Challenges of midlevel managers have some common themes, one of them being managing multiple initiatives within limited resources. “Limited resources” might be defined as not enough people, not enough budget, or not enough time (or all three).
There are two types of work we perform: daily whirlwind tasks and larger, overarching initiatives. You’ll need to address productivity on both. Before you claim “limited resources” – ask yourself these two questions, and see if their answers will help you perform better to get results with the people, money, and time you do have.
Limited Resources Question 1. Have you been able to eliminate the activity that is negatively impacting productivity on daily “whirlwind” tasks?
You might feel overwhelmed in the whirlwind of daily activity – how on earth will everything get done? Between (unnecessarily long) meetings, (distracting) email, and (unproductive) down time, there is too much work to do!
I’m not suggesting that we proactively waste time, but for however many distractions you believe you are off-task, the reality is that you’re actually off-task 25 times more than that!
Here are things I suggest:
- Don’t default to scheduling hour-long meetings. With only 8-9 hours in the work day, just 2 meetings scheduled can completely squander up to 25 % of your day unnecessarily. Have an objective for every meeting, and default to 30 minutes instead.
- Put your phone on Do Not Disturb for hours at a time to facilitate focus on key initiatives. I know it might feel like you need that phone, but chances are, you don’t. Run an experiment where you swap your locked phones with a coworker for 2 hour chunks of time… you will get your phone back and find the world didn’t come to an end after all.
- Stop using email to try to have two-way conversations. Email is actually a series of one-way conversations. It’s more inefficient and ineffective than you think. Have a more efficient live conversation instead. Batch your work and do not check email in that set, dedicated time. At all.
- Calendar your wins and what you will complete or produce instead of what you will simply “spend time doing.” Break down your initiatives and projects into what you, personally, will accomplish in any given amount of time. Decide in advance what you will have to show for that 30 or 90 minutes, rather than leaving a result open-ended. (This assumes you block off time in your calendar to accomplish things on your own… the way calendars are used these days, you’ve really got to play defense if you aren’t already!)
- Lock yourself out of distracting websites. There are many apps for this. It’s a no-brainer, so do it.
Make no mistake – batching work and forcing focus is very hard, but it’s so worth it. Adding another person or additional budget into the mix will not help get more things done when the team has a wasteful culture (however unintentional it may be). Address these inefficiencies in accomplishing your day to day tasks, and you might find yourself with more breathing room (not to mention feeling more productive at the end of each day).
And the primary benefit once you fully integrate these rules into your work day? Quality improves tremendously.
Limited Resources Question 2. Do you have a system in place to focus your team on key initiatives?
Despite addressing all the behaviors that negatively impact productivity, you can’t avoid email or meetings altogether. Project plans are fine, but they don’t actually facilitate progress and completion. For that, you need to standardize certain behaviors and practices on your teams.
Most people confirm that larger, overarching initiatives will have more positive impact on the company’s bottom line, customer experience, or product design. However, the latter often takes a back seat to the whirlwind tasks in our day to day lives. If that’s the case, how do we ever move the needle on overarching initiatives?
For this, try exploring The Four Disciplines of Execution.
- Ensure the team has clarity around the goals of the overarching initiatives, so everyone can separate whirlwind activities that are part of their day to day jobs versus top priorities that they should chip away at.
- Establish practices and metrics that you know are likely to get you to the goal line. When you identify where you have the greatest leverage, you can apply focus to those interim measures and increase chances of ultimate success down the line. These interim measures will give you a heads up on where you need to course-correct as you go along.
- Keep track of progress and publish results for everyone to see. Have individuals listed on the scorecard – healthy competition never hurt!
- Make accountability a joint, team quality, and help each other. Report to each other weekly, and help each other remove road blocks.
Project plans are great as a roadmap for your initiatives. However, these four disciplines listed above will provide the structure for the team to actually execute well with the tools they already have.
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