There is one question I get asked all of the time: “How do you do it all?”
Well, the real answer is, I don’t do it all. But those who ask likely have some knowledge of my day-to-day responsibilities.
As an attorney by trade, I am a Managing Associate General Counsel at the U.S. Government Accountability Office. In that position, I have management and leadership responsibility for three legal teams within the Office of General Counsel. Our work focuses on budget and appropriations law and congressional oversight. Having been appointed to the position in February 2019, I am the first (and only) African American female in the agency’s 100-year history to occupy this role.
Simultaneously, I am also serving as the 15th National President of Blacks In Government (BIG). BIG has employee members in over 150 chapters within federal agencies all across the country. BIG’s primary mission is partnering with our agencies to ensure a level playing field for all employees regardless of race, gender, age or any other identifying group. And as National President, I am the CEO of the organization. In fact, I like to refer to myself as the Chief Empowerment Officer.
So, I don’t do it all, but at times, it does feel like I have two full-time jobs. And I admit sometimes when I’m asked how I do it, I give what might seem like a rather trite response – that we all make time for what’s important to us. But the real answer is that I manage my time wisely. For that reason, I thought I would share a few of my personal tips on time management.
USING YOUR CALENDAR MORE EFFECTIVELY
I put absolutely everything on my Outlook Calendar. If you aren’t, you are truly underutilizing this very simple yet important tool. If it’s not on your calendar, then it must not be important to you.
For me, not only do I block off time with the calendar appointment, but I also paste in all relevant email exchanges, links, attachments or relevant documents. So, when I pull up the calendar appointment I have everything I need at my fingertips.
Lastly, I like to have my Outlook Calendar on the weekly viewing or monthly viewing pane. That allows me to look ahead to what’s coming up.
SETTING GOALS FOR MEETINGS
I spend a lot of time in meetings, and I try to make the most of every single one. Whether I am leading the meeting or not, I go into each one with a goal of what I want to get out of it. That way, every meeting is a productive use of my time. So, whether my goal is to listen and learn or to share and motivate, I establish what I want to accomplish. And, if I’m at the helm, my goals are to ensure that the agenda is followed, all action items are clear and assigned, and the meeting ends in a timely manner.
Delegating is not only an important aspect of time management but an important aspect of leading. But delegating can be difficult for some because of our desire to control outcomes. Delegation can also be inhibited by a lack of trust in those we are delegating to.
True delegation, however, doesn’t mean you are absolved of complete responsibility. Rather, it frees up your time for other tasks while giving those you lead an opportunity to learn and grow. Don’t fear losing control through delegation. View it as showing your leadership ability and your trust in colleagues. You can maintain some level of control through your oversight of the project which you specify in the delegation. So, make delegation a win-win solution for time management and leadership.
We all have hectic schedules. We race from meeting to meeting and task to task. And now that most of us are working from home, we add even more meetings to our calendars. But we should make sure to not be the proverbial hamster on the wheel, running fast but never reaching the end of any task. So, I am a firm believer in dual prioritization. The top of the to-do list should have those items that you can prioritize and complete with minimal effort. Go ahead and get those out of the way. The next part of the t0-do list prioritizes those tasks that require more effort. There, your prioritization should include a game plan and timetable for getting them done.
BLOCKING OUT DISTRACTIONS
There are definitely pros and cons to working remotely. In this COVID-19 environment, we are safer and better positioned for social distancing. But we are likely subject to more distractions. In fact, home and work-life balance have literally flown out the window for many. So, we have to be proactive in blocking out distractions.
First, make sure you have a quiet place to work. Most of us didn’t have televisions on in the workplace, so don’t do it now. Secondly, if your children are old enough to understand, tell them your office hours and show them a good work ethic. Of course, you should work in breaks to check on them. They will emulate your behavior with their schoolwork. Lastly, too much multitasking can be a distraction. If you have to ask people to repeat themselves because you are multitasking, you are not managing your time or theirs well.
MORE TIME MANAGEMENT TIPS
My favorite book on time management is from Harvard’s Business Essentials series. It is entitled, “Time Management: Increase Your Personal Productivity and Effectiveness.” It has some great advice on how to tackle your specific issue, which might not be covered here.
In conclusion, whatever it is in your life that’s always getting the short end of the stick, reconsider whether it’s something you actually care about. Maybe you should eliminate it altogether or consider delegating it. And for those things that you do care about, consider whether better organization and time-management tweaks will make the difference.
Lastly, it’s hard to enjoy the journey if you are always out of breath. So, take time to just breathe!
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Shirley A. Jones, Esq. is a Senior Executive Service (SES) member in the federal government and a certified leadership and diversity and inclusion trainer. Considering herself an employee advocate and a career development trainer, she was recently elected National President of Blacks In Government (BIG). Ms. Jones has had the opportunity to testify before Congress on the lack of diversity in the SES and frequently speaks at events in the Washington, D.C., area. She often addresses a variety of topics related to leadership and empowerment. Ms. Jones has also written Op-Ed pieces for the historic AFRO newspaper, HBCU Connect and other publications.