Managing Yourself

This is a new series I intend to write on a weekly basis covering basic management and leadership topics. The target audience are team leaders, first line managers and people that strive to fulfill this positions. It might be a good refresher for others.

Ancient Stone calendars Photo by Cayambe on Wikimedia commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

Ancient Stone calendars Photo by Cayambe on Wikimedia commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0


Before I can cover any managerial topic regarding managing others, I must start this series by focusing on the persons in the managerial position themselves.

The reason is the fact people don’t appreciate when the person leading them fails to demonstrate the same characteristic as that person demands from the people they lead. Most people treat this as hypocrisy or in the even worse scenario, incompetence. So before we dive into various leadership traits, we should start from the basics.

Managing your time

Your most precious and scarce resource is your time. Your can’t trade anything to get more time, and you can’t stop time. As a matter of fact, if you don’t plan and carefully review what you spend time on, you are not going to be successful in any position or role. It just becomes evidently urgent and crucial as you manage more people that need more of your time. Start this habit early in your career, it will help you along the way.

After this long preface, we should discuss how one manages their limited time.

The calendar

In every company I have seen in my life, and for most people in their out-of-work life the calendar rules what you are going to spend your time on. As a result, you must plan, own and nurture your calendar. Open your calendar, is it full of meetings? I presume it is. How many of them did you book? very few, I guess. This is not good. I covered meetings a bit in two previous posts (here and here) but this time I am focusing on the time management angle. You must own your time, and the tool to do that is your calendar.

The best way to manage your calendar is to prevent people from booking your time. This is done wrong at most places I have worked for. People can and will just invite you to a meeting on anything they would need. And most of the software out there just gives you an Attending/Not Attending link. It is not helping. The default should not be a meeting. Always prefer asynchronous communication style. A document shared with a question attached to it, a slack or other IM messages, or even email is much better than a synchronous meeting, that requires people to be present at a given point in time. If you can’t avoid having a meeting for some reason, (and there are some valid reasons for having a meeting) keep them as short and focused as possible. I bet you can replace about third of your meetings with some sort of a asynchronous method.

Own your calendar

How do you own your calendar? Every week I start the week with 3-4 priorities for my week that I would like to achieve. And I try to devote +80% of my weekly activities to those priorities. If your calendar is not full of meetings others have booked for you, you can achieve this easily. But don’t be part of the problem yourself, don’t book others with your agenda all over the calendar, use asynchronous methods as much as possible. Treat other people’s time the way you want them to treat yours.

Auditing your calendar every week helps keeping it focused and on your priorities. This however is not enough.

Own your time

Don’t forget the person that needs your time the most. Yourself. If you really want to achieve your priorities for the week, and really want to get things done, you need to book time for that on your calendar. Book time for thinking, book time for planning, book time for looking at things uninterrupted. I think at least an hour per day should be spent on thinking. In this time block you should turn off notifications from your phone, your mail, and just focus on the thing at hand. If you must use a physical medium for that, use a physical whiteboard. If spreadsheets or presentations work better for you, use that. But the key is uninterrupted work.

Oh, and don’t forget, book your personal things too, it helps you figure out what your time is spent on over time.

Managing other people’s time

We covered the basics of managing your own time, but we should also talk a little bit about how you manage your time with others. First and foremost, you must respect other people’s time the way you want them to respect yours. Be on time to meetings, respond in a timely manner to asynchronous communication methods, and generally treat others the way you want them to treat you. If you notice you are not going to be on time, or can’t respond in a timely manner, let the other person or participants know. Let them know in advance, not when you are already late, or didn’t react in weeks. Be a person, let people know. Following this simple rule will prevent you from dropping balls and from disrespecting and wasting other peoples time. This is much more important in synchronous conversations, since the other person is blocked from moving to the next thing they want to do, because they don’t know if you will show up in the next minute. Don’t be that person, be on time, and if you can’t, let them know in advance.

Being on time is not enough. If you are responding to an email, showing up to a meeting, or you are reading a document, be present at that space and invest your time by truly being involved. Read the links in that design documents. Read the whole email chain. Listen in the meeting, and take notes, respond when you have what to say. Be present!

This is it for this week. I hope you found it useful. Next week we will talk about getting things done. I plan about 3-4 posts on managing yourself before moving on to the next topic. Let me know in the comments what do you think about the format.