Effective Leadership – Part II – 6 Steps to Manage Your Time Effectively

In the last post Effective Leadership Skills – Personal Planning, we talked about the importance of personal planning for a leader.  I hope you found the post useful and picked up at least one thing to incorporate into your personal planning routine.  No doubt everyone has heard the analogy about sort the big rocks first not the sand.  However, if you are true to yourself, do you do it?  Many people, despite the best of intentions and knowing this methodology well, struggle to actually do it.  Why?  I suspect that it’s because they don’t plan that way.  I’m always amazed at how so many people let life and other people take them wherever they want to take them.

Ok, so maybe a little melodramatic, but one thing we all have in common, no matter who gollumwe are, how much money we have, how successful, or how high up the corporate ladder we are, is time.  We all have the same amount of time in any given day!  Time is finite.  So, we should treat it accordingly.  Do you protect your time like it is “my precious!” ?  If you don’t have complete control over your schedule, then take it back today!  Every minute you spend on something is a minute of your life you will never get back!  That’s the way you need to look at it.  This is one thing a leader needs to be very selfish about.  After all, it is your life!  You should spend time on the things that are important to you or are necessary for the role you play.  Otherwise, you need to seriously question each item in your schedule.

“Every minute you spend on something is a minute of your life you will never get back!”

Here’s a few things to consider for managing your schedule and calendar:

1.  Proactively schedule YOUR priorities first.

Ok, seems obvious…. but do you?  When you do your personal planning make sure you are planning time in your calendar to spend on those things that are most important to you.  These are the big rocks.  These are the things that will either permit you to be successful or fulfilled in what you do at work and in life in general.  Many people wonder why the week has gone by and they haven’t accomplished those things that they wanted to achieve that week, but yet, few if any were allocated specific time in their calendar.  Even if it is time for you to spend by yourself working on a project, a strategic plan, following-up, taking your daughter to a recital, put it in your calendar and schedule!  I schedule several hours a week months in advance for my top priorities.  I schedule them as placeholders and as I get closer to the actual date and I have a better idea of what my priority is at that time, I revise it to reflect that priority.  This way, I also have time for my priorities without someone else booking over it.  Well at least, most of the time.

“When something is scheduled, it is 92% likely to happen!”

2.  Schedule time for reflection & planning.

It’s also important to schedule time to stop, think, reflect and plan.  For this you need to be strategic as to when you schedule this time by doing so when you are most productive in this space.  There is no point scheduling planning time on a day or time in which you need to be tactical or will not be able to focus.  Or at a time of day when you know your brain resists focus on such subjects.  The point is to schedule it to increase the odds that it will happen.  It is very important for leaders to reflect, think, and plan, but it won’t happen on it’s own.  You need to schedule time for it.

3.  Block time for necessities.

We all have stuff that just needs to get done.  After you schedule your most important priorities, schedule blocks of time throughout the day or week for you to get the necessities done as well.  These might be signing documents, catching up on emails, following up, returning phone calls, etc.  Although these are not top priorities, they are necessary.  If you don’t get them done, certain of your responsibilities will slip through the cracks and may come back to bite you, typically requiring even more of your time than if you attended to them initially in the first place.  Or alternatively, you end of up doing these things after hours impacting your personal time and family priorities.

4.  Maintain control over your schedule.

Don’t let other people get control of your calendar.  If you do, you are basically giving over control of your life.  Be selfish and maintain control of your calendar at all times as if it were your life… oh wait, it is!  This doesn’t mean that you become unavailable to your team or neglect your responsibilities, but it does mean that you do not have to attend every meeting you are invited to, or cancel time that is a priority to you just because someone sends you a meeting invitation.  Nine times out of ten, you can request a re-schedule if you really need to attend at all, or can send a delegate.

If you have an assistant that manages your calendar for you, make sure you establish very clear guidelines with them as to how you want to administer your time and calendar.  Communicate frequently as to your priorities and how you expect them to schedule YOUR time.  Review your calendar with them to ensure everything is as you want it.  I’ve always found when you do this, they will help you tremendously!

“Sort the big rocks first, fit in the stones, and sift the sand!”

