ARTICLE: “Looking at Time Through the Lens of Leadership, Part I”

(Excerpted from a chapter I’m contributing to a new anthology written by 14 professional speakers entitled, “Motivational Leadership.”)

Good leaders in the year 2000 and beyond understand that time management is not about squeezing more into their days. As a leader in your organization, you must do two things well with regard to time management. First, you must help your folks spend their time productively in the accomplishment of organizational goals. Second, you must manage your time to accomplish your most important objectives.

This chapter will help you realize these objectives by discussing three key time management principles for leaders: (1) keep employees from burning out, (2) be a good time role model, and (3) eliminate activities that waste time. With these principles, you can lead yourself and others to use time more wisely. To make changes in the way you manage your time, you must first change the way you think about it.

Principle #1—Don’t Overload Your Folks

When you have key employees who work hard, long, and effectively, you naturally delegate important projects and tasks to them—lots of them. It’s understandable, because you trust those people. “Give it to Judy, and it will get done.” Unfortunately, your over-zealousness and confidence in your superstars can burn them out if left unchecked. Satisfaction, quality of work, and effectiveness decrease as the workload increases beyond the point of manageability.

Many employees will take on an increased workload temporarily to meet a key project deadline or launch an IPO for a new dotcom in which they have stock options. However, if that level of work goes unabated for too long, an employee’s effectiveness will diminish. If employees don’t take care of themselves, they will have no energy to devote to work. 

For example, a colleague shared with me his experience consulting with a startup organization. The leader was a fairly new manager, there were critical deadlines looming, and the organization was having a hard time staffing vital positions. The leader kept delegating project after project to the existing employees, forcing many of them to work until 1:00 a.m. each day to meet the deadlines. They burned out, left the company, and the entire launch went belly-up without these key personnel. If building instant fortunes means treating people like machines—bringing in next year’s models when they burn out—the best and the brightest will eventually look elsewhere and trade paper options for real options.

Watch for the warning signs of burnout in your employees: 
 Excessively long working hours for extended periods of time, 
 Fatigue, 
 Withdrawing from social relationships, 
 Clock watching, 
 Distractedness, 
 Acting like a broken record, 
 Problems in their personal lives, 
 Depression, 
 Substance abuse, or 
 A strong desire to head off to the South Seas with a paintbrush in hand. 

Don’t be responsible for putting somebody over the edge! Listening to your folks will provide a great return on your investment of time and energy. Find out what’s working, where they are overloaded, and when they have too much in their plates. Don’t allow them to wear “no sleep” like a badge of honor.

Action Items:

• Make sure that you’re sharing the load with your other employees. Many large consulting firms, for example, get assignments from a number of different partners. It’s often hard to determine how much work people have on their plates at any one time. Employees just accept most projects, because billable hours tend to equate to value in the firm. The result was unlimited work and burnout. So Ernst & Young established committees to review time sheets to ensure that no one person was overburdened. “There are a lot of type-A personalities who will work themselves to frustration and then quit,” said Jeffrey Calvello, 33, a senior audit manager. In 1999 alone, the committees reduced the workloads of 48 people, sometimes without their knowledge. E&Y knew that ultimately this was simply good for business.

• One of the best retention strategies today is to recognize an employee’s need for flexible scheduling, working arrangements, and work sites. You must help employees juggle the family balance issues they struggle with daily. By doing so, you gain their focus while on the job and dedication to the company. In addition, many of the younger “Generation X” workers today highly value their personal time and private family life, so workload becomes a retention factor. It’s not enough to offer your employees free coffee and stock options. There has to be a human side to working at a company, or else people won’t stay. You could allow telecommuting, implement compressed work weeks, add satellite offices for people with long commutes, offer paid time off for volunteer or charitable work, or provide leaves of absence for employees who need a break.

• Work with your clients on creative ways to get the job done in a less harried fashion. If someone must be on-site at all times, you can stagger the work schedules, so that one person works Monday through Thursday, taking Friday off, and another works Tuesday through Friday, taking Monday off. Convince clients to change their mindsets. Turnover in your firm is their problem too.

© 2000 Laura Stack. All rights reserved. You are free to use portions of this publication in your company newsletter, provided the following credit is listed at the bottom:

Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is “The Productivity PRO,”® helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or visit her website at