When time matters: How to bend the clock

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASuccessful people have learned, or have an innate ability, to get every productive minute out of the day, and/or to wrangle every problem-solving solution out of their cohorts. What are their secrets, and how can you put those tools to work for you today?

Tight deadline? Define the goal and match expertise to tasks.

Not everything benefits from different points of view and extended debate. Knowing when to parcel out pieces of a project, versus trying to establish a group consensus, can save time, money, and frustration.

As an example, I was asked to lead a strategic planning session for a trade association comprised of Fortune 500 companies that spend $1 million or more a year on energy. Facilities and operations managers were brought together to determine what lobbying efforts the association should pursue, as well as how to attract a broader member base (i.e., build more influence in state capitals). I was assigned 20 members and a four-hour window to accomplish that goal.

A good SWOT analysis can take up to four hours to develop; I had 2 hours to devote to that portion of our process. So I first had the members complete a quick 10-minute personality inventory. I then paired four distinct personality constructs with four tasks, based on affiliate skill sets:

    1.STRENGTHS: “Relational” group, naturally optimistic people-persons who focus on good and potential successes. Members prefer group work and are good team players. They are good at influencing others, wanting to make a positive impact where they work.

    2.WEAKNESSES: “Planner” group that likes setting goals and measuring performance; typically these folks would be seen as the “devil’s advocate” in the workplace; they resist change until given proof the change will work. They are the ones most aware of barriers and problems in the current environment; these are the people who value efficiency and organization.

    3.OPPORTUNITIES: The “Performer” group works well in crisis, negotiating and making things happen “now”. Very competitive, they prefer unstructured environments and not too much information. They appreciate bullet point discussions and being asked to find new solutions.

    4.THREATS: “Problem Solvers” value information and thinking things through precisely; they prefer mentally looking ahead, living “in the future” – great for identifying horizon threats.

We benefited greatly from approaching strategic planning this way. There was significantly more agreement within the four groups than members recalled having in past SWOT work, as the tasks matched their mutual natural outlooks and skills. They quickly made progress toward the goal and the four reports back to the entire group were met with near wonderment as to how far each unit had progressed in their collective thinking.

On a smaller scale, and irrespective of your personality comfort zone, here are two additional ways to squeeze more productive time out of the day:

    1.You have things you must do, which get in the way of things you’d like to do that may, in fact, actually have higher value for your company or career. Every day, then, determine some aspect of a “I wish I had time to do that” activity that you’d like to make progress toward. When you have an extra five or 10 minutes (or an hour!) devote it toward moving that task ahead. Goals, on average, have 100 steps involved, though many are so small as to seem inconsequential alone. Can you take a few steps today? If you approach your wish list purposefully, with the agenda of finding time to address it and looking for opportunities to scratch a few steps off your list, you’ll find the time to make meaningful progress.

    2.Play “Ground Zero” alone or with another manager 15 minutes a day (set a timer). Draft your dream team during one session. Who is on it and who isn’t? Why? During another session, imagine you are building the business from scratch. What products would you carry – what would you add or discontinue? After you play this game 10 times, you may be surprised at what you’ve discovered, and how much time you’ve just spent working on your business instead of in it. Then answer the question “what could or should I do differently now?”

Have a workplace issue you’d like discussed? Email Jody Glynn Patrick to submit it for consideration!

About Jody Glynn Patrick

Jody is President of Glynn Patrick & Associates, which provides management consulting, executive coaching and strategic planning services. She is Publisher Emeritus of In Business magazine, which she published for 17 years. Selected as the “U.S. Business Journalist of the Year” in 2007 in Washington, DC, by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Jody has been a business reporter, editor, radio talk show host , and has won other state and national journalism awards. At the same time, she has helped corporate clients grow their businesses -- the basis for her practical coaching advice here. She also was the 2005 Athena Award recipient for her leadership role in mentoring other professional women. Jody will be talking with you weekly on TDS’ blog to share her insights and tips from the C-Suite perspective. Follow on G+.

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