5.  Schedule 20 and 50 minute meetings.

It took me way too long to figure this one out!  After many years of putting a call on hold and asking someone to “please cover me, brb” so that I could run to the restroom, or missing a quick but needed “approved” email response, I figured out that meetings are like goldfish.  They grow to the size of the fishbowl, meaning if you schedule 60 minutes, the meeting will take 60 minutes.  What is so special about 60 minute meetings other than it being the default in scheduling software?  So I implemented 2 meeting durations – 20 and 50 minutes.  The subject matter determines the duration.  The secret though is that most people schedule meetings to start on the hour or half hour.  This then gives you 10 minutes before your next meeting to visit the restroom, get a coffee, check for urgent emails/requests, etc.  What a difference this has made in my day!

6.  Use colours as information keys.

Establish a colour coding system within your calendar to help you key in on different aspects of your day.  This allows you to quickly glance at your calendar and you can focus in on the most important items, or spend more time to gather other key pieces of information.  For example here are my colour codes:

Dark Red – Very importantCalendar

Red – Attendance required

Yellow – Tentative, delegate attending or attend if possible

Orange – Indication that myself or a member of my team is out of the office, travel time.

Green – Information

Blue – Personal time for the necessities

This facilitates a lot of information that you can very quickly focus in on depending on what information you are looking for.  From the example above, I can very quickly see (orange) that two members of my team are out of the office on this day.  I am going to be visiting and working (green) out of a different and specific building, and that I’m going to have a very busy day of meetings (Red).  However, I also have some personal time (Blue) to catch up on a few things throughout the day.  I can also see that there is a tentative (yellow) meeting I could attend if the main priority meeting were to be cancelled and that there are some other meetings scheduled that day but are just there as information only.

Please let me know if you found this post helpful by clicking “Like”, otherwise I have no idea if I’m on the right track here!  Leave a comment to add your experience on this topic or to ask a question.

Next post, we’ll talk about the dreaded and time consuming…. email!



Effective Leadership Skills – Personal Planning

The foundation of my leadership mental model is the Leader themself.  Why?  Well from my perspective, if the leader is not strong and solid, then the remaining two dimensions of Vision and People will be weak.

As a bare minimum, for a leader to be effective they must:

  1.   Be well organized

  2.   Lead by example

  3.   Have balance

Over the next few posts, we’ll discuss each of these aspects in some detail.

Lets start with “Be well organized” ,what that means and what it takes for a leader to be well organized.

The demands on a leader can be overwhelming.  If a leader is not well organized both professionally and personally, they cannot be effective.  Problems will start to occur as something will become neglected or overlooked.  Once that happens, things can spiral out of control very quickly.

A leader needs a personal planning routine.  I strongly believe that each leader needs to determine what works best for them and that one size does not fit all.  However, each personal planning routine should have some common key points.  These are as follows:

1. Have a regular routine in which you do your weekly planning.

For me it is every Sunday afternoon typically around 4 or 5pm.  It usually takes me between 20-30 min each time.  Consistency is important to develop the habit of planning.  On the occasion, when I miss my weekly planning time at my usual time, it feels very uncomfortable!

2. Review and plan both your professional and personal items and set all priorities for the week.

We are only one person, so why plan your professional items separate from your personal?  They overlap and at times create conflicts, so it is critical that they are planned simultaneously and in conjunction.  It also helps to set reasonable actions for the week.  For example, if you know you have an important presentation to prepare at work that will require extra time to complete, you may scale back some of the personal items for that week thereby setting the priorities appropriately for what is most important at that time.  This also reduces your stress levels as you have planned for this in your week.

3. Keep everything in one place!

Keep all your “to-do’s”, actions, follow-ups, errands, important milestones, etc in one place.  Don’t have a list at home, one at work, another in your phone, and yet another in OneNote on your computer.  This becomes confusing and unmanageable.  By all means, use technology to your advantage to remind you of important items such as sending yourself an email or reminder to add a new item to your to-do list.

Use a system that works best for you.  Experiment to determine what that is or change and revise as you go.  My system has been built over many years of trial and error.  You may want to do everything electronically or the old fashioned way with file folders.  Whatever works for you.

I use an Excel spreadsheet with multiple tabs for different topics that covers off professional and personal aspects of my life.  Professional files include projects, leader standardized work, follow-up and to-dos of various priority among others.  My personal files include but aren’t limited to my family, friends, relationship with my wife, hobbies, errands and household repairs.

Well organized

4. Determine your weekly priorities.

As you go through your various files, determine what the priorities are for the week.  What things must you accomplish or follow-up on?  What things would you like to get done.  Plan those personal items that are important to you that you want to ensure you achieve or don’t forget.  It’s ok to be aggressive and identify more items than you think you can achieve so that if the opportunity presents itself, you can get them done as well.  Often having a planned list, you can move through it faster than if you don’t have one at all as it acts as a motivator as well as focuses you on those things most important.

