As the clock strikes half past six, two athletically dressed women stand at the entrance of a bouldering hall in Zurich Altstetten. After a brief small talk, the two enter the hall. One of the women, let's call her Martina, glances at the clock above the entrance once more. " It's hard to believe I made it here on time. I managed to complete all of today's tasks," she reflects with a smile as she approaches her bouldering wall.
In an era characterized by multichannel communication, heightened workforce demands, individual aspirations, executive expectations, and the pervasive influence of AI, our professional lives are rebounding post-pandemic.
This article delves into how to sustain a comprehensive perspective amidst these complexities. How can we optimize our time to realize our objectives? And what is it that allows some individuals to always seem in control of their time, even with overflowing to-do lists?
Interim managers may hold the key to these answers. Many of our colleagues serve on administrative or supervisory boards, teach at universities, mentor startups, or hold dual mandates. This requires rapid switching and the ability to shift focus to new priorities in different environments. How do they manage it?
The Art of Targeted Concentration
When it comes to time management, attention management is a critical first step. It's a common experience: the quality, speed, and enthusiasm with which we complete a task dramatically improve when we can devote our full attention to it, even if only temporarily. Boulderers, for example, talk about being in the "flow state," a condition where everything seems effortless, and they ascend the rock almost automatically. However, they also stress the necessity of achieving complete concentration before taking on the wall's challenges. In that moment, nothing else should matter except them and the wall.
But how can one maintain focus in the age of Teams, Slack, and constant new tasks? When you are always "on"? Surprisingly, the answer begins with boredom. It may sound counterintuitive, but training yourself to endure boredom temporarily is essential. Our brains have become accustomed to constant distractions and are always seeking new stimuli. To achieve peak concentration, we must recalibrate our attention and block out all other distractions. Once achieved, we enter a high-performance work mode that feels effortless.
Targeted concentration is particularly crucial for interim mandates, which often involve complex tasks requiring precise and swift execution. Our interim managers at Swiss Interim Management consistently demonstrate their mastery of this skill. Their workdays are packed with tightly scheduled and frequently changing project tasks, along with numerous coordination meetings. Without the ability to momentarily maximize their concentration, it would be nearly impossible for them to manage their profession successfully.
Fortunately, the "deep work" mode can be learned. Much like a muscle, it strengthens with regular exercise.
"Eat the Frog"
The concept behind "Eat the Frog" is straightforward yet effective: tackle the most challenging or most resisted task first, ideally early in the morning before team communication begins. This is when concentration levels are highest, making it easier to enter "deep work" mode. Successfully completing this task starts the day with a personal "win," as starting is often the most challenging part of complex tasks.
Procrastinating or starting with easier tasks only magnifies our apprehension towards the difficult task. Once we begin, we usually find that the challenge is manageable. Moreover, completing the most challenging task removes it from our to-do list, making all other tasks for the day seem easier.
First Things First
One of an interim manager's core competencies is the ability to filter tasks based on their strategic importance to a project. This enables them to quickly achieve positive results within a relatively short timeframe. A careful analysis of the situation, coupled with a realistic assessment of available resources, helps them classify tasks quickly and accurately.
This principle is practically implemented by categorizing tasks based on urgency and importance. The well-known Eisenhower Matrix, which sorts actions into four distinct categories (important and urgent, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, neither important nor urgent), serves as a reliable guide. This approach allows interim managers to set clear priorities and ensure that strategic goals are not overshadowed by short-term demands.
Clear and precise communication is particularly beneficial for time management. It is crucial for the progress of the entire project that information and tasks are distributed clearly and precisely. This minimizes misunderstandings and makes a smooth and time-efficient workflow significantly more realistic. Additionally, team motivation is likely to increase as colleagues appreciate leaders who can clearly articulate their concerns.
"Choose the job that no one else could do" – this motto from a leadership consultancy could also be modified to: "Assign a to-do to the team member whom you are convinced can do it best." Quickly and sensitively recognizing colleagues' talents and efficiently utilizing them is a skill that distinguishes top-level interim managers. Skillfully applied, it immediately creates a classic "win-win" situation for both the team and the project. It frees up time and space for tasks that only the interim manager can handle, while also demonstrating trust in the team. This not only integrates the interim manager into the team but also signals, "I am willing to delegate and share important tasks with you." Moreover, it communicates, "I am maintaining an overview – I can pool the talents, skills, and experiences of the entire team for our shared success."
Creating Time Clusters
While multitasking is sometimes unavoidable, it is more important to allocate the appropriate level of attention to tasks. Is it possible to refill the printer while a program update is running? Yes. Is it advisable to write emails during an important online meeting? Probably not. Truly relevant tasks, especially those of a conceptual or strategic nature, should be allocated their own time window. Although it may seem old-fashioned, the motto "one thing at a time" not only reduces stress but also improves results Or, conversely, less efficient, as confirmed by a study by David Meyer and Jeffrey Evans from the University of Michigan: The research team found that interrupting tasks and lacking a concentration span of at least ten minutes lead to inefficient work. Mental performance can decrease by up to 40 percent when the brain constantly switches between different activities.
The Two-Minute Rule
David Allen's idea is simple: Tasks that can be completed in less than two minutes should be tackled immediately. Instead of postponing small tasks, handle them right away. After all, the time spent organizing or filing tasks is greater than the time needed to complete them. This not only minimizes the accumulation of annoying mini to-dos, but also creates a sense of immediate productivity.
The Right Equipment
For those striving to perform at the highest level, having the right equipment is crucial. Would expedition participants embark on a journey through Antarctica with inadequate gear? For interim managers, this begins with high-performance hardware, extends to comprehensive software skills – programs like Slack or Teams should be mastered at a professional level – and culminates in at least good, preferably excellent physical condition. At this level, these standards must function perfectly. Otherwise, unnecessary workflow barriers could emerge. This is also a result of the Future Workforce Study conducted by IT service provider Dell, which surveyed employees worldwide about their workdays. According to the study, the "biggest time wasters" for 19 percent of respondents are "slow or faulty devices," and for an additional 18 percent, "slow or faulty software."
As Martina boards the tram home with her friend, it's 9:20 PM. She realizes she didn't think about the time for almost three hours.
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