Three Time Management Tips

I’ve always been a fan of time management. I once saw a documentary of someone with a busy work life; but being a master at time management, he always made time out for friends, and Formula 1 racing. That had me smitten. Wow! I wanted to be that person – an expert time manager. Enough time for everything! I started to read up all I could on time management, and several books and two years I later I found some fundamental truths about time management:

There’s still 24 hours in the day.

Sacrificing sleep is not clever time management.

So managing time is not only about fitting things you want in your day, but also knowing where you are wasting your time.

I have found three resources very helpful in managing my time, as I simultaneously manage a demanding day job, an equally demanding volunteer, startup and educational activities, apart from the usual demands of my personal life. I hope you will find these useful:

1. Put First things First: Plan to put not only the ‘urgent’ work related tasks in your day, but also the ‘important’ tasks – like time with family, your long term career, or your friends. Identify and stop wasting time on things of no importance or value. (From Stephen Covey’s book: First Things First)

Covey recommends identifying separate areas in your life which need time (family, self, work… ), and planning on a weekly level, so you can set aside enough time for each.

2. Avoid multitasking: You might find this suggestion shocking! The point is – do one thing at a time, and do it right. You will find you can add most value to your day by focusing on one task completely.

Many companies unknowingly acknowledge this reality – by creating ‘quiet’ work areas or no-disturbance ‘core’ hours. I have heard of organizations that enforce ‘no-email’ times – possibly stopping one of the biggest time-thieves.

The case against multitasking is probably made best by Dave Crenshaw . I heard him speak to the American Entrepreneur (you can hear him at this link).

3. Try renewal breaks: Tony Schwartz, in an HBR Ideacast, shares that our bodies work best in ‘waves’ – spending energy, and then regenerating energy. He suggests we work with our biological ‘ultradian rhythms‘ – which are: work (expend energy) for 90 minute stretches, and then take a 30 minute renewal break – doing some activity that rejuvenates you (such as going for a walk, talking with family, etc)

Read more, in Tony’s book ‘The Way We’re Working, Isn’t Working’

Please comment and share any other resources that have helped you with time management!

The Importance of Face-Time in Offshored Projects

In a 2009 global survey of 2,211 Harvard Business Review subscribers, 95 percent of respondents viewed in-person meetings as a key to success in building long-term relationships. ~ webworkerdaily

Having worked for several years on mission critical projects, I have seen challenges make or break many of these teams. Challenges facing teams differ based on the work culture and the type of team, but geographically dispersed (offshored) teams certainly always have it tough.

Offshored teams will often have one part cut off physically from the action. The other part which works on-site, is the eyes and ears of what’s happening on the ground. For the level of trust they need, offshored teams also take a longer time to bond  together, as compared to purely on-site teams. The geographical split and timezone differences make camaraderie difficult, and crunch times push the relationships far more than if they were all on-site.

Unfortunately, teams are often formed and quickly put through demanding projects. Little importance is given to how the team will bond together. Teams with little time to bond, and a lot of stress on the trust – often fall apart, even with the most talented workers.

My personal example, of witnessing the challenges in trust came when I took charge of a large support team at a Fortune 200 finance company. The team was spread across three geographic locations, and from inception, was thrown together ‘do the job’. Needless to say, there were abundant escalations and breakdowns. A visible lack of ownership prevailed, and there were frequent drops in the processes. Though I worked to establish ownership across locations and processes adherence, there was still missing motivation. The team faced a high turnover, and remaining members worked under severe work pressure.

Fixes like detailed performance metrics and rewards for exceptional performance would only help to a certain extent,  yielding short term improvements in the team.

The breakthrough with my team occurred unexpectedly. When I was on vacation to India, I dropped by for a half day to meet the team. On arrival, I realized, embarrassed, that I couldn’t place a name against the faces. As per tradition, after sharing a sack full of chocolates and having a team lunch, my team and I got together. This was the first time I was speaking to my team in a room! This was the first time I could look each members in the eye and thank him or her for their contribution. Also, we shared our challenges, and the team was encouraged to bring up any question or concern. Though this was a short one-hour meeting, we all left with respect for the value we were bringing, and the challenges in front of us.

When I returned to the United States, I found a dramatic change in my interactions with the group. Suddenly the team was willing to take up challenges and bring up suggestions. The new enthusiasm was easy to build on: I setup a weekly newsletter, detailing initiatives across our team, and recognizing peak performers. Two short months after this interaction with the team in India, I am witnessing a higher level of commitment, a more open environment with team members recognizing achievers, and far better process adherence.

The single act that was the seed for this transformation? Face time. Long phone conversations and lengthy emails just could not have replaced that one hour meeting in India.

I’m convinced true person to person interaction is the means of building trust within teams. Today most organizations pay little or no importance to the formation of teams. In the flat world, however, companies should rethink. It’s not just the talent, but also the bond, that’s missing.

IT production support anyone?

In my role as an application support manager at a financial organization, I face a constant challenge: lack of enthusiasm in in supporting back-end IT systems.

Although this type of role of can be challenging for people on the ground, often with direct impaIT Support Professionalct on revenue, it is easy for the staff to feel under-appreciated and unhappy. The demands of supporting systems 24×7 adds to the challenges of such an assignment, and that’s besides demands for quick and perfect resolutions to problems.

All too often, senior management forgets the hard work that goes on behind-the-scenes, when things are running fine. Sometimes this leads to cost cutting measures where the teams are downsized. When complex issues arise, once again the production support teams face the heat, and if they are understaffed, its difficult to shape up to the challenge. Only enlightened management can appreciate efforts of this group when systems are green!

I would suggest IT professionals too should look at support anew. It’s when you’re in production support, that you understand how code can break, giving an understanding as to why certain designs can withstand malfunctions better. The detail-oriented production support professional can make an excellent designer.