I have long believed that whilst we should not count every hour in the day, we should try and make every hour in the day count. We are all given the same 24 hours in every day regardless of who or what we are, and while we can’t actually manage time, we can definitely take control of how we spend the time that we have available.

Author: Mosborne01; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Mosborne01; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

There are many opportunities in a manager’s day to waste time, and part of good time use is the ability to recognise and minimise these as much as possible.

Here are 10 of the worst time wasters:

Meetings. We seem to have become obsessed with holding meetings. Whether it is in the name of consensus, information sharing or just weak management, it is now estimated that managers attend on average about 60 meetings per month (see “Meetings bloody meetings” posted April 18, 2011). You should refuse to attend meetings that do not have an obvious business benefit as an outcome of the meeting, remembering that the larger the number of attendees, the less likely is it that the meeting will be capable of achieving anything worthwhile. If by some fluke of chance something important does occur, someone will tell you about it anyway. Definitely avoid going to any pre-meeting meetings.

Author: Awersowy; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Awersowy; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Emails. Emails now seem to be accorded the same level of urgency as does the discovery of a blood clot, thus requiring immediate attention. As most managers on average now need to handle somewhere between 200-300 emails daily, email management is critical to get under control. You should never do them first thing when you are at your most creative, and should only handle emails in a minimum number of pre-planned time slots during the day. Bulk handling of emails makes you more concise and bloody minded and therefore much more efficient in their handling (see “Emails bloody emails” posted April 21, 2011).

Lack of planning. No plan or a weak plan will always require rethought, redraft and repair. It is a much better use of your time to allocate a sufficient amount of time to the planning phase before embarking on execution. Planning the future is a critical element of a manager’s responsibilities, yet most managers spend less than 10% of their time doing so. Anyway, if you can’t find the time to build a proper plan in the first place, how will you be able to find the time to do it over ?

Procrastination. The longer that you put off doing something, the longer it will take you to do it when you finally realise that you have no choice anymore, and generally the quality will suffer because of the urgency to complete the task (see “The sooner you fall behind, the more time you have to catch up” posted October 31, 2011). One example I see often is in preparing a speech or presentation. The later that you leave it, the more you will tend to rely on the PowerPoint slides rather than on honing the messages that you should be leaving with your audience. Shakespeare rightly said “Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends”.

Lack of delegation. You can’t do it all, and allocating tasks and responsibilities to your people early will give them a chance to not only plan and execute well, but will also give them an opportunity to learn and develop. However, you must ensure that you give them the necessary authority needed for successful execution, rather than only passing over the responsibility.

Crisis management. Every time you have to drop everything to address “an alligator snapping at your heels”, you not only have to delay your ability to focus on the important rather than the urgent, but you also tend to disrupt your entire schedule. You must have a procedure in place in your team for crisis handling that only involves you on a “must have” basis. If you are fortunate enough to have an Executive Assistant, this is a wonderful learning opportunity for them.

Author: Tlcmgmt (own work); GFD license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Tlcmgmt (own work); GFD license; via Wikimedia Commons

Interruptions. People dropping in unannounced, and unplanned phone calls, interrupt trains of thought and are disruptive to controlling your task management. Plan and schedule your “open door” times and let people know when you will be available. I have found that even an hour or two spread across the day for drop-ins is more than enough, but only if people are aware of these times well in advance.

Reading proposals and business plans. Early in my management career I would spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get through voluminous business plans and proposals, trying to find the relevant and critical details such as cost versus value, usually well hidden away from the enthusiasm of the executive summary. I changed all this by asking the authors to come into my office and read their plan to me instead. It was amazing how quickly they discarded this suggestion and instead moved quickly to outlining the key elements of their proposal. I could then decide if I needed to go into more detail.

Not saying no. You must learn the art of saying no to things that are not critical, whichever direction these requests may come from. This is particularly true in a complex matrix organisation, where many requests are made only to justify someone’s existence in the matrix. Say no to requests that will have no benefit to the business or when they can negatively impact the success of your team.

Leaving the sanctity of your desk. Moving away from your “cone of silence” seems to be an immediate signal for people to come and chat to you about the latest rugby scores or the ailments of their children. A recent survey suggests that chatting to co-workers takes up about 15% of an average working day. This is particularly true for smokers who take regular breaks outside, and for coffee addicts like me. I am not suggesting aloofness or unfriendliness, but installing my own Nespresso coffee machine in my office saved me an incredible amount of time by removing my need to visit the office coffee and natter corner.

Author: LA2 (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: LA2 (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Time is like a handful of sand. The lighter you grasp it, the faster it runs through your fingers. ~anon



  1. Shiraz Partners \(Conny Dorrestijn\) says:

    Great blog!

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    For those of you wondering why we chose the name of our company? SHIRAZ is a down-to-earth grape with lots of character, which performs well in any climate and country. But then, if you want to enter new territories, forget all of that – it is a delicious wine, just drink it and think of us!

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  2. Ivan Gomez says:

    Hi Les, great post as always. A few of above could be positively impacted if more managers were encouraged to work from their home office. A lot today, manage multi-nationally distributed teams yet feel the need / expectation – to be seen in the office all day, everyday to set an example… I also observe travel ( unnecessary travel more to the point ) as a big time waster, not to mention cost… a LOT of time is wasted with unnecessary travel a bit akin to the need to being ‘visible’ in the office and this ‘time waster’ is often one that managers themselves, are wholly responsible for.

    • leshayman says:

      Ivan, solid observation, and unnecessary travel would be a great #11. I have met many managers who love the thrill of being on the road whether needed or not.

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