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How to Manage Your Time Effectively: Overcoming the Busy Trap

How to Manage Your Time Effectively: Overcoming the Busy Trap

Getting promoted to a management position means taking on more responsibilities, which naturally leads to increased busyness. Traveling, meetings, managing subordinates, developing new clients, and so on. However, many managers may not have realized that they are spending a significant amount of time on tasks that are unrelated to job performance and the success of the company.

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01-Why Urgent Matters Are Often Neglected

Many times, what managers struggle with is the disconnect between time allocation and the most pressing matters for the company, and they often have difficulty realizing it in a timely manner. Why does this happen? There are several reasons.

Firstly, in the chaotic work environment where daily affairs and urgent situations intertwine, managers often find it challenging to track their actual use of time.

Secondly, many managers do not have a clear list of their top three to five priority tasks. While they may realize that they are not effectively utilizing their time, they often do not know how to make wiser use of it.

Furthermore, for various reasons, many managers find it difficult to refuse when others request their time.

As a result, when it comes to managing their own time, they often find themselves in a situation where they have limited choices due to being pulled or pushed by other people and events.

02-A Shocking Discovery

How can managers identify issues with their time allocation? Harvard Business School management professor Professor Kaplan introduced a simple yet effective time management method that he has personally used and recommended to numerous professionals. The specific approach involves selecting a two-week period and using a chart to record your work activities every hour. Next, break down these activities into various categories of daily work behaviors, such as:

  • Strategic planning
  • Client contacts (including written, face-to-face, and phone)
  • Other sales and marketing activities
  • Interaction with investors and board members
  • Interaction with the media
  • Supervision of direct reports (including training, coaching, and evaluations)
  • Management by walking around (office or production floor)
  • Competitive analysis
  • Recruitment
  • Innovation (products, process flows, or others)
  • Communication/interaction with employees (meetings, speeches, etc.)
  • Budgeting
  • Expense approvals, including travel expenses and other expense reports
  • Your own schedule
  • Other administrative matters

Avoid double-counting time; each time slot should only be assigned to a single work behavior category. At the end of ten working days, summarize the time spent on each work behavior category. You can also calculate the percentage of total work time over two weeks for each work behavior category.

After practicing this approach, Professor Kaplan and other managers personally found similar reactions: they were surprised or even shocked by the results. In most cases, people were disappointed to realize that the activities they spent a significant amount of time on were actually irrelevant to job performance and company success, regardless of the reasonable standards used to measure them.

Reflecting on the reasons for wasting time becomes highly meaningful. The lives of leaders are often chaotic, and managers are frequently in reactive mode. For example, someone may come into your office with a problem without prior notice, hoping you will help solve it. When you see a situation that raises concerns, even if it’s outside your job scope, you decide to get directly involved and start asking around and inquiring. There are always many seemingly convincing reasons to lend a helping hand, but the primary reason is that it feels good to be asked for help, and you fear that if you refuse, people may no longer come to you regularly, making you appear less important or less capable.

However, not being able to refuse others’ demands on your time comes at a cost – it sacrifices what the organization genuinely needs you to do.

03-How You Manage Your Time Sends a Signal

What are the costs when time management and priorities become disconnected? The worst consequence is that it sends a signal to people that managers don’t actually endorse these priorities. In an organizational context, this undoubtedly has fatally adverse effects.

How managers allocate their time is, in fact, sending a message about what they believe in. If you identify developing high-end client relationships as a critical priority, you need to demonstrate your commitment to it through your time management. When your boss asks you to do things that they clearly don’t want to do themselves, how seriously do you treat these tasks? How important are they to the company?

Professor Kaplan shared his experience: “I grew up in a professional services firm where attracting, retaining, and developing talent was a key priority. As a newcomer, the senior leaders’ willingness to interview candidates and regularly participate in recruiting activities left a profound impression on me. I learned a crucial lesson from their lead-by-example approach, which was that recruiting and developing top talent was the most important thing. As I later rose to senior management, I always ensured that a significant portion of my time was dedicated to these efforts. It was this, above all, that helped us build the company into an efficiently run business. I knew that everyone throughout the organization was closely observing your every move, searching for clear signals about what truly matters. As a leader, the way you manage your time often sends a very strong signal.”

In essence, how managers allocate their time not only reflects their priorities but also communicates those priorities to everyone in the organization. It’s a powerful signal that shapes the culture and direction of the company.

04-Time Allocation Should Be Dynamic

Due to changing environments, people often find themselves in challenging situations or presented with new opportunities. Over the past few decades, industries such as airlines, pharmaceuticals, financial services, insurance, automobile manufacturing, and many others have had to deal with fundamental shifts in regulatory environments, emerging global competitors, and changing consumer preferences, among other things. In such cases, senior leadership teams are often compelled to adjust the company’s vision, reevaluate priorities, and adapt their time allocation accordingly. In business, it’s often a matter of either adapting or eventually facing failure. As a business leader, to survive and thrive, you must periodically reassess and adapt your time allocation.

Furthermore, time allocation should be an ongoing process. Regularly asking yourself whether you are doing this is crucial. Just as you would revisit a significant investment decision after a certain period, you also need to periodically and calmly review your time allocation choices.

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