How to Balance Accessibility and Productivity: Be Organized

We all know that successful leaders wear many hats. Managers assign tasks, keep track of schedules, oversee development, clean up messes, and on top of it all, have their own actual work to complete. If you're a new manager, you might have trouble juggling all of these tasks. The influx of email, the constant interruptions and frequent meetings can be overwhelming.  

In this two-part series, we'll explore how to be both accessible to your staff AND productive at the same time. The first part of the balancing act is to learn how to be organized. You can easily organize your workload by following four basic steps.  

Step 1: Analyze

Before you start work, make a list of your responsibilities for the day. Include duties assigned by your superior, work tossed back to you from your team and anything else you know needs to get done. Be very specific and be sure to include time to get a snack, eat lunch or take stretch breaks! Taking time to refuel is just as important as the work itself. 

Create Deadlines: Assign a deadline for each and every responsibility or subtask involved. Determine when each one absolutely MUST be done, not when you'd particulary like them to be done. 

Evaluate Parameters: Next, decide what resources are required for each task. What skills are needed to complete it? Do your employees have these capabilities? Can you delegate this task? How long will it take to finish? Who is affected by this assignment? How much do you enjoy doing this task?

Determine Value: It might sound like overkill, but take a moment to consider the big picture. How does this task affect your staff as human people? The company's future? Your overall life? 

Step 2: Prioritize

The next phase of the organization process is to set priorities. If you've categorized your list effectively, some tasks should jump out as top priorities. If you have a project that must be completed by today, can only be done by you, and will cost the company millions of dollars, obviously it should move to the top of the priority list. If you have a simple task that doesn't need to be finished until next week, then move it to the bottom of the priority list.

There are a variety of ways to prioritize and the method could change each week. The Harvard Business Review created a simple Activity Assessment tool that can help you put things into perspective. You can prioritize in one of three basic methods:

Deadline: Prioritize in order of the earliest deadline. 

Responsibility: Prioritize in order of affect on others. If your employee can't start on her tasks until you finish yours, give those tasks priority.

Difficulty: Prioritize based on skill level. Get the easy stuff out of the way so you can have more time to devote to complicated items. Or, finish the exhausting work first so you can be at ease for the rest of day. 

Step 3: Delegate

In conjunction with prioritizing your own tasks, decide which priorities to delegate to your staff members. If a project is simple, but vital to the company at large, you might decide to do it yourself. Conversely, if the project is so vast and taxing that you can't do it alone, communicate that you need all hands on deck. As we learned in the 4 Keys of Effective Delegation, be specific and communicate openly. 

How do these assignments affect your employee's current tasks?

Which ones take priority? 

What are the deadlines and available resources? 

How will you measure results?

Step 4: Schedule

Now the tricky part is committing to your priorities. All of these pieces fit into the puzzle that is your personal calendar and your team's calendar. If you've effectively delegated responsibilities, your employees should be able to create their own individual schedules. If you find yourself scheduling out every minute of an employee's day, then you've fallen into the Micro-Managing trap. Stop hovering and trust that your team can handle it.

However, you should schedule each part of your own day. Based on your priorities, use time-blocking to schedule when you'll do each task and for how long. Again be specific; for instance set aside 30 minutes for responding to email, 15 minutes for a snack break, etc. If you find yourself not estimating time, difficulty or value properly, try keeping a work diary for reference.

Enforce your schedule and your priorities to the best of your ability. If you already checked email for the day, but get a notification for a very important message, weigh your priorities.

What is the value, time-commitment, and affect of deviating from your plan?

Does the email involve the highest priority for the day?

Would it be more productive in the long run to stay focused and stick to the schedule?


Now the million dollar question is, how do you deal with interruptions? How does being an accessible manager fit into my tight schedule? Tune next week for Part 2 with the answer!