It is not being busy that matters but what you are being busy about.
Great managers are nearly always strong at time prioritization and likewise a common feature of weaker leaders is never having enough time! When you see one manager succeeding and another struggling in the same responsibilities, at first glance it is easy to think that one manager has less tasks or responsibilities and hence more time, but invariably when one looks at things in more detail, the difference is more to do with use of time than amount of tasks. Managers who have learned to prioritize and use time well have taught themselves to identify and think about what they, and their team, have to do within a hierarchy of prioritization.
Managers who have learned to manage time, think about tasks within a hierarchy of prioritization.
The best guide to prioritizing that i have found is “Eisenhower’s matrix method” which breaks down the types of tasks and distractions managers face into 4 quadrants by using “urgent” and “important”, and their opposites, as guidelines to dividing up the decisions you have to make. Quadrant IV: “not urgent and not important” is where time is wasted and any manager serious about their job should hardly ever be here and likewise should ensure their staff aren’t either. Quadrant III is where deceptive distractions lay and is a bit more complicated to identify as it is “urgent” BUT “not important”. What this implies is that some pressure makes it “urgent” to attend but the task itself is not actually that important.
An example of something that falls into Quadrant III could be receiving a phone call from a salesman about something you don’t want or need but still you, or one of your team, spend time listening to the sales pitch. Another could be a staff member popping into to talk to about what they are doing in their work without it actually being useful to things they are striving to accomplish. What is most important about quadrant III is to recognize that you can control it. You can make it company policy to not accept unsolicited sales calls and can train your staff to use meetings and feedback forums for expressing non important things and to learn to question themselves “is it important enough?” before they interrupt. Quadrant III – the distraction quadrant – is where managers who like to please can often spend too much time, see the post on need or want for more info on that.
It is important to realize that quadrant III tasks can be prevented.
Quadrant I, “urgent and important”, is a “must do” quadrant and everything that falls into it is both needed to be dealt with now and is important to do so. I like to think of this one as the “fire-person” quadrant as here is where disaster is kept at bay. Managers who never seem to have to enough time, but seem very committed to their job, invariably spend far too much time here. They spend more time reacting to problems than they do planning out how to prevent them happening in the first place. Every manager will need to spend some time in quadrant I tasks: dealing with a serious complaint, a staff breakdown or some other important thing that forces normal work to instantly stop. However, for most work, if you are spending more than 10% of your time here, there is an underlying and i would argue more important issue that needs addressed which is why aren’t you preventing crises and emergencies. It important to understand that a good manager is someone who deals well with important problems in the moment, but a great one is capable of preventing the problem from happening again.
If you are spending more than 10% of your time in quadrant I then probably there is underlying issue to address.
Quadrant II – “important” but “not urgent” – is the quality quadrant and is where a manager should be spending most of their time. It is where you plan out, analyse and assess how you and your team is using your time. It is where you spend time developing your team so that they learn to see the difference between a “shouldn’t do – IV” “could do – III”, “should do – II” and “must do -I” task (see more on success lists). Quadrant II is identifying faults in your service so complaints are prevented. It is making the time to have a supportive chat with a valued staff member when they need it and it is where you learn to identify the real source of issues to prevent crises longer term.
So to be the great manager you want to be, start ensuring you are spending most of your time in Quadrant II.
Quadrant II is where great managers spend as much time as possible.