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

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

Principle #3. Control Timewasters

Another primary leadership responsibility with regard to time is to determine how you can remove things that waste the time of your people, as well as things that interfere with the achievement of organizational and departmental objectives. 

IBM, for example, wanted its employees to move faster, make decisions faster, and complete projects faster, to compete with the hungry startups that were knawing on the edges of its business. Employees were so used to operating in the status quo, they were unsure exactly what that looked like. So IBM established a “Speed Team,” consisting of successful project managers who had a strong reputation for pushing projects forward at a blazing pace. This team educated IBMers on the characteristics of fast-moving projects and taught them how to eliminate “Speed Bumps”—things that wasted time. These included administration, unnecessary levels of bureaucracy, too much red tape, and unclear priorities. 

What are your speed bumps and how can you eliminate them? For Xerox, it was the reams of paperwork required in the promotion process. For Procter & Gamble, it was product testing to the nth degree before introducing and marketing new products, which it discovered didn’t work on Internet time. For Jason Olim, CEO and President of CDNOW, it was his former entrepreneurial mantra: if you don’t do it, it won’t get done right. For Timberland, it was the reluctance to admit that the processes that you’ve worked so hard to perfect may no longer be valid.

Ensure YOU are not the speed bump—the causal factor in wasting your employees’ precious time. How are you the thorn in their sides? A common area is forcing employees to attend too many meetings, with too little relevance, that waste too much of their time. Reportedly, Robert Crandall, former CEO of American Airlines held all-day meetings with very few breaks. Was that really necessary? Were these meetings worthwhile?

In addition, consider when you hold meetings. Corporate America has trained most people to be “morning people.” Our natural energy cycles cause us to be “up” or have “prime” time first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, most managers insist on holding meetings at that time. Prime time should instead be spent on difficult activities, important decisions, and complex tasks. It’s costly to have your key people tied up in routine meetings during periods of peak energy and productivity. 

If unclear priorities plague your team, you must take action to resolve the confusion. Employees often complain, “I cannot get anything done during the day, because my manager is constantly interrupting me, having me chase the next fire, or reshuffling my priorities.” Or conversely, YOU are unable to get anything done because your employees are constantly interrupting you with trivial matters.

For example, I talked with a manager at Coca-Cola who truly wanted to maintain an “open door” policy with his staff, but he was plagued by constant interruptions when working on key deadlines. He was torn about carving out time to complete urgent tasks, while at the same time creating an environment that welcomed and was receptive to employee questions and concerns. So he devised a plan to use a signal with his staff...a red baseball cap. At the next staff meeting, he explained his dilemma and plan. When he would prefer to not be interrupted, he would put on a red baseball cap. If an employee noticed the cap, the person should determine if their issue was truly an emergency or if it could wait until later. He also encouraged his staff to interrupt him one time for five issues, rather than five times for one issue. The manager reported that the number of interruptions decreased by simply pointing out the difficulty he was having, and the red cap worked beautifully.

Action Items:

• Only schedule morning meetings if they involve brainstorming or complex problem solving. Hold staff meetings or project updates in the afternoon. Or, try not to meet at all. Come up with alternative ways to share or distribute information. If the meeting does not require problem solving, brainstorming or input from employees, and is simply informational in nature, why do you have to meet face-to-face? Could you send out a group voice mail, an email, or a memo? Or ask your staff to submit their updates and project status in writing one week prior to a conference call. Then simply include the relevant information from the responsible employee right in the agenda. Ask if there aren’t any questions, then move to the next item. Keep meetings focused, tangent-free, and moving.

• Create a “Communication Log” for each subordinate, on which you record tasks and information updates as you think of them. Have a five-minute “stand up” meeting with each person once (or twice, if necessary) a day to delegate new work, prioritize, update, and refocus. Get up and meet in your employee’s office, because you can leave more easily. It’s often difficult to remove someone from your office chair once the person is comfortable and in talking mode.

• Agree on a “signal” with you folks to cut down on interruptions. You can use orange arm bands, police tape, a name plate turned face down, a “be back at” clock on the door, a miniature desktop doesn’t matter what the signal is, as long as everyone understands and abides by the rules of engagement. Obviously, you can’t wear your red cap 100% of the time, or people will begin to ignore your signal.


To make the best use of this chapter, identify the single most important thing that you could do—immediately—to make a difference in the way you handle time. Plan a way to implement this change or help others to reach this goal. Ultimately, the best leaders can create in others the competency and ability to manage time wisely, in accordance with established goals. Always be asking your folks, “How can I help you be more productive?”

© 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