Win Your Battle for Effectiveness
No matter how good your plan, you must play both offense and defense to apply it ─ here's how (Real-World Time Management, part 3)
A FAMOUS MILITARY maxim states, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” No matter how brilliant the strategy or how meticulous the plans, those plans are out the window once the shooting starts. Soldiers must improvise to meet unforeseen realities.
The same holds true for your personal plan to pursue effectiveness (“doing the right things”). Each day brings unforeseen challenges, personnel problems, and coworkers who need you or something from you “right now.” You must be on your toes to meet those challenges and still accomplish your most important objectives.
Carrying out your plan requires both an attitude and a strategy. Just as in sports, you need to play both offense and defense.
Your offensive game plan
The good news is that simply having a plan positions you above average! The chief enemy is an attitude called “passive-reactivity.” It is why so many feel they are working hard every day with little to show for it. They are spending their days reacting to circumstances and other people’s urgencies.
By first doing the hard thinking work of defining what constitutes effectiveness in your role — identifying “the top of your license” plus “important but not urgent” activities — then identifying the “prime time” appropriate for each, you are on your way to Schedule Sculpting.
Playing offense regarding your schedule begins with an attitude adjustment from passive reactivity to empowered agent, accepting responsibility to manage yourself toward Effectiveness. Consider:
Who on this planet is responsible for your effectiveness?
Who will spend time thinking about how their actions affect your schedule?
Who is going to manage your activities for you to ensure that you do the right things?
You know the answers immediately. You and you alone are responsible to manage your investments of time and energy toward your most essential functions. No one is going to ride in on a stallion to take control for you.
This is why the preliminary thinking time is so important. You must not only know what the right things are that you should be doing and when; you must also believe it as a firm conviction. It takes purpose and determination to stand firm against the strong current of demands, and the battle never ends.
Having identified your purposes and the blocks of time you want to pursue, the next step is to wall them off and defend them.
Your defensive game plan
You can expect your plan to be challenged every day. What should you do? Playing defense means applying techniques to protect those units of uninterrupted time dedicated to your priorities. Suggestions:
1. Block them on your calendar
Blocking time requires resolve to treat your priorities as you would any other commitment. This is especially important in companies where individual calendars are public. Otherwise, people can pull yours up, see that you are “free,” and commit you to meetings.
2. Be “unavailable” during your prime time
No one can read your mind. You have no obligation to explain to others why you are unavailable. Just state it tactfully and offer an alternative time to meet their request.
We all know that the boss can play the ultimate trump card over our schedule at any time. But remember: She or he wants you to accomplish your most important functions. You can often explain your plan and discover the boss is fine about flexing with your schedule. When you’re on the same page, your superior can be your greatest ally in working your plan.
3. Learn to say “No”
Saying no is amazingly hard for many people. It’s understandable, though, if you remember how they achieved success in the first place. They have advanced in their careers by responding to needs and getting things done. They are now hard-wired to continue doing so.
It seems that some need a reason to say no. They have a vague assumption that if they have time dedicated for their own work, it isn’t a good enough reason to turn down a request for that same time. They feel guilty about it.
You must challenge that assumption. Time to do your own work in pursuit of your most important functions is what you are being paid to do. It needs no other justification.
4. Rethink the meaning of “team player”
In today’s business environment, gaining a reputation as “not a team player” is lethal. Fear of being thus labeled aggravates people’s inability to say no to or redirect a request.
As a leader, I am a committed proponent of teamwork. But, like the concept of a “servant’s attitude,” being a team player requires careful definition. Neither concept means you will do anything anyone asks you to do when they ask. You remain responsible to manage yourself toward your own effectiveness.
An article in The Wall Street Journal addressed this issue directly: “You Could Be Too Much of a Team Player” by Sue Shellenbarger (July 23, 2018), A9.
Its subtitle reads, “Offices demand collaboration like never before, but you can hurt your organization by not saying no enough to requests for help.” It’s worth your reading.
5. Get out of the office
Assuming you’re working in an office with others, you can create time by making yourself scarce. Go to a neutral workspace, a restaurant, a coffee shop, a bookstore. Getting out solves the common problem of people who tend to interrupt you on impulse. You may discover that a change of scenery jump-starts your creativity, and you get more done in less time.
If you’re working remotely, impulsive interruptions can still be a problem through email pop-ups and instant messages. I recommend turning off notifications and checking them at predetermined times.
6. Get over “being indispensable”
Let’s be honest. One of the reasons so many have trouble saying no is the unspoken belief that they can’t — everything will come crashing down if they aren’t instantly available!
This is the delusion of being indispensable. I like what French President Charles de Gaulle said: “The graveyards are full of ‘indispensable men.’” Somehow, the world kept turning.
A coaching client, Kate, was defending her constant availability with, “My people need me! What else could I do?” I asked, “What happened while you were on your cruise, and you weren’t available?”
“Oh, they went to Murray or Suzie.”
“Were there any crises while you gone?” Yes. “Did they handle it?” Yes. “Then what do you think would happen if something went wrong this week when you’re not available?” Of course, it would be handled.
If you want to pursue greater effectiveness, the last thing you want is helpless followers! You want the highest-functioning team you can get. Developing autonomous, initiative-taking people is one of the most strategic and wise investments of time you can make.
The reality of demands on your time
Demands for your time and attention are not going to stop. You can’t avoid them all. They are like a river. If you try to dam up a river, you end up with a huge mess. You can, however, channel a river to a more productive course. Demands on your time are the same.
Let’s say you have identified 10:30-noon as your prime time for important work. Someone calls: “I need help with this. Can you meet with me at 11 am?” What can you say? I recommend, “I’m sorry, I can’t meet at 11, but I can later. How about 3 pm?” You’ll find that others are usually fine with it.
All this is to enable you to accomplish the highest and best results for which you are responsible — the top of your license and genuine effectiveness. You’ll be doing the right things. After teaching these methods for over 15 years, I have seen that they are “sticky ideas”: Once people learn to think and act this way, they don’t forget. It shapes the way they approach work for years to come.
Consider hosting a workshop
I have created a workshop on this subject called “Managing Your Time for Greater Effectiveness,” an all-day intensive training with options for additional subjects. It can also be narrowed for a half-day or two-hour workshop and can be delivered in person or virtually. Get in touch if you’d like to explore possibilities for you and your team. Invest in learning a time management method that works in the real world and leads to greater effectiveness. Li