How to Balance Accessibility and Productivity: Be Flexible

In Part 1 of our series on time-management, we explored how to be productive by organizing our responsibilities. The four steps to being organized are Analyze, Prioritize, Delegate and Schedule. Managing tasks is easy when you consider all factors. However, things don't always go according to plan. 

As a new manager, you're now responsible for helping your staff in addition to your regular duties. There will be times when you have to put out fires, clean up messes and make tough last-minute decisions. These unexpected situations don't fit into your squeaky-clean, perfect schedule. Or do they?

The key to being both accessible and productive is to expect the unexpected. If you anticipate and prepare for the unknown, you'll be able to manage your time effectively. Here's a few options on how to plan to be flexible. Yes, I repeat, plan to be flexible.


Understand the Unexpected

Identify Weaknesses: Take a few moments to think about the most hectic experiences you've had at work. What times of the year have been particularly chaotic? What type of projects fell behind on deadlines? Which employees needed the most help in times of crisis? Who saved the day and how did they do it?

You might recognize patterns and start to spot areas that need improvement. How can you prevent these issues from happening in the future? What solutions might decrease the severity of the problem? Make a habit of identifying weak areas and learn to anticipate them. This will make responding to them less frustrating.

Keep a Work Diary: If you have trouble remembering past problems or patterns, start keeping a diary of your work day. Record the day's events in detail and highlight moments that were especially frustrating. If you keep a running log for at least a month, you should have a better understanding of what goes right and what goes wrong.


Key Questions:

  • What common factors seem to delay your tasks?
  • What times of the day do you get interrupted the most?
  • Who tends to interrupt you the most? 
  • Are the situations emergencies or trivial?


Adapt to the Unexpected 

After you've analyzed the patterns, you should create a defensive plan. For instance, perhaps you realized that projects tend to slip through the cracks during the holidays. In November and December, many employees take time off which makes scheduling a hassle. Next year, anticipate this trend. Maybe your team works a little bit harder in September and October in order to balance out the irregular months. Maybe you require your employees to stagger vacation days so shifts are all covered. Try to find a solution ahead of time that will alleviate some of the stress.

For weekly scheduling, let's say you discovered that your employees interrupt you on Thursdays more than any other day. They all have deadlines on Friday and need you to review their work before they complete the final product. You have a couple of options to reduce interruptions:

  • Schedule less of your own tasks on Thursdays to free up time.
  • Stagger your employees' deadlines, so everyone isn't coming in at once.
  • Schedule a designated review time for each person throughout the week. 

Keep Priorities in Mind: For daily interruptions, go back to relying on the priority phase of organization. How does this circumstance compare to your current task? How will addressing this interruption affect other deadlines, people, budgets etc? What is the value of this new task? If the interruption is a high priority, then allow it. (Make adjustments in your schedule later to balance it out.) If the issue isn't a priority, enforce your established schedule.


Schedule for the Unexpected

There are some instances that occur no matter how much you prepare. These situations are inevitable and require immediate action, regardless of priorities. There's no way to anticipate them. The only way to prepare for such moments is to build in extra resources. Reserve some extra money in the budget for unknown expenses. Keep a list of temporary staff members who can jump in as needed. Schedule deadlines earlier than necessary in case there are delays. Give yourself and your team wiggle room for when chaos strikes.

If your job is consistently unpredictable, don't attempt to schedule every moment of your day. Keep firm deadlines, but build in an extra hour or two each day as a buffer. Reserve this extra time for whatever needs to be taken care of. Instruct your employees to wait until this designated time to approach you with questions or concerns.

Don't Get Too Comfortable: If you decide to build open availability into your schedule, beware of procrastination and wasting time. This open availability time slot is for productive matters only. If you don't have any pressing matters or no one needs to meet with you, don't waste this down time. Avoid using this time for personal calls or social media. Use the time wisely to catch up on unfinished tasks or a get a head start on upcoming projects. 


Balance Organization and Flexibility

In summary, the secret to successfully juggling all of your responsibilities is to be both organized and flexible. Keep your priorities in line and have a thorough understanding of your work environment. Keep records of the past and anticipate the future. Encourage honest communication with your team, but still enforce boundaries. Have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C and trust your resources. It is indeed possible to be both accessible and productive!


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