If a genie offered you one wish to help you become more effective, what would you wish for? Many would say, “If only I had more time…” But if you’re like me and the genie is just a dream, you may feel sorry for yourself that there just aren’t enough hours in the day.  Perhaps you even considered enrolling in a time management seminar, but of course you didn’t have the time…

How we allocate time is one of our fundamental leadership choices, every hour, every day. And though it’s sad to admit you can’t manage time (it ticks away regardless of our feelings) you can better manage yourself.  If you invest the next few minutes reading this post, you will learn how to improve your impact without needing to worry about ‘time management.’

One of my coaching clients who had recently been promoted wanted to work on his time management skills. Jim had tried various tactics, such as diligently using a day-planner, but nothing worked. Jim missed deadlines, missed his kid’s events, and from the way he described it, he seemed to even be missing himself.

Jim was a people-oriented manager of a large retailer who took pride in his open door policy. A good listener, associates queued up at his office with their problems. Good natured, he didn’t have the heart to put people off. Yet his responsive personality conflicted with his need to manage other priorities.

Jim’s boss, Mary, was not concerned about Jim’s time management problem. She wanted results. She didn’t see Jim establishing collaborative relationships with colleagues outside his store, such as buyers and other store managers. Mary noticed that Jim’s sales supervisors often seemed the last to know about key corporate initiatives. And it drove her crazy that everybody was dependent on Jim for answers.

After talking with Mary, I realized that Jim was behaving more like a sales supervisor (which he had been) and less like the store manager he was. The real problem was that Jim considered himself a people-person first, a businessperson second. While earlier in his career he could afford this attitude, he would have to change his mindset if he intended to develop more as an executive.

My insight was that until Jim viewed time as an investment (akin to investing in any other resource, such as money) he wouldn’t see himself as a businessperson, and he would remain stuck.

But just because I had an insight it didn’t mean Jim would.  After all, he received a lot of psychological benefit from solving other peoples’ problems. It took the ‘tough love’ of a painful performance review from Mary and feedback from a 360-degree feedback tool for Jim to have his ‘light-bulb’ moment.

Reflecting with me about the feedback, Jim confided that he lacked confidence in being a store manager, but knew how to be a supportive boss. So ‘he played a tape’ in his head that sounded like this: “I’m no good as a store manager but I was a great sales supervisor, so I’ll keep acting like that and everything will be fine.”  Jim called it his ‘crazy tape.’

Jim responded to our coaching by informing his skeptical staff about his intention to change. He developed two key questions when associates tried to infiltrate his office, even when his door was closed. “What did your supervisor say when you brought this to her attention?” and “What are two recommendations you are bringing along with your problem?”

Time management is self-management

This was easier to say than to sustain. At first, morale plummeted and even Jim became demoralized, having sacrificed the feelings of self-worth he derived by being everyone’s hero.

But Jim was determined to be an effective store manager. So he added other tactics, such as defining his ‘office hours’ when people could expect his undivided attention. Over a few months, he began to see himself more as a businessperson and less as a rescuer. And with the ‘extra’ time he gained, Jim began to develop key relationships with colleagues outside the store who were ready (and waiting) to support his store.

As a result of his shift, Jim’s core team of managers became more self-reliant. And associates started bragging to him about how they solved problems. Of course, not everybody made the adjustment. But since Jim started to see himself more as a business executive, he could live with that too.

Time management has little to do with time, and a lot to do with our mindsets: how we frame our identities, how the stories we tell ourselves influence our behavior, and how even our own motives are oftentimes contradictory. So now that you’ve invested the time in reading Jim’s story, wouldn’t it be a shame if you didn’t cash in for yourself?

© Robert Ponzoni -ALL RIGHTS RESERVED 2008