It’s About Time

As I sit here thinking deep thoughts and reviewing content, I see a bit of a trend I didn’t expect. Then again, I didn’t expect to be writing a weekly mentorship series either. While I talk about setting goals, communicating, and staying positive, a lot of this seems to be about time.

I’ll state it more clearly in some of the next few pages when I say that good decisions happen when you create a buffer of time between the question and answer, or in The Five-Minute Chase, but those are just the overt ones. I also want to tell people bad news early so they can talk to families and make decisions. I want people to learn lessons faster and easier than I did so they can get an earlier start.

– Setting goals early is a way to use the time and energy we have effectively.

– Communication allows us to make better decisions by thinking about issues early instead of the dreaded knee-jerk reaction.

– Understanding what our organization values allows us to spend the time we have doing the right things and rewarding the right people.

Again, I’m not re-creating the wheel here or writing anything that hasn’t been said a thousand other ways by everyone else in a leadership position. It’s taken me about forty thousand words of combined articles to see this undercurrent clearly.

While talking with a peer about what makes us successful, we realized that it boils down to time. Starting administrative processes early, communicating instead of reacting to the schedule, and creating that buffer between questions and answers all help us identify second and third order effects of our decisions. It’s all about time and how much of it we invest in certain directions.

As an example, I could have a qualification board that lasts three hours for my junior people. I could browbeat them and think of a hundred new questions, but I’ll usually have made my decision in about 30-minutes. In an hour, they can prove whether they are ready to be qualified or not. Those extra two hours for myself and the other five people in the room could be much better spent doing other things.

Another way to look at time: Some people need to focus on the day in front of them while others need to be looking a week ahead, others a month a head, and some half a year ahead.

– If the person who needs to get the daily work done is distracted by drama and rumors of bad news coming next month, the day’s work doesn’t get accomplished.

– If the person who needs to worry about next week is bogged down with daily tasks not getting performed, next week’s schedule won’t be as good as it should be.

– Worse, if I’m too busy pushing weekly and daily stuff to completion, or investing my day in disciplinary issues instead of looking six months to a year ahead, I can’t get information to my boss early enough for the best decisions to happen.

I’m not saying that we need to fill out charts to account for each hour of the day. I’ve done that before and don’t care for it. I’m also not saying to shorten everything to it’s bare minimum, but I can say that not all of us are using time effectively, myself included.

Here are some questions I’ve had to ask myself, especially when my role or rank has changed:

– For a specific event, what’s a reasonable amount of time to invest? Do I need to spend three hours proving I know more than the person I’m qualifying, or will I know within an hour whether that person has the information?

– Are our organizational values, structure, and mission clear and communicated well enough so people understand how their time is best used?

– Where should my focus be? Based on my job description, should I be looking a day, a month, or a year ahead? Does my daily effort reflect that, or am I bogged down in the weeds?

– Looking at the people in your organization, are they putting their time into the right level of work: daily, weekly, monthly, annually?

Have a great week out there.

– JT

James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as a Command Master Chief, the highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.