Whether you manage a team in a project-driven environment, or you’re a lone wolf with a big plan, time management is a continual challenge for us all.
As important as it is, many people are oblivious to the hidden time constraints that are part of their average work weeks. It’s easy to do if you don’t give it some thought. If you break out and calculate the time spent on other activities, you may be amazed by how much execution time is simply not there.
Capability, engagement and time capacity are major factors that impact productivity. Let’s say you are about to enter a new quarter and you’ve just finished a marketing plan. How will you succeed in achieving your goals? Obviously, you must have the requisite skills and abilities across your team. You also need enough budget and resources allocated for the plan to work. Let’s assume that you and your people are in a situation where you feel adequately motivated. If not, this is another issue to contend with. That leaves time – perhaps the most important variable of them all. If you haven’t thought enough about how much of time is actually available, chances are, you will not meet your commitments. You also run the risk of sub-par quality as you madly scramble near the end of the quarter. (have you ever been there?)
So how much actual time do you have to work with when executing your plan? The chart below highlights some areas you probably don’t think much about during your initial planning. If you have a role where a prescribed number of deliverables must be completed in a fixed timeframe, those activities represent the pure execution part of your plan. However, as seen below, there are many “foundational” activities that still need doing as part of your day-to-day job.
These added demands on your time are for the most part important. The point is really about making sure you know they exist and have built your plan accordingly. For example, if you have a team reporting into you, you need to spend time with your people, and administrative tasks such as performance appraisals still have to get done. Let’s say the weekly plan updates, status meetings (with your team and boss), revisions and follow-ups take an average of 4 hours a week, that works out to over a full weeks’ worth of time during a quarter. A calculation I’ve done based on experience and typical corporate environments puts the “non-execution time” at a conservative 30%. That’s a big number to ignore!
Execution Time Tips
There are a number of reasons why expectations are misaligned when it comes to planning time. Below are some things to consider when trying to right-size your capacity:
1. Think About It: The math is very simple – how much time you need relative to how much you have. Put some focus on determining how much time is required for the activities you are scheduling. Be as detailed as you can and learn from past experience. Estimate more precisely the actual time you will have available using some of the ideas shown above. Going through an exercise like this will undoubtedly surprise you when it’s all added up.
2. Don’t Underestimate: Even if people do a good job at estimating how much time is available, there can still be a disconnect because they underestimate how long the work will take. This can be a strong inclination for people who are naturally positive and optimistic. While those traits are great ones to have, the rose-colored glasses can cause anxiety when tasks take much longer to complete than planned.
3. Build In Contingencies: It’s impossible to account for everything that can side-swipe you along the way, but try and anticipate obstacles and think through “what if” scenarios. Also, be aware of key dependencies in your plan and make sure they get the attention and priority they deserve.
4. Don’t Get Distracted: As tempting as it can be, don’t go off course chasing “shiny objects.” If your plan is the right one, stick with it. Put ideas in a parking lot for later and push things and people off whenever you can if it takes time away from your execution.
So the next time you start a new planning cycle, think about the hours and days of productive time that are really at your disposal. We’re not even considering the degree of true productivity, because nobody works 100% of every hour they have available. But if you use at least some type of calculation to get a close estimate, it will help you better manage your capacity, which will lead to better execution.