5.  Break projects or items down to the individual tasks.

I know this sounds crazy, but as you add an item and/or do your planning breakdown larger items to the task level and plan those.  Procrastination often comes from not knowing where to start.  So rather than focusing on the big task that is going to take many weeks to complete, just start for the next week and take it from there.

I’ll use a simple personal item of painting the front door to demonstrate what I mean.  Let’s say you want to paint the front door.  Maybe you don’t actually have time to paint it this week due to other priorities.  However, even if you got the chance you couldn’t because you don’t have paint or brushes.  By reviewing your complete list during your personal planning session, you identified that painting the front door is on your household to do list.  During the week you are going to Home Depot anyway for some other reason and can easily pick-up paint and brushes while you are there.  If you only had “paint the front door” on your list and not also “pick-up front door paint/brushes” on your “Errands” list you likely would have forgotten about it and had to make another trip to the store another week.

6. Consolidate your weekly priorities on one sheet.

Once you have identified your top priorities for the week, consolidate them on one personal planner sheet.  Remember, these would include both professional and personal items.

My personal planning sheet has evolved a lot over the years and contains a great deal of information that is important to me and helps me stay focused and organized.  Not all items are the same priority so I have a system of identifying the top priorities from the lower or maintenance type items.  I record all the prioritized items for the next week and print off my weekly personal planner.  As I complete items, I simply check them off.  As new items come up throughout the week I hand write them down on my sheet.  If they are completed by the end of the week, I don’t do anything more with them.  If they are not completed by the end of the week, I then add them to my planning files.  I also write down new items throughout the week that are not a priority for that week, but that I want to add them to my files during my next personal planning session.

These are some of the things I swear by when it comes to personal planning and being organized.  These have helped me stay on top of things at work and in my personal life.  It’s not to say things don’t slip through the cracks, but when they do, I know they did and I can quickly course correct or make better informed decisions on priorities and changing priorities.

Try it!  Experiment and try different things, but don’t give up!  It has taken me many years to get to the level of personal planning I now embrace.  It didn’t happen overnight.

In my next post, we’ll focus on managing your schedule and how that helps you be a more effective leader.

For the last post in this series, see What is Leadership?


What is Leadership?

There are many different view points on what leadership is, but from my point of view to try to define leadership, you first have to define management. My definition of management is:

Management is the responsibility of a function, department, process or system. It is a position.

Many people think that because they have the positional title of “manager” that by default they are a leader. Not necessarily! My definition of Leadership is as follows:

Leadership is the ability to inspire and motivate people to want to be part of realizing a vision. It is purely about people, and not a process or product. It is character.

On the other hand, there are also people that think that because they don’t have the title of “manager” that they are not leaders. Wow, is that ever incorrect! There are many incredibly good leaders that are not managers. They can have unbelievable impact on other people by inspiring, motivating or coaching them.

A leadership model I have developed and use is shown below:

leadership model

The model is built on three important dimensions that make and define leadership. First is the Leader them self; second, a clear and articulate Vision; and third, of course People. If any one or more of these is missing or poor, so is the Leadership.

In future posts, I’ll speak to the key points of each of these 3 dimensions of leadership.

Leadership, Lean and Continuous Improvement

Gemba by any other name is… go & see! Gemba is NOT just for manufacturing processes!

Many associate gemba as a manufacturing activity, but in reality it is an invaluable tool that any leader can use regardless of the industry, business, process, or function. Gemba means nothing more than going to the workplace to see. The workplace can then include anything where work is performed such as a construction site, ER room, automotive repair garage, control room, accounting office, school room, maintenance job, or food buffet line.

The purpose of gemba is to go and see the process, engage with the employees (team members, operators, associates, cast, staff, techs, etc) that are doing the work. It is to engage with them by showing an interest in what they do, how they do it and to assist them in being successful at it.   Our teams come to work and want to do a good job and it is a leader’s job to help remove the barriers that get in the way of our teams doing the best job they can. Over time, waste and inefficiencies seem to creep in or inadvertently get added that can cause safety, quality, productivity, or cost issues. By going and seeing, a leader is more likely to find these wastes and inefficiencies and can take action to correct them. Point and case; safety, quality, productivity, and cost applies to pretty much any business or process, so why wouldn’t go & see or gemba apply?

