Reframing the way you view your role, and manage your time in the office, can help you recover time for yourself. In Taking Control of Your Career and Moving Past Your Plateau, I wrote about time management as one of the issues Assistants encounter on the job, and how increasingly effective time management can represent one solution to some career frustrations.
In the September 2013 Harvard Business Review (HBR) magazine, London Business School professor Julian Birkinshaw and PA Consulting Group’s Jordan Cohen, a productivity expert, offer related insights for executives who are knowledge workers.
Hold on, you say. Don’t you remember that we’re the people who support executives? You don’t recall seeing “knowledge worker” in your job description? Let’s reconsider. One needn’t be an executive to tap into good advice, and it’s worth considering the definition of a knowledge worker, who is someone who thinks for a living. Isn’t that what you do? While architects, engineers of all stripes, lawyers and scientists are among the more typically recognised knowledge workers, Evan Rosen, Businessweek contributor and author of The Culture of Collaboration, makes the case that every worker is a knowledge worker.
Back to HBR, now, and three steps I took away from Birkinshaw and Cohen.
Identify low-value tasks
Keep a log, or journal, of your activities; this needn’t be detailed. After a few days or a couple of weeks, assess how much of your time you’re dedicating to matters that are of little yield, or value, to you, your boss and your organisation. You can likely already identify some of these tasks, which are “nice to do” rather than necessary.
Assess whether to drop, delegate or redesign
Now that you’ve identified the low-value tasks, which of them can you simply drop without adverse outcomes? If you drop a task and it goes unnoticed by even the most scrutinous auditor, odds are you’ve made the right decision. Next, is there someone to whom you can delegate? Your delegation not only frees up your time and makes you more efficient; it can also represent a learning or growth opportunity for one of your colleagues. If you’ve identified one of your tasks as low value because it’s simply not meeting your organisation’s needs, assess whether it’s time to overhaul, or redesign, how this work is done.
Birkinshaw and Cohen offered recommendations on how to proceed: “Commit to your plan. Although this process is entirely self-directed, it’s crucial to share your plan with a boss, colleague, or mentor. Explain which activities you are getting out of and why. And agree to discuss what you’ve achieved in a few weeks’ time. Without this step, it’s all too easy to slide back into bad habits. Many of our participants found that their managers were helpful and supportive … Other participants discovered that simply voicing the commitment to another person helped them follow through.”
Reallocate time you free up
Freeing up some time may mean that you can now manage your workload without exhaustion. If that’s the case, skip to the last sentence of this paragraph! If you find your efficiencies have created free time, though, carry on with your log or journal to continue identifying priorities you’d like to tackle. You may find that the vacuum quickly fills; your boss may find your drop/delegate/redesign approach so effective that s/he may decide to delegate some new responsibilities to you, and that may be a good thing. Make a commitment, though, to ensuring that you take advantage of your new efficiencies by going home on time, and enjoying your recovery of personal time.