When Is "Time Management" Not About Time?

In short, the answer is when it’s about communication.

As we made ourselves coffee in our new office near Wall Street, Diane Costigan was sharing some coaching advice she had been giving about managing expectations (of colleagues and clients). Diane is working up some new material around goal setting and how, inadvertently, lawyers sometimes set themselves up to fail. Our conversation moved on to some of the classic struggles our coachees experience around time management. We find that this is a key development area for a number of the attorneys we work with. Of course, much of this comes down to how they budget time and how they organize themselves. But, when all is said and done, many of their challenges with time, with getting things done efficiently, are simply the result of the conversations they have (and those they don’t).

It is easy to be seduced by the concept of time management as a function of the to-do lists we create and the scheduling we do. Yes, emails need managing and yes, it makes sense to set aside time for focused thinking and doing. These are vital tools and techniques for enabling us to maximize our time but there is another factor that is less obvious and less recognized, and without it, to-do lists will not save you. And that’s communication.

How can any of us be efficient if we are unclear what we are supposed to be doing or how we are supposed to be doing it? To manage our time more effectively as supervisors, we need to be both clear and concise when we ask others to do something for us. If you delegate a task to someone else, a few more minutes on the front end, a little more explanation and a dose of clarity will pay dividends in terms of the time you spend later in reviewing that someone’s work product. Concise clear communication gives that other person a much better opportunity of doing the work the way you expected. After all, how can someone meet your expectations if you have not been explicit about what they are? Why waste your time and theirs running an unintended experiment on whether they can read your mind or just figure it out?

By the same token, when any of us is being asked to do something, whether by a client or a colleague, we need to use our communication skills to ensure that we have the data we need to make smart decisions about how we use our time. Not asking questions is the number one culprit in leaving us uncertain about an assignment. We can save ourselves and our colleagues (or clients!) time by checking our understanding, our assumptions and our initial ideas about how we plan to approach a matter.

So, the conclusion of our coffee break coaching conversation was this: If you want to manage time, start by taking responsibility for your communications and being clear whenever you assign or take on a new task or project.