Hundreds of books have been written about how to save time. Fact is, saving time is not the leader’s goal — effectiveness is the objective. And we can become more effective if we make better choices about the way we spend the time we have available to us.
To make the best use of this list, first do one simple exercise: write, in no more than a sentence or two, the role you are responsible for carrying out. Not the activities you engage in, but the role for which you are held responsible. For example, “I am responsible for providing my viewers with the best local report available in my market.”
Now, understand that the key to effectiveness is being able to spend your time only on activities that directly contribute to carrying out your role. (Your boss may have told you to sort mail, but you understand that sorting the mail does not help you provide the best local report in the market.)
If you can, begin to think of the activities you choose to engage in as “investments” in your quest for effectiveness. For example, giving a reporter specific feedback about a chronic sourcing problem might require you to invest time you really don’t have today, but if that feedback could save you 10 minutes at deadline from this day forward, it would be time well-spent.
Here are 10 hints for how to invest your time.
Clarify your role: We waste so much time wondering what the boss expects of us. Why not ask? Then ask again, until you get a clear, consistent answer. Check back at least weekly to review real situations and the decisions you made.
Be clear about your expectations: If we waste time wondering what the boss wants, how about the people who work for us? Are we sure they know exactly what we want on this assignment, this beat, this project? Don’t wait for them to ask what you want; invite them to help you develop guidelines. End conversations and meetings by reviewing what everyone agreed to do. Seize opportunities — while editing, running staff meetings, talking over lunch — to reinforce your expectations.
Schedule the important stuff: If it matters, schedule it. It will be harder to cancel. Reserve time for activities that improve the staff’s work in the long-term — feedback sessions, difficult conversations, career updates — and prepare for them.
Coach all day: Talking with staff throughout the day can save you time at the end. For example, taking an extra five minutes with reporters at the idea stage and when they’ve finished reporting (but before they write) can eliminate surprises and save precious minutes at filing time.
Manage your meetings: Distribute agendas in advance. Schedule only as many items as you can reasonably address, including discussion and questions. Start and end on time. Encourage all to participate, and don’t let anyone dominate. Stay on topic. End by reviewing what everyone agreed to do.
Upgrade every interaction: Editing a story? Take time to applaud good writing, or attack a reporting problem. Planning coverage? Invite someone from another desk. Lunching with a peer? Get feedback on your staff’s work. Seize routine meetings and conversations as chances to seek ideas, offer feedback or teach important lessons.
Stop the clock: Interrupt the flow of a meeting or one-on-one conversation to stress a really important point — the staff’s extraordinary effort; a story’s obvious bias, a staffer’s ethical lapse, repeated errors. But beware: Stop the clock too often and no one will listen.
Avoid e-mail quicksand: When you must check e-mail, scan for messages that demand your immediate attention. Deal later with the routine. Ask your boss to indicate in the subject field whether you need to respond immediately — and do the same for your staff.
Plan well (and delegate): Avoid crisis management by planning in advance for important coverage or initiatives. Put the planning meeting on your schedule. Name someone else to own and manage the plan, making clear how you want to be updated. Stay in touch, but don’t micromanage.
Work the room: Talk each day with at least one person who’s not on your staff. Ask the most dangerous question: “How are you doing?” The time you invest in building relationships with your colleagues will pay off in collaboration and smoother deadlines.
Bottom line: To really be effective, we have to invest our time in activities that have the most impact on our work. And that will only happen when we look at our jobs as more than surviving the daily grind.
For instance, you can edit stories for the next deadline really well, but if you don’t devote time to developing the staff that produces those stories, you’ll edit the same problems every day.
The ideas listed above all have a connection to the long-term. All will help you reap benefits beyond today.
They are good investments. Try a few.