Make Time Your Ally

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Martha Johnston
  • 341st Medical Operations Squadron commander
Time is the working ally of effective leaders and supervisors. They understand it is essential to control and make appropriate use of working hours. But time is the enemy of inefficient leaders or supervisors because they spend it carelessly, giving too much attention to certain parts of their jobs and not enough time to other job requirements. As a result, their performance lacks balance and the neglected items of their assignments are constantly boiling over into crisis or emergencies, which now require extra time and energy to solve what is already a limited resource.

When the late Hiram Hall was vice president of the Bigelow-Sanford Company, he observed, "Executives or supervisors who do not know that time is their most valued asset and that it must be utilized skillfully are not really managers, regardless of the impressiveness of their titles. Lost or wasted time can never be replaced. People who have learned how to be masters of their working day and not its servant own the key to managerial success."

If you analyze your job, you can separate the purely functional tasks (preparing reports, answering the telephone, attending meetings, replying to e-mail or taskers, and the numerous other routine requirements) from your major accountability -- planning and leading people. This allows you recognition: you always know what you are doing. The simple act of breaking down your assignment into its various parts gives you a better understanding of your total responsibility. One recognizes the job as a whole and is not so likely to get bogged down in the details of one or two areas so as to neglect everything else.

This power of recognition is essential to prevent falling into routine or technical tasks you do well and keep you busy, but then cause you to have to explain why you let some other duty slip.

It is not difficult to develop the talent of recognition. Scan quickly a series of duties, determine which are urgent, which are routine, which can be delayed, which demand your personal attention and which can be safely delegated to subordinates. In making such decisions, you automatically assign working priorities, and in this process, divide your time properly among the various tasks that must be accomplished.

Expert time control allows leaders to attend to each of their duties properly, just as intelligent delegation permits them to take care of a number of separate tasks simultaneously.

Leaders who want to get the most out of time will have to analyze their own methods and slice the fat from their working hours before they can develop a lean, competitive personnel team. To make sure you are getting a high dollar value from your use of time, consider the following:

1) Plug the time leaks caused by bad planning. Careless planning is a sure way to waste everybody's time. The leader or supervisor who doesn't take the time to decide which road to follow and rides off in all directions at once may be certain subordinates are confused, disgruntled and angry. Inadequate or hasty planning forces personnel into "hurry up and wait" idleness, schedule foul-ups, failure to bring equipment and material to the places where they are needed, and machine breakdowns. 

2) Dam the time drain by effective training. A job done by poorly trained personnel usually takes longer and costs more than their effort is worth. Skilled personnel who know what you want them to do and exactly how to do it (and are equipped with the material and tools they need) save you time, money and trouble. 

3) Never let time slip through the holes of a loose organization. An orderly organization is a reflection of an orderly and disciplined leadership. Instructions are given clearly, follow-up is automatic, and there are no false starts, back tracking or wasted motions. The personnel of an efficient organization are trained to accomplish their tasks swiftly and expertly within the framework of regular working hours. 

4) Seek better methods for better use of time. Leaders or supervisors who fight change are playing fast and loose with the proper use of time. The true leader always tries to better the record, not equal it -- to go above standard requirements and not be satisfied with work that will just "get by".

Time is the greatest asset of leaders. The more effectively they use it, the greater will be their skill in getting things done through people. They have the time to think how.