How Can “Bottleneck” Executives Improve Their Personal Workflow?

Have you ever worked for a boss that seemed to be the ‘black hole’ of the organization? You know the one I’m talking about: documents that went into that office, but never came out, preventing you from doing your job. If you’re that boss, listen up. There is a way to improve your personal workflow. 

What I have found in working with executives and others is that there are typically three areas where wasted time can impede workflow. These areas include lack of planning, lack of self-management, and lack of control over the work environment. Let me tell you how to take control of each. 

  1. Lack of planning. Planning your workday is key to improving your workflow. However, you need to follow through on your plan to be successful. If you don’t plan, you are wasting time and you end up dealing with things during the day as they arise. This is not an effective way to work. Here’s how to plan your day:
    1. Set both long-range and short-term goals and objectives. These should be both personal and professional goals that contribute to your and your organization’s success.
    2. Set daily priorities. These should align with your goals and objectives. Use a priority matrix to help you identify tasks and the tasks’ long-range importance and short-range urgency. This will help you determine its overall priority for your day.
    3. Don’t treat everything that comes across your desk as urgent. Urgent means that it must be done now and it’s typically a “life and death” type of situation. Determine if the so-called “urgent” task is important. If the task is not important, then it’s not worth doing.
    4. Don’t allow interruptions to shift your priorities.
    5. Choose wisely. If you attempt to do too much, you are failing to choose and this becomes a huge timewaster. Again, determine which tasks contribute to your overall goals and do those first.
    6. Use realistic time estimates. If you’ve ever promised to complete a task by a specific time and missed your deadline, guess what? You’re not alone. I suggest that you build in a realistic time cushion to your estimates by adding 20 to 50 percent to your original estimate (depending on the complexity of the task). This way, you’ll never miss another deadline.
  2. Lack of self-management. I have found that this is the main area where many busy executives have difficulty. Here are things you can do to help you better manage your time.
    1. Discipline yourself to get work done can be accomplished by setting priorities and sticking with those priorities. Use project control charts and mark off each task when it’s done, or progress reports, or challenge yourself to stick with deadlines. Reward yourself each time you achieve a milestone – but don’t reward yourself just because you’re “close” to reaching the milestone.
    2. Get organized in the first place and schedule organizing time into each and every day. Yes, it’s a lot of work. And, yes, it’s worth it for success.
    3. Clear the clutter from your office. If this is an area that affects you, then you need to work with an organizational expert who can help you unclutter your office and set up systems to keep organized. If you feel you don’t need an organizational expert to unclutter, then why has clutter become an issue for you in the first place?
    4. Work smarter by using the “Only Handle It Once” (OHIO) method to get your paperwork done. On average, 80 percent of paperwork can be disposed of on the first handling. Yet the average person only disposes of 20 percent.
    5. Stop procrastinating. Studies show that fear of failure is one big reason for procrastinating. Winston Churchill said that he would rather fail many times attempting the truly important than succeed at the trivial.
    6. Delegate. You may find this hard to believe, but you aren’t the only one who can do a task well. If you’re an executive, trust your subordinates and challenge them to take on more responsibilities. This will free you up to invest your time in more creative work.
  3. Lack of control over the work environment. This can also impact productivity and create bottlenecks. Here is how to manage your work environment. 
    1. Control the telephone by scheduling time in your day to receive and return telephone calls. Voice mail is an effective screening tool that helps you determine priority calls when you’re ready.
    2. If visitors drop in, try standing up for the conversation. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much shorter the visit is when this occurs. Alternatively, tell the visitor that you have to leave within ten minutes, or schedule a time to meet the visitor in their office later. If possible, avoid drop-in visits by closing your door.
    3. Attending disorganized meetings results in wasted time. Attend meetings only where you are absolutely needed, but consider delegating attendance to one of your subordinates who can report back to you after the meeting. If you are running the meeting, use proper meeting techniques to stay on time and on track.
    4. Untrained staff can create inefficiencies. Ensure that all of your staff is adequately trained to handle their roles.
    5. Confused responsibility or authority for tasks creates redundancies and wasted time and effort. Ensure that instructions for tasks are clear and indicate who has responsibility and authority.

    Now that you know how wasting time may be a factor in your being a bottleneck in your organization, make a list of your timewasters and identify the top three. Focus on improving those timewasters for about three months before moving on to the next three on your list. Replacing old habits with new habits is difficult, but essential. It is only by unlearning old habits that you will be able to improve your time management skills and be a more efficient and productive executive. Treat time as your precious resource and you’ll accomplish more in less time, and still have time at the end of the day to do the things you really love.