Most managers have experienced this: their team seems to be working hard—they’re super busy—and yet they still fail to hit their targets. What gives?
The problem isn’t that your reps weren’t working hard, but that they weren’t spending enough time working hard on the right things.
Which means something’s off with your team’s task management process.
The good news is, there are practical steps you can take to ensure your whole team is managing their tasks effectively. We’ve broken these steps down into five principles that you can start applying today:
- Lead by example.
- Set clear expectations.
- Conduct a time audit.
- Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.
- Be realistic.
1. Lead by example.
Before you can even begin to manage your team’s tasks, make sure you’re practicing strong task management yourself.
Practicing proper task management as a leader is crucial because those who follow you will model the behavior that they see—so practice what you preach!
Most importantly, having a good task management strategy avoids burnout. Managers today are working longer hours than ever before. A study published in the Harvard Business Review found that, on average, business leaders work 72 hours each week.
And the demands for managers to hit ambitious goals aren’t decreasing.
So, if you hope to achieve any kind of work-life balance, you’ll definitely want to follow these remaining steps to regain control over your (and your team's) time.
2. Set clear expectations.
Ask yourself this: “Does my team know which tasks they should be working on? Do they know why they’re doing certain tasks?”
If the answer is no—or worse, if you’re not sure—this could be a black hole in your task management strategy.
Making assumptions that your team members know what they should be working on at any given time is one of the biggest causes of poor team time management, and not knowing why they’re doing them leads to employees being unclear on which tasks have priority and when they need to be completed.
Many managers fall into the trap of constantly handing their employees new tasks to work on, without ever identifying how important each of those tasks actually are.
Don’t be one of those managers.
If someone on your team doesn’t know the importance of a task, that’s a #CommunicationFail. As your team’s leader, you need to clearly articulate to your team which tasks need to be done, which ones are most important and why. (How is this task contributing to the company’s goals? How are we tracking these tasks?)
Here are some tips for communicating tasks clearly with your team:
- Use direct language and ensure directions are provided in writing as well as verbally.
- If you have a meeting with a team member, send follow-up notes so you both have a reference point for the future.
- Set a schedule and milestones to let your team members understand not only what needs to be delivered, but when as well. This will also hold individuals accountable for hitting those milestones.
3. Conduct a time audit.
Audits aren’t just a finance thing.
According to a survey conducted by Harris Poll, employees only spend about 44% of their time on their primary job duty.
The average employee will assume that they have between seven and eight hours a day to execute their primary tasks, but with such a wide time window, it’s easy to get complacent about the need to manage their time. The same poll also showed that employees actually have less than four hours a day to perform their primary job duties.
By conducting a time audit, you’ll find out how your team’s time is really being used and what you need to do to give your employees as much of that “second half” of their day back as possible—and get those tasks done.
Here’s how to do it:
- Begin by having your team members write down what they intend to spend their day doing.
- As the day progresses, everyone will record the activities that they actually perform during this time.
- At the end of the time audit, you and your team members can compare what everyone intended to spend their time on versus what they actually ended up doing.
This can be an eye-opening experience.
A time audit identifies how well-aligned an employee’s work schedule is with the tasks that they need to complete. Looking at the audit results, employees can see which tasks take longer than they thought. They can also see where they’re losing time to activities that aren’t moving them toward achieving more high-priority tasks.
Here are some things you can do to help you team achieve the tasks they intended to complete (on time):
- Resources: Does your team have the resources they need to execute their tasks? If not, then take steps to implement those resources. For example, take some of the manual tasks off their plate like entering data into spreadsheets or repeatedly sending out emails by investing in new tools like a CRM or email automation software—the ROI will be worth it.
- Prioritization: Is your team spending too much time on non-essential tasks when there are bigger items on the to-do list? If so, make sure to better communicate which tasks have priority and be careful that you’re not handing over too many tasks at once.
- Expectations: In some cases, a few of your team members might simply be wasting too much time to complete their required tasks. Through the time audit, you can communicate the expectations you have for how your team should be allocating their time.
4. Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize.
As a manager, one of your scarcest resources is time.
Interestingly enough, as you’ll probably discover in your time audit, most people way overestimate the amount of time that’s available to them.
As a leader, it’s critical that you recognize just how little time there really is in a workday and prioritize the tasks that can realistically be accomplished.
Then, clearly communicate these priorities to your team.
This way, you’re making sure the most important tasks are always completed first.
The benefits of managing your team’s tasks effectively go beyond simply “getting more done.” By giving your team defined targets, you’re empowering them with a much better understanding of what’s expected of them. This avoids two of the most common causes of employee dissatisfaction: feeling overwhelmed and having no clear sense of progress.
5. Be realistic.
Optimism is a trait that leaders need to have. Unfortunately, when it comes to task management, optimism can lead us to make poor predictions.
We overestimate the amount of time our team will have available to hit organizational targets. Like we mentioned earlier, we actually have a lot less productive time available for the tasks we want to achieve than we realize.
So, take a step back and look at the big picture.
By now, you can be realistic and recognize how little time your team really has. It’s important to be frugal with this time and acknowledge it’s something that shouldn’t be wasted. Be super careful about what tasks you allocate to your team members and understand that every time you delegate additional work without thinking about the bigger picture, it makes it less likely that your team will actually achieve its core goals.
Your team’s task management is about to get real good.
Let’s be real—time management is something that everyone struggles with.
But being able to prioritize tasks and communicate their importance is critical for achieving your organizational goals.
As a leader, knowing how to instill effective time management principles in your team is one of the most important roles you’ll play.