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Time poor – How do we maintain performance in the VUCA world ?


There are plenty of articles around time management and managing the complexity of life. As a coach, one of the areas I spend significant time is around helping leaders and executives maintain focus. There are so many distractions form work and media channels which make it less possible to focus on a daily basis. I recall the principles of Time Management, and even doing a TMI course back in the eighties. We were guided to break the day into structured sections, with green time for when we were available to talk to others, and red time where we needed quiet to work on our assignments. The principles hold good, but for those with international jobs or work across time zones who don’t always have any direct influence over their agendas, deeper thinking is required. I have seen so many international business consultants and leaders burn out over the years. There is great Dilbert cartoon by Scott Adams, where he parodies the chaotic lives of international business consultants called “Booze Muhkidney” which summarises it perfectly. This parody could apply to anybody working in the “Gig” economy. I have some simple steps based on experience to alleviate some of the challenge. Some are obvious and some not so obvious.

  1. Where possible put “Red Time” in your personal online calendar, particularly for the requisite hours of sleep. It is important that your rest time is not eroded. It will happen if you don’t control it. A late night working on a presentation, followed by the early morning conference call in a different time zone becomes pervasive.
  2. Agree one social media platform if possible for communicating with the team, client and non-client. e.g. WattsApp or other. Social media, can be very useful for rapid communication, particularly when you are shooting a round in a taxi. The challenge is that different clients have different software systems, and you can spend as much time dealing with work related social messages, as you can working. If you do use social media for rapid communication, try and minimise the number of groups, for a given team. If you and your client are using Microsoft Teams, this is a powerful alternative, as there is an App.
  3. Know your team,and understand whether they are “morning people”, or “night people”. With the “Gig” economy there are no fixed hours for work, it is about getting the job done. There is plenty of literature around that show that hours in front of a desk is not necessarily productive. Some folks prefer working in the morning, because they have more energy and some in the evening for the same reason. Firstly, know how you work best, and don’t be afraid to ask your team. When, I am consulting, it is the first thing I ask any new team member. I am a morning person, and am way more productive then. I can work in the evening, but never after a meal. I treat that meal as my transition from work to my own time. Furthermore, a big meal will sap your energy. If you can communicate with your team during core hours, I have seen major increases in overall team productivity and demeanour, if they can work to their respective rhythms. There is an excellent book on this and appropriate nutrition by Dr. John Briffa, “A Great Day at the Office”. I was lucky to meet him at a conference. A very witty read, but makes some key points.
  4. The next point is more obvious. If you are an international traveller, you will be used to working across time zones. If there is collaborative work to be done, whether it be design or presentations, spread the work across the time zones in a cyclical fashion to manage productivity. Again here, the key thing is try to arrange the requisite conference calls to suit the whole team, and ensure again if you are a leader, it doesn’t erode your personal rest time.
  5. If at all possible try to balance your work time and your thinking time. The two are different. If you are doing strategic work, adequate thinking time is required. Do not confuse the two, they are different. It is all too easy to erode the thinking time by being on your phone or laptop. I try to avoid using my laptop in taxis, unless I absolutely have to. I use this space for thinking. Some people do their thinking while running or doing exercise. I try and do it while cycling or swimming. One of the NLP or coaching techniques is “anchoring” or “centering”. It can be done as a means of getting greater focus. I try and do it at the start of the day, so where possible, I can plan my thinking time, my core work time and my communication time. Putting these elements into clear “chunks” definitely helps my productivity. It is possible to allocate a chunk for the unexpected. This is akin to the green time, with the time management approach.

One of the coaching concepts I use is that of “Energy Leadership” using the ELI or Energy Leadership Index from iPEC. Our personal productivity and performance is linked to our average resonating level of energy. The higher the energy, the greater the performance. The good news is that it is not fixed, it can be changed. It is influenced by both your environment and your level of self-awareness. It is possible to improve your environment and I have given some examples above on how to do this. Your self-awareness can be improved through good coaching and techniques like yoga and meditation.

What I have described, could be considered as a perfect world approach, but my philosophy is 80:20 or at least 60:40 working towards 80:20. It is all about making daily improvements to and end point. My life is certainly less stressful since I have taken this approach and allows me to deal with more.

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