Are great leaders born or can you learn how to be a fantastic research lead? If you are in a leadership position, you are probably considered brilliant in your research area. However, you may not have been given any formal training to lead your team/department; you have very likely learned on the job. One of the pressures you will experience is how to manage your time well.
How best to manage your time, is clearly a challenge not only for leaders but for everyone in the team. Effective leadership is enhanced by managing your time well. Leaders with strong time management skills set a strong model for their team members, which in turn creates a more productive environment.
Here are five key strategies to help you prioritise and manage your time well, and to lead your team productively.
1. Communicate clear mission and objectives
Your mission is where you want to take your team. It is important that you communicate it to your team, and set specific and realistic short and long-term objectives to achieve the mission. This will help everyone to set priorities and decide what is nice to do and what you absolutely must do, as well as what will have to wait. You may find that the time needed to achieve individual objectives has been under-estimated. This may mean you should re-visit the objectives and, in doing so, it is important that everyone involved is aware of any changes.
2. Stick to the plan
With your objectives set and communicated don’t be tempted to head off course. Sticking to the plan can be facilitated best by daily or weekly updates with your team in which you all agree the three most important priorities for the day/week. Having a weekly schedule that you review at the beginning (or end if you are a night owl) will help keep the focus of what you want achieve within a given time frame. Be aware that you will need a degree of flexibility within your plan, and if it becomes clear that something new needs to be included in your objectives ensure that you re-visit your plan and ultimately your mission.
3. Keep the channels of communication open
As you will have read in the two previous points the key is communication with your team. This may be Skype calls, face-to-face meetings or a team email. In our post ‘Busting 5 myths of university-industry collaborations’ it was noted that good project management is not dependent on geographic location but on how well a team communicates.
4. Set specific times for work related admin and don’t be a slave to email
Answering emails, having one-to-one meetings, authorising staff holiday and making expenses claims are all activities that can scheduled into your day. Having specific time slots for answering emails will help to stop constant interruptions while doing a piece of work, and those emails that need more than a quick response should be allocated to your daily/weekly task lists.
When you are the leader people are more demanding of your time, so you may want to have an allocated time slot for anyone to raise urgent issues without a prior meeting booked. In our post ‘The ‘Five B’s time management tactics for researchers’ Professor Nick Feamster, Princeton University says to add buffer time into your meeting schedule. The same principle can be applied when deciding how long a piece of work might take. Plan the time you think it will take to complete a task and add another 50% to it. This example from Helen Kara says that if you think a paper may take you 6 weeks to write you should commit to delivering it in 9 weeks.
5. Learn to say “No”
With your mission and objectives in mind you will have clear work goals. You should also set your personal objectives and goals. However, no amount of planning can clearly foresee the unexpected requests for reviews, offers of speaking slots, invitations to committees, and other miscellaneