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Time-Crunched? How to do less, not more.

I often coach managers in organisations, and their number one problem is lack of time. They just don’t have enough hours in the day to do everything they want to do.

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

So they try a bunch of things: work on becoming more efficient, get more done in less time, join the 5am club to get stuff done whilst the world is sleeping. And without fail, in 6 months time they find themselves back in this place of having no time.

I know they believe they have no time. I also know everyone in the world has the same 24 hours a day. This feeling of not having enough time stems from somewhere else. If having more time is a solution, so what is the actual problem? And since no one has found a way to add more time yet, what if we looked at the problem differently instead of focussing on trying to create more time. This is where coaching can help – looking at the problem differently.

Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash

With a recent client the problem lay in a deep seated need to do everything perfectly before showing work to someone else. This led to larger projects being ignored as they would just take too much time, and so the stress of not having started them grew and grew. It also led to small tasks taking much longer than necessary.

In this particular case, we looked at doing a little bit in a very rough way and getting feedback quickly. Now this simple advice sentence contains a world of pain for some people.

  • Breaking things down into small pieces is very difficult for many.
  • Doing something in a rough way is near impossible for a perfectionist.
  • Getting feedback is difficult for most people and they would rather never seek this out.

So lets tease out how we worked through each of these.

Part 1 – Break things down

We often get overwhelmed with a task because we don’t understand or know everything. That’s ok. You don’t need to break everything down, just the first step or two. And how small you ask? The smaller the better. Perhaps the first step is just creating a blank document or miro board. Perhaps it’s simply googling a particular topic. That is good enough to start. Once you’ve done that step, see if you can find the next smallest step, perhaps and outline of topics to cover in the document or post-its of ideas on the miro board? Keep repeating these tiny steps until you have enough for the next step.

Part 2 – Doing something in a rough way

We have a concept here at Growing Agile called “Vomit on a page”. I know, not the nicest of wording, but it’s the perfect metaphor. Essentially it means set a short timebox (10 or 20 minutes), and put all your thoughts down somewhere. Don’t pay any attention to spelling, grammar, layout, order, sentence structure, formatting etc, bullet points are best. At the end of your timebox take a break, walk away from your computer. Then come back, set another timebox, and now order your thoughts and flesh some of them out a little, feel free to correct spelling and grammar, but still don’t work on layout or prettiness.

Part 3 – Getting feedback

Find a friend or colleague that you trust and whose thoughts and opinion you value. Ask them if they could look at your rough ideas from Part 2 and give you some feedback before you get too stuck in your own thinking. Send them your rough draft. They won’t care that its rough because that is what they are expecting and they will help you find the gold, and also the nonsense. You might find people are more willing to give you feedback because the format is so rough. They won’t feel like they are critiquing you as much when it looks like you haven’t put much effort in yet. If people are still hesitant to give feedback, just ask them to read your rough thoughts, then schedule a coffee chat and pick their brains for what was good, and what didn’t make sense. Like you they might just not know where to start with giving feedback, but having a chat is easy.

This approach worked well for a particular manager whose problem with “not enough time” was actually a problem with perfectionism. Perhaps it will help you if you have the same challenge. If it doesn’t, it’s worth considering what the real problem you have is that is hiding behind the idea that more time would help. If you would like some help exploring this problem, we offer individual coaching.