Leaders Name Their Top 6 Time Wasters
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
There are different types of work that leaders can do. There’s work for which we feel passion and that propels us towards our big goals. There’s work that we don’t love doing but that still needs to get done. And then there’s what I call Red Light work; activities that bring no value and that are a colossal waste of time. Red Light work can be obvious or subtle, but one of the top identifiers is that it results in zero achievement. Eliminating Red Light work is one of the easiest things leaders can do to gain more time in their workday to focus on important Green Light goal-oriented work.
I surveyed over 1,500 leaders and one of the things I asked them to identify were the top Red Light activities that steal precious time from their workday. Here’s what they had to say along with a few tips for rectifying these time-wasting activities. You can also test yourself with this new quiz called How Do Your Time Management Skills Stack Up?
Time Waster No. 1: Meetings that have no point.
More than 90% of meetings fail to produce an identifiable achievement. You can test this for yourself by asking attendees as they exit your next meeting, “Did this meeting accomplish its original objective?” Given the response options of “Yes,” “No” and “I have no idea,” the most frequently provided answer is “I have no idea.”
Put an end to meetings that have no point by writing a simple Statement of Achievement that says “As a result this meeting we will have achieved, ________.” If you can’t fill in the blank, don’t hold the meeting. On average, organizations that use a Statement of Achievement find meetings end 17 minutes earlier.
Time Waster No. 2: Meetings that get off track.
Does this scenario sound familiar: You start a meeting by stating its purpose, for example, “We’re here to discuss the fact that our competitor has started a price war with us,” and someone says, “Oh, no way, really? I thought they were raising their prices on us.” And then a few more people join in to state their misunderstanding of the situation and before you know it, the meeting topic is lost.
Avoid the frustration of meetings that go off track by taking 5 minutes to write and distribute a detailed meeting agenda. You’re not misusing people’s time if you forgo the abbreviated bulleted agendas that fail to inform and that are favored by most organizations. No one likes being stuck in bad meeting making a long meeting agenda a courtesy and not an imposition on meeting participants. The best agendas identify the meeting topic, why this topic is on the agenda, what the meeting hopes to accomplish and how participants should prepare.
Time Waster No. 3: Low performers with a bad attitude.
Most leaders spend far too much time dealing with the drama of “Talented Terrors,” employees with decent skills but a lousy attitude. These low performers tend to be masters at making highly emotional even the simplest of conversations. Instead of getting sucked into the emotional vortex, keep performance conversations with Talented Terrors short and to the point. Subtlety is not your friend in this conversation. What is needed is directness, emotional calm, facts, objectivity, specificity, and most importantly, candor. When Talented Terrors test you, and they will, be specific: “In last week in Tuesday’s meeting you made three sarcastic remarks;” candid: “That is not acceptable behavior;” and calm: “I can’t force you to change, but you do have a choice to change the behavior or keep it where it is …” Firmly establish that you will enforce consequences if the bad attitudes/behaviors persist, and then follow through.
Time Waster No. 4: Low performers that lack the right skills.
The inverse of Talented Terrors are the “Bless their Hearts,” those employees with a good attitude but lousy skills. Some of these low performers can improve their skills, but if a committed, 90-day improvement plan fails to produce results, it’s probably not worth the continued time or effort.
Time Waster No. 5: Nagging employees about deadlines and incomplete work.
Give employees the feeling of autonomy and control they want while freeing yourself of time consuming nagging by breaking big projects into hyper-discrete projects that each requires closure. For example, instead of saying, “Go build a website,” break this big project down into five smaller projects. Maybe developing a positioning statement would be the first project, and when it’s done, have the employee check in. Next you might assign developing a color scheme for the website, and so on. Structured correctly, hyper discrete projects result in frequent check-ins, saving leaders time and frustration while helping employees to develop self-sufficiency and self-confidence.
Time Waster No. 6: Correcting wrong work.
It’s not uncommon to find that leaders are more competent at their employees’ jobs than their employees are. Most managers get promoted because of their technical success. But fixing employee mistakes often isn’t the best use of a leader’s time. Whenever possible, fight the urge to step in and fix things and allow mistakes to become learning experiences that allow employees to grow and develop.