Most of us have had periods at work where it seems all we're doing is putting out fires and dealing with interruptions. But when those occasional periods turn into everyday experience, it can lead quickly to burnout. Luckily, managers have the power to take control of their time, even in the most stressful situations.
Take this quiz and see how well you cope. For each item, rate yourself from 1 ("always false") to 5 ("always true"):
- I try to take crises and interruptions in stride—they're not unwelcome distractions but part of my job.
- I focus on one task or project at a time and avoid interrupting myself.
- When people ask me to do things I can't handle, I have no problem saying no.
- When a conversation is going nowhere, I take steps to wrap it up and move on.
- I see crises and interruptions as opportunities to solve important problems and show what I can do.
- When I can't avoid being interrupted, I'm good at handling the interruption quickly.
- When something blows up, I focus on finding solutions and only later deal with finding out who or what is to blame.
- I stay focused on deadlines and avoid procrastinating.
- I keep lines of communication open with my team so that I know about problems before they become crises.
- If I don't have time to talk, I'll make room on my schedule for following up.
- I also make room on my schedule for tasks that require concentration.
- I ask my staff to let me know about issues by e-mail before we meet in person, so we have time to prepare solutions.
What do your answers mean?
High scores are better, of course. If your ratings total up to 45 points or more, you've probably got a reputation for being well-organized and disciplined. In fact, you may need to consider being a little more flexible or spontaneous. Don't be so focused on efficiency and good timethat you miss the benefits of serendipity, or the learning that can come from open-ended discussions without an agenda.
For most of us, though, being "too organized" is a problem that we wish we had. If you scored between 24 and 44 points, look closely at your responses and see which areas are your weak points. Some of us, for example, do a good job handling our own time—using our schedule, setting priorities, avoiding procrastination—but are less successful at dealing with interruptions caused by other people.
If you scored fewer than 24 points, you'll probably find that investing in time-management training and coaching would be a useful strategy and make you a better manager. There are, of course, an abundance of programs, books, tools and systems that promise to help you get a handle on your time, and most of them offer valuable advice. But a good place to start is with a mentor—someone who knows you and your particular work situation. Working with a trusted mentor can help you quickly figure out what strategies work best for you.