A funny thing happened to me the other day on the way to the office......I pulled up to a stoplight. A few seconds later, another fellow pulled up in the lane next to me in a green Mazda Miata. He was reading a newspaper with one hand, drinking coffee with the other, and either talking to himself or talking on a hands-free cellular phone, all at the same time.It occurred to me that this guy was a) jeopardizing the safety of all the other drivers on the road near him, b) jeopardizing his own safety, c) not paying full attention to whomever he was talking with on the telephone, d) not really understanding what he was reading. My point is that the way this guy was using his time on his way to the office is a metaphor for the way most principals in A/E and environmental firms spend their days. They are trying to do too many things at the same time and, as a result, aren’t doing any of them very well.I’m talking about sporadic business development efforts (many principals only make a call when they need the work); inconsistent recruitment activities (many principals think of who they could hire only when the need is beyond critical); “catch as catch can” training of junior staff (many principals never really spend any quality time with their second tier); late collection calls (why make a call as long as there’s some borrowing capacity left on the line of credit?); not doing performance reviews (there’s never any time!); and so on.It doesn’t have to be this way. If principals want to get control of their lives, reduce their stress, and feel the satisfaction that comes from a job well done, here are my suggestions:Make a to-do list. Nothing revolutionary about it, but it works— the good old to-do list. Having one certainly increases your chances of getting a lot done. Show me someone who’s having a problem getting anything done and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t use a to-do list.Compartmentalize. Work at work and do home things at home. I’m a big believer in compartmentalization of your time. How can you relax and recharge on vacation if you are calling the office five times a day and reviewing faxes all night? How can you do a good job planning a presentation for a $5 million design job if your spouse and kids call ten times a day, you talk with your stockbroker three times a day, and you make rent collection and handyman repair calls for your rental property multiple times throughout the day? I don’t think you can, yet I see principals doing all these things and more.Process your paper only once, and keep a clean desk and personal work space. You can’t make stacks and then go through them multiple times. I deal with what hits my in-box once and only once, and then I’m done with it. This is a huge time-waster for principals. I can’t tell you how many offices I go into where there are huge piles of stuff literally surrounding the principal. In one case, a fellow had a desk that was stacked three feet high with one little blank spot that was exactly 8 1/2” by 11”, just enough to fit in a single piece of paper. It was incredible! My experience is that the messiest people are the least productive. I think they want to look like they’re busy so they work in a perpetual mess.Do certain things at the same time every day/every week. Anyone who has worked as a housewife and mother probably discovered this key to getting a lot done years ago. Monday is wash day, Tuesday is shopping day, etc. This same time management technique works for principals. Monday is QA review time for all jobs where the principal is PIC; Tuesday is the day for business development calls; the to-do list for the coming week is done by noon on Saturday; and so forth.Cut down on meetings. Principals waste far too much time sitting around the table in stupid, pointless meetings. Many of the same issues discussed in meetings could be resolved in a quick one-on-one discussion, a phone call, an e-mail, or by empowering someone to simply make a decision without consulting anyone else. When you ask why there are so many meetings, the response is usually something such as, “We’ve always had a Monday morning staff meeting.” Now that’s a good reason to keep doing something!Deal with non-performing underlings instead of covering for them. The tendency of many principals is to do what it is that their underlings won’t do, or can’t do well. And while this covering may get the job done, at some point, the principal no longer has the time or energy to do their own job any longer— all they do is cover for others. The solution is to demand performance, and if it becomes apparent that “the dog won’t hunt,” stop kidding yourself that things will ever change and go get a new hunting dog!Make decisions. I see a lot of time wasted and stress created by principals who just won’t make a decision and move on. Most of what we do (at least as it relates to how we manage our companies) is not dealing with life and death decisions, yet some principals act as if every decision they make is the most important one. The result is, they have anxiety, waste time, consult too many other people, feel stressed, and so on. What they should do is make decisions and move on.I’ve run out of space. So if you feel like the guy in the Mazda I saw the other day, why not try some of my advice? I’m sure you’d feel better if you did.Originally published June 16, 1997
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