The principles are the same when doing a gemba in a non-manufacturing environment as they are in a manufacturing environment. It starts by going to the workplace and engaging with the workers there. Explain to them why you are there, that you are interested in what they do and want to learn about it. Watch what they do and ask questions to understand why they do what they do. Ask them what they think can be done to improve the process. Ask them about things you observe that capture your interest. No doubt, between you, you will identify several things that need to be improved. It is very important in gaining their trust and respect, to then prioritize a manageable amount of items to go after. Discuss these with the employee or team and set a reasonable timeline and approach to taking action.

Most jobs or positions have some level of standardized work or standards to which the process is to be done. This is typically how someone gets trained in the first place. For example, a maintenance technician typically has a detailed preventative maintenance (PM) routine or a standard operating procedure (SOP), while a control room will have defined standards of alarm limits or frequency of checks/recordings that have to be made. Regardless of the job, there will be defined tasks that have to be done, documentation to be followed, training material, or standards to be followed. These are key documents to request, check, and audit how they are being followed. This also leads to key insights as to the cause of safety, quality, productivity, or cost issues if they are not being followed. Even more so if they don’t exist. If they don’t exist, how are people being trained? How do you know it is being done the best way to get the best results?  This then should be your starting point to standardize the task, document it, and get all those doing the function to follow it.  Only then, once it is standardized and everyone is following the standard can you make improvements.

Gemba is an extremely powerful tool in a leader’s toolbox regardless of what you do. Don’t miss out on this just because you think this is a manufacturing tool!

Here’s some other gemba posts you may find of interest:

10 Important Steps of Effective Gemba Walks or “Go See”

Gemba Walks – Tip #1

Gemba Walks – Tip #2

A Leader’s Best Question

3 Steps to Having Time for Gemba


Leadership, Lean and Continuous Improvement

3 Steps to Having Time for Gemba

A very common question I’ve been asked over the years is,

I don’t get out to the floor anymore, what can I do?

Most people understand the importance of gemba and going to the floor to see and understand what is happening.  However, many leaders as they continue to move up the corporate ladder or take on more responsibilities, struggle finding the time to do gemba.  They give priority to everything else and essentially hope they have time to go to the floor.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.  If left to chance, it won’t happen.

Well, the solution isn’t glamorous or earth shattering at all, but with a little discipline and planning, there is hope.


1. Schedule time for gemba.  It starts by literally placing time in your calendar by scheduling an event or meeting weeks in advance.  In fact, make it a never ending recurring meeting.  Schedule them several times a week so that should you have a priority conflict, you still have time in your calendar that week to do gemba.  As an example, if you want to have time for a 1 hour gemba twice a week, I recommend scheduling a 1 hour “Gemba Walk” event three to four times a week for the entire year or longer.  When slotting these Gemba Walks, select times that increase the odds of them actually occurring.  Don’t swim upstream fighting the workplace currents.  In other words, step back and think of your typical week.  There are generally days and times that will be easier to do gemba than others.  Select those time slots and not the days/times when you know there is likely to be a high risk of other conflicts, priorities, or conflicting business conditions.

2. Make gemba part of your weekly personal planning.  As you do your personal planning for the coming week, ensure that you review your calendar paying particular attention as to when you have your gemba’s scheduled.  Check for conflicts and adjust as necessary.  This provides you the opportunity to decline meetings if gemba is a priority over them, or to reschedule your gemba to ensure it happens rather than accepting meetings regardless then wondering why you have no time to do gemba.  If you proactively scheduled more gemba time slots than you need you can make a decision to cancel some or leave them just in case a last minute issue arises during the week.

3. Add “Gemba Walk” to your Leader Standard Work.  Add the number and frequency of Gemba Walks to your Leader Standard Work (LSW) as this can be an added reminder for you to complete it, but more so to provide you with a record of how you are doing.  If you are completing this aspect of your LSW, great no action required.  However, if you look back at your LSW and see that you are frequently missing it, or perhaps always missing it on a specific day/time, then you can think about why and what you need to do differently going forward to increase your ability to attend your gemba.

The above 3 steps have been my approach which has worked well for me.  I find step 3 is important over the longer term because the business and priorities do change over time.  It’s too easy to get caught up in the day to day urgent things that have to get done and before you know it, weeks have gone by and you aren’t getting to the floor as much as you should.  Weekly review of your LSW and looking back over the longer term will highlight to you that you need to take some action to course correct.

If you are already successful at doing regular Gemba, please share your approach in the comments for others to learn from.