How to Maximize Your Team’s Time Management Skills
Amir Salihefendić, Barcelona-based founder and CEO at Doist, leads a fully remote company spread across 40 countries and supervises an 80-person team. You’d think his calendar would be packed with meetings, check-ins and reviews. But actually, it’s empty.
It sounds counterintuitive. How does he keep the business running smoothly? And make sure everyone’s on the same page?
“At Doist, meetings are kept to a minimum and 90 percent of all communication is asynchronous,” he said. “This allows employees to focus on ‘deep work’ without being interrupted throughout their day with unproductive meetings or constant notifications from Slack, iOS and email.” It’s unconventional, but his method gets results — Doist has an employee retention rate of roughly 98 percent.
Time Management Leadership Tips
- Embrace flexibility
- Establish communication boundaries
- Define your objectives
- Guide employees in self-reflection
- Be a responsive manager
- Lead by example
There’s plenty of ways to hack better time management: the Pomodoro technique, bullet journaling and Cal Newport’s deep work strategy are just a few. In order for those systems to be effective, it’s important to have a clear to-do list and know how long each task will take. However it shouldn’t all be on the employee. Leadership sets the precedent — it’s crucial to develop a workplace that allows for down time and doesn’t glorify working 24/7.
“The leader’s job is to create and maintain the environment and culture to enable people to do their best work,” Salihefendić said. “They must ensure that the core values are clear and everyone is aligned and rowing in the same direction.”
The 9-to-5 workday is standard at many companies, but studies have shown that the eight hour schedule isn’t all that efficient. According to recent research, employees on average waste 40 percent of their work hours doing nothing at all.
“Employees can actually get an astonishing amount of work done with a flexible schedule, and the wheels don’t come off when everyone isn’t online at the same time,” said Patrick Lightbody, Portland, Ore.-based CEO and co-founder of calendar tech program Reclaim.ai. “Embrace the fact that people need flexibility in their schedules, both for work and for life.”
Support your team and help them maximize their time by giving them a little more freedom to make their own rules. To make sure everything goes smoothly with flexible work schedules, you still need to establish some ground rules. Instead of measuring success based on the hours someone put in, place an emphasis on the actual contributions.
“Embrace the fact that people need flexibility in their schedules, both for work and for life.”
“Some people work right up to the deadline on something, while others have things ready to submit days prior to a deadline,” said Alexander De Ridder, Houston-based co-founder and CTO of the AI editing engine INK. “If two people on the same team have these opposing approaches, just set the deadline and let each submit their contribution by the project deadline. As long as the project parameters are clearly defined and met, the means to achieve them can differ.”
Establish Communication Boundaries
Tech companies employ people across the world, making it a lot harder to sync up people’s schedules and set up meetings. As a manager, it’s important to set expectations around email, Slack and other messages — this streamlines team communication and doesn’t disrupt an employee’s workflow.
“People can respond on their schedule, from wherever they are. They can spend their time doing their best work and communicate when it makes sense,” said Salihefendić.
The asynchronous communication method gives employees more autonomy. Rather than making team members attend daily video calls to discuss their progress, ask them to share achievements via email when they’ve been reached. Lightbody recommends scrapping the rigid scheduling, and instead setting four core hours per day, giving employees more freedom to meet objectives on their own terms.
“Let employees dictate their own schedules across work and life outside of these core hours,” he said. “Set expectations with your employees that if someone is sent a note, message or meeting invite outside of those core hours, they shouldn’t be expected to respond until the next day’s core hours.”
Define Your Objectives
One of the keys to achieving goals in a timely manner is transparency. When your team knows exactly what is expected of them, they’ll know when and how to address their tasks and meet deadlines.
Vague directives leave employees confused; too strict and that might be frustrating. Find a balance between the two ends of the spectrum and learn to prioritize. It’s difficult to take in a lot of new information at once, be clear with three to five priorities, and allow your team to draft their own strategy for achieving them.
“‘Write docs for a new feature’ is probably too granular, and ‘build a great product’ is probably way too vague,” Lightbody said. “A better example is ‘launch new feature X’, which is a defined goal with a clear end. Focus on aligning to priorities and orienting all your discussions around that.”
Guide Employees in Self-Reflection
Each person has their own needs and working styles — help your employees discover how they work best and support them in building their own time management methods. Doing so will ensure everyone on your team can perform at their best.
At Doist, Salihefendić recently introduced a time management quiz designed to help employees understand what they need to be most productive.
“The results provide clarity into which productivity method works best based on your unique strengths, challenges and goals, and then offer helpful information and tips to better suit your working style,” he said.
Help your employees discover how they work best and support them in building their own time management methods
Ask employees questions about how they like to structure their days: Do you tend to work better in the morning or the evening? Are frequent one-on-ones helpful or distracting? Do you prefer that we check-in over email, Slack, or in person? These clarifying questions help you better support your employees and your team members learn more about themselves.
Be a Responsive Manager
Want to make sure your team is productive and happy? The first step is asking for honest feedback.
“Listen to your employees,” said Salihefendić. “Evaluate people differently based on their output and results, not how responsive they are or if they are online all the time.”
Don’t wait for your employees to volunteer feedback; seek it out. Unsurprisingly, people are sometimes afraid to bring up issues with their managers, because they’re unsure about the response they’ll get. When a teammate feels their time isn’t being managed well, they may not feel like they can bring it up — paving the way for burnout down the road. It’s also important to give your team permission to disagree with you and say no to things.
“Evaluate people differently based on their output and results, not how responsive they are or if they are online all the time.”
“In previous lives, when I was managing big distributed teams of product people, we literally used to sit down and look at their calendar together,” said Lightbody. “The idea wasn’t to micromanage or be invasive, but really to ask questions like ‘Do you really have to go to this meeting?’ or ‘What’s the cost of you not doing this thing?’”
Lead by Example
Managers and team leads have dozens of tasks on their plate at once. Understandably, this can sometimes mean longer work hours. However, don’t sacrifice your work-life balance — doing so will wear you out and your employees will feel pressured to follow in your footsteps.
“I set meetings for 20 minutes, come with a clear agenda, and end meetings on time. This shows respect for my team and their time.”
Even if you have to catch up on email after-hours, schedule them to go out during work hours. You may feel like being a manager means being in work-mode constantly, but knowing when to step away from the computer will do a world of good for your team’s productivity and morale.
“I think the best way is to lead by example,” said De Ridder. “I set meetings for 20 minutes, come with a clear agenda, and end meetings on time. This shows respect for my team and their time.”
Every leader has to learn the value of a healthy work-life balance. For Lightbody, that revelation took him by surprise. Originally planning to establish an office in Portland, the COVID-19 pandemic and the pivot to remote work forced his team to fully restructure their work schedules. It also meant looking at productivity and time management differently, too. The circumstances weren’t ideal, but Lightbody says that the changes were overwhelmingly positive.
“We built processes and policies that gave us all a lot more flexibility in our work and lives, which has led to happier and more productive people,” he said. “Speaking personally, as much as Zoom school has been painful, I’ve been immensely grateful for the time I’ve gotten with my three young kids. I would have missed out on a lot due to business travel and office time.”