Four Ways to Be More Proactive and Less Reactive in Your Time Management

Posted 03.30.2021

Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to coach the members of a couple of different corporate senior leadership teams. The coaching approach I use for leadership teams is a lot like the one I use for individual leaders. We start with self-assessment and colleague feedback for each team member to identify strengths that can be leveraged in new ways along with the one or two development opportunities that would make the biggest difference if the leader moved the needle on them in a positive way.

The big difference in the team approach comes when I conduct a conversation in which every member of the team offers every other member of the team their one or two best pieces of advice for how to move the needle. That’s always interesting and enlightening for everyone involved including me and that’s been even more true this past year. We’ve all read the stories on how working from home has blurred the lines between time dedicated to work and time dedicated to the rest of life. And, we’re reading those stories because most everyone in corporate life has been experiencing that dynamic firsthand. I think that’s likely the reason why so many of the executives in my team engagements are choosing to work on behaviors related to pulling the lens back and being more strategic in their approach to work and leadership instead of getting sucked into the swirl of the day-to-day churn.

And, I’m happy to report that many of them are making progress and experiencing the benefits of doing things differently. They’ve been following through on advice they’ve been given by colleagues that can be summed up as being more proactive and less reactive in their approach to time management. As a result, they report feeling more energized and clear in their thinking, more present for their colleagues, family and friends and better prepared for meetings and conversations that require them to be at the top of their game.

Here’s what they’ve been doing to reap the benefits of managing their time more proactively (and, in the interest of you doing the same, I’ll keep this brief!):

Start the Day with Exercise: A chief technologist I’ve been working with recognized that he’s more efficient and effective in his meetings throughout the day when he starts his mornings with a vigorous walk outside. So, rain or shine, warm or cold, he’s been out there every morning right after he wakes up to clock a few miles. In addition to the physical benefits, he’s priming his mind for the day by thinking through what’s coming up, what he needs to accomplish in each event or conversation and how he needs to show up to make those outcomes more likely. A proactive way to start the day!

Start the Week with Planning Time: A chief operating officer I’m working with has staked out Monday morning as personal planning time for herself. She uses the time for both longer term and short-term thinking. She tells me she starts by reviewing what’s coming up during the week, thinking through her requests, direction and points of view related to what’s coming up and reading anything she needs to read to get ready for the week. With the time remaining, she focuses on the longer run by considering longer term plans, reviewing trends, thinking through shifts and adjustments and reading through thought-sparking articles. Both she and her colleagues report that this proactive start to her week is making a positive difference.

Wrap Up the Week with Lookback Time: A number of my leadership team coaching clients have implemented weekly lookback time on Fridays. They’ve found this is a great way to tie up loose ends and clear the decks on the week that’s ending. It also sets them up for some non-work-related rest and relaxation over the weekend, because they’ve organized themselves to not have a bunch of random “Did I take care of that?” bubbles popping over their head on Saturdays and Sundays. To the contrary, they’re finding that the Friday wrap-up sessions enable them to relax over the weekends to the point where their brains are quietly connecting the dots in the background. That enables them to show up with a lot more clarity and focus when they’re back to work on Monday morning.

Lay Down Some Markers and Let People Know About Them: Successfully implementing these proactive time management strategies or any others you come up with on your own will require you to lay down some markers and to let people know about them. For instance, my technology officer client has told his colleagues that he takes a walk first thing in the morning and not to expect him to be available for meetings at that time even though they may be into their workdays in different time zones. They respect that boundary because, among other reasons, they see the benefits that his walks provide in terms of clarity, effectiveness and engagement to both him and them. It’s the same with the clients who are taking the Monday morning planning time or the Friday lookback time.

Frankly, one of the positive things the pandemic has done is that it’s caused most every professional to recognize the importance of productive and proactive time management boundaries. The difference between the proactive leaders and the reactive ones is that the proactives have figured out what’s going to help them and everyone else they work with and are laying down some markers to create and protect that time.

What about you? What steps have you taken to proactively manage your time? Let’s help each other out by sharing your strategies in the comments if you’re reading this on LinkedIn or, if you’re reading this directly on the Eblin Group blog, email me and I’ll share with others what’s working for you on your behalf.

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