How are we using our scarcest resource?

There is no such thing as ‘Time Management.’
The transition of time cannot be checked or ‘mastered’ in some way?
So how then can we ‘Manage’ time?
The fact is – we just cannot, its as simple as that!

So lets agree on the idea that regardless of our own priorities and inclinations, time marches on inexorably and without interruption, and all we can do really is hope that what we have set up to do can be done within the parcel of time we have at our disposal.
Hence we are really talking ‘utilization of time’ rather than ‘time management.’

There are Three factors we need to consider when we are looking to improve utilization of time available to us, an obsession with:

Step1. Being maniacal in terms of the Quality of work we perform in the time made available to us. In other words monitoring for how much of what we do requires ‘re-work’ or correction, or causes waste to occur?

Step 2. The cost of execution  in performing the tasks assigned to us (the cost of resources we are willing to invest in the execution of a task or project) or, the cost of doing business.

In step 2  we also need to consider any output from step 1. above – when we have re-work or waste  from step. 1, we need to factor that into our total costs in step 2.

3. Maintaining a track record for being able to deliver what we have agreed to deliver (in terms of executing the task or project) on time and in full. In other words what percent of the time are we delivering to our agreed to target date as well as completeness criteria.

The three elements listed above are extremely difficult to pull off, but if one is truly looking for optimizing their utilization of time, they will need to come to grips with this discipline.

Let’s apply it to the subject of too many meaningless meetings in our respective organizations – to apply this discipline we would need to:

a. Select a sample of meetings that we are aware are not as productive as we would like them to be.

b. Determine the three factors listed above (steps. 1, 2 and 3)

c. Compare our findings in terms of Quality, Cost and Delivery, with other similar teams conducting similar meetings within our own Organization (or if not available, in other Organizations open to the idea of Benchmarking).
The goal should be to compare with the ‘best of breed’ always.

Now we have an opportunity to:
# Compare/contrast how we are conducting our meetings as compared with other similar teams (look for productivity gains, success criteria, Synergy, etc)

# Compare our Quality, Cost and Delivery as compared with the ‘benchmark’ team and,

# Set improvement goals to get to a position where we are better than our best benchmarks.

Is this even possible or ‘do-able’? – you better believe it is…this was one of many factors that helped Japanese Auto Manufacturers achieve their astounding successes from the early 80’s on to present day.

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As a big fan of Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits Program (and a certified, Licensed Facilitator for the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People Program), I have always been a strong believer in this seminal book/work by Dr. Covey.

Dr. Covey talks about the Circle of Influence (things that we have influence or control over) and the Circle of Concern (things that worry us, but over which we have absolutely no influence or control over).

Circle of Concern: We are typically obsessed with worrying, thinking, focusing, on things that cause us concern or discomfort, even though we have absolutely no control over these things. That co-worker who always seems to take smoke breaks while you stay at your desk even during the lunch break, that Manager who consistently seem to assign the choice assignments to that new guy who is always sucking up to that manager, etc,.
This activity takes up an inordinate amount of our productive time.

Circle of influence: The fact that you can ensure that you are always on time in delivering against projects/tasks assigned to you, that you can choose to catch up with work
spill -over by using your lunch break, or that you can choose to avoid spending too much time worrying over that new guy and what he is doing, and stay focused on your own priorities for the day.

Dr. Covey represents these circles as concentric – with the larger circle representing the Circle of Concern and the smaller circle in the center as the Circle of Influence.
This is typically the case because we are usually obsessing over things we have no control over until that becomes a huge, seemingly insurmountable obstacle, and as a result, our Circle of Influence keeps shrinking in comparison (because we do not spend enough time focusing on things that can indeed control)

The recommendation is that we ought to steer clear of worrying about things that lie in the Circle of Concern and focus instead on what we can influence and exert control over. if we do this consistently, over the long term, we will see the Circle of Influence growing larger, while the Circle of Concern begins to shrink in the process.

I find this to be one of the great ‘AHA’s’ from the Seven Habits program. It changed my life  and made me so much more focused on what I need to stay focused on (invest more time on) versus what to stay away from (and minimize the time invested – because the truth is we will always have some things out there in the Circle of Concern…we will never have that Circle utterly devoid of any concern?)

Try this – it may help you use that scarcest resource more practically and also ensure you are utilizing the time in more value-add activities.

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We can utilize our most valuable resource (Time) in two distinct directions – we can either:

1. Spend our time doing business as usual maintenance activities
a. getting that report out on time
b. making sure we reply to those emails
c. submitting our expense claims on time

Or…

2. We can invest our time in real breakthrough activities that drive out greater value add to the organization such as:
d. Look for ways to eliminate waste and nonproductive work effort
e. Strive to improve key process in terms of cycle time, quality, cost and delivery
f. Benchmark our activities with best of breed

As we focus on this direction, we should be able to see that we are investing more and more time on breakthrough activities and less and less on maintenance activities alone – and that should be the indicator that we are moving in the right direction. There can never be zero maintenance activity however we do need to focus on spending more time in the higher value, greater payoff breakthrough activities

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