths and weaknesses in managing their time.  A good collective time management culture supports the individual time management efforts of its members and makes the group more effective as a whole.

Good collective time management is very similar to personal time management, as it includes prioritizing, minimizing distractions, and focusing on results.  A good time management culture encourages group members to use their coworker’s time and their own time effectively. 

Time management standards coordinate the office and focus everyone’s efforts on company objectives. In a good culture, the group’s best work is completed with the least resources (time and effort) possible.  Bad collective time management is usually obvious and includes either too many distractions, or not enough collaboration.

Group and Individual Distractions

Group distractions are unnecessary disruptions to the work of the day.  Some common examples include:

  1. Meetings for meeting sake- Well-run meetings are succinct, effective, and useful (see our 6 common meeting mistakes).

  2. Excessive Emails- CC, BCC, FYI, and CYA emails are rarely worth the interruption they cause.

  3. Chit Chat, Chat, Chat - Talking with coworkers builds rapport and shouldn’t be discouraged, but it can get out of hand. 

One good tip is to limit personal conversations to certain spaces in the office, like the hallway, or the water cooler.  Don’t try to have personal conversations in your workspace.

Myopia- Tunnel Vision

The other apex of the pendulum can be just as damaging.  An office culture that discourages collaboration may be very focused on the work at hand, but may not encourage collaboration around process improvement, realignment, or responding nimbly.

Collaboration requires unstructured communication that can feel like a distraction, but the reward is usually worth the cost.

Creating a good collective time management culture

The first step is to admit the problem.  Start by building a consensus for improving as a group.  Coworkers are likely already aware of the issue, and it will take very little to rally them to the cause.

Avoid singling out people who struggle more than others. Instead, set standards for the entire group to follow and then apply those standards to their behavior.  Some examples include:

  1. If there are more than four emails in a chain, pick up the phone.

  2. If there are more than four people who absolutely need to be carbon copied, call a meeting.

  3. If only one person in a meeting is talking, it’s an announcement, not a meeting.  Write a memo.

  4. Quick questions are fine, but pile up 3-4 of them before knocking on a coworker’s door.

  5. Make it ok to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m too busy to talk right now.”

Culture changes over time and only with persistent effort.  A private time management class may act as a starting point for the group, but keep up the momentum by bringing it up during the staff meetings, circulating articles and holding everyone to account.

Six big meeting mistakes

  1. Meetings without an agenda- An agenda is the centerpiece of a great meeting.  Ensure everyone in the meeting knows what will be covered, how to prepare, and what their role will be. 
  2. Pre-meeting meetings- Plan for a meeting by writing an agenda, but don’t let the scope grow so much that you need a pre-meeting meeting.  Instead, schedule two meetings, dividing the topics by who needs to contribute to what content.
  3. Meetings that shouldn’t be meetings- If the agenda is very small, handle it by email.  If it is too long, schedule an off-site event or break it up.
  4. Being late- 5 minutes late, 1 minute excuse, 2 minutes catching up, 3 minutes of giving input that’s out of place
  5. Rabbit hole meeting- limit sidebars and tangents.  Stay focused on the agenda.
  6. Nothing actionable- Always conclude a meeting with a clear understanding of who is responsible when for what and to whom. 

Steven Nichols works with Mission Critical Systems, a Denver training company, offering Project Management Training. Please contact him at 303.383.1627 x 1104.

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