The Crying Baby Approach to Time Management
As an experienced sales manager and avid student of self-improvement publications, I constantly strive to hone my leadership skills. One characteristic that separates great leaders from above-average managers (and individual contributors for that matter) is time management. The topic of time management itself has become cliché to many. However, it does not diminish its importance and warrants fresh perspective.
I’ve read many of the famous publications on time management and try to incorporate each of them in some way or another into my professional life. From Stephen Covey’s Four Quadrants (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) to Brian Tracy’s Eat That Frog to Peter Drucker’s Effective Executive, every author provides a means to a common end: spending our most valuable commodity, our time, the best way possible. However, despite their many credentials, none of these approaches taught me more than my own current life experience: fatherhood.
At the time of publication (yes, I am loosely defining this blog as “publication”), my first-born son is just over two weeks old. Like many of you who are also parents, you understand how scarce your time becomes with a newborn by your side. I therefore propose my soon-to-be-famous philosophy entitled, “The Crying Baby Approach to Time Management.”
The Crying Baby Approach to Time Management seeks to answer one significant question: what exactly do you do when your baby is sleeping and in what order do you do those tasks. For those of you that may be further removed from parenthood, let me stroll you down memory lane. For the last eight hours,your baby has slept for 45 minutes, he awoke and cried, you fed and changed him, and coddled him until, alas, 45 minutes later he is back asleep. You’ve repeated this procedure until the sun is shining again and the coffee is brewing. You are at the tail-end of the above procedure and you once again have your bundle of joy nestled into his Moses Basket and draped in a PittsburghSteelers blanket. Now what??? You may have 15 minutes to yourself or you may have 2 hours until he starts crying again. Do you go back to sleep? Do you catch up on some reading or work? Do you dare attempt to fix that leaking faucet that, in itself, could take anywhere from 15 – 90 minutes or necessitate a trip to the hardware store? And, more importantly, how do you decide what action you ultimately take? This is where a simple exercise in household management becomes a lesson in professional time management.
As you know, the work week can quickly descend into running from one “fire” to another. You do your best to control your own schedule. You set priorities and tasks at the beginning of each day to define success for the next 9ish hours. You manage the “white space” in your Outlook calendar to allot time for non-essential projects. You even plot out a plan for narrowing your lunch break down to 15 minutes or less. And then the inevitable happens. Executive leadership determines your TPS Reports are not 100% accurate and they need fixed immediately. Your star employee (with the ego and sensitivities to go with it) becomes extremely offended by an email from a colleague. Or, best case scenario, someone on your team lands the client of the year and needs some support to close the deal. Regardless of the reason, someone else’s concern becomes your emergency.
So what exactly did you accomplish in between those fires? If you cannot clearly define your accomplishments, the answer is probably little-to-nothing. Fires are inevitable. The challenge, therefore, is to ensure we are using that time wisely. Once one fire is extinguished, one must quickly determine and act on the most critical task at hand. I’ll leave it to the experts to help you determine what to do in that time. My philosophy is simply a reminder to actively make that determination for yourself whenever possible instead of allowing outside factors to decide for you. Remember: you never know when that baby is going to start crying next!