Leader's Digest: Where will you give the gift of time? - Michelle Gibbings

Thanks to Leadership Institute of Sarawak Civil Service’s Leader’s Digest Issue 65, Michelle explains how it’s easy to waste our time and the time of others and tips on how to change that.

We all know that time is finite, and once it passes by, you can’t get it back.

During the COVID-19 enforced lockdowns, we discovered the benefits of a slower pace, and yet a typical lament is that there is never enough time in the day. As the pace of life picks up again, time seems to fly by even faster.

But have you ever wondered how much time you waste each day?

Various studies suggest we waste up to three hours a day and almost 70% of people waste time at work. A further study found that business owners waste about 30% of their working days on low value or no value activities.

Wasting time is subjective. Surfing the net may seem a waste of time to one person and an excellent way to relax for another. What you see as low-value work may be necessary for someone else.

Like everything, there are differing perspectives. There are also many commonalities in what people view as the biggest time wasters: poorly run meetings, overly bureaucratic processes, and unnecessary rework.

But it doesn’t stop there. Hidden beneath the surface is a raft of time-wasting activities typically dressed up as collaboration and necessary processes.

For example:

  1. Running a consultation process when you already know what you want the outcome to be. You are only looking for an endorsement of your idea.
  2. Seeking feedback from people because you feel you should (or because you’ve been told to), but once you have their input, you pay no attention to it, and it doesn’t change the original plan.
  3. Undertaking a recruitment process when you already have a preferred candidate in mind. You may tell yourself that you are diligent as you want to check who else is out there, but the reality is you have already made up your mind.
  4. Organising a tender process or asking for quotes when you have already decided who you want to work with. Perhaps your internal processes dictate that you need to get a minimum number of quotes, but if the process is weighted in favour of one party, then you already know what the outcome will be.
  5. Running team-building activities and not being prepared to follow through on commitments, and holding people to account for the culture the team has agreed to create. If you aren’t playing your part, then it’s not likely the team will either.
  6. Always running late for events and meetings, and constantly behind on deliverables. When you keep people waiting and ‘on hold,’ you effectively say, ‘I am more important, and my time is more valuable than yours.’
  7. Asking to review documents and provide input and then either not responding, not offering timely feedback or offering feedback that is substandard and unhelpful.

I am sure you can add to the list, and I’d love to hear your suggestions. What would you add to that list?

Interestingly, in all those cases, you aren’t just wasting the time of the people involved; you are also wasting your time. In many situations, time that extends over days, weeks, or even months.

So, you have a choice. Waste time or flip your approach, get deliberate about how you spend your time and make it purposeful and productive.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Look at your diary for the week ahead. I mean really look at it. Critically examine how much time you spend on value-adding tasks and which activities or meetings you don’t need to do. For each item, ask yourself: Does this activity advance the goals that the team and I have set? Will it lead to positive and progressive outcomes?
  • Challenge your mindset to find ways to make the activity worthwhile. If you adhere to a process that you need to follow for governance and diligence purposes, rather than do it because you ‘have to’, do it because you ‘want to’. Flipping the activity in this way can give the task more purpose and relevance.
  • Be open to a different outcome. If you start the process with a preconceived result in mind, you will shut yourself off to new ideas and possibilities. Instead, approach the process with curiosity and wonder about what could be.
  • Be open to shifting the status quo. If something has always been done in a certain way, ask ‘why’. Do you need to do that task or process? What’s the worst thing that could happen if you (insert task you are doing) don’t do it? For example, what’s the worst thing that could happen if you don’t attend that meeting or run that process? Determining the worst outcome may show that the impact isn’t all that bad, and having time back in your day is a higher benefit.
  • Make ‘respect’ an essential leadership quality that you embrace. Respect matters in all its forms, and one of those is respecting each other’s time. When you respect your teammates, direct reports, and colleagues, you show them they matter. Respect elevates the culture and creates an environment where good progress happens.
  • When a process adds no value, be willing to challenge and be ready to say ‘no’ if you need to.
  • Be open to the fact that a process or activity that you don’t see as adding value may be critical for someone else and their work. So, have an open mind, always be curious and consider the interconnections and dependencies in your work.

In a world where there never feels like there is enough time, let’s give each other the gift of time when we can and when we should.

The respected former CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, once said: “Just as you would not permit a fellow employee to steal a piece of office equipment, you shouldn’t let anyone walk away with the time of his fellow managers.” So true.

Who will you gift with some time this coming week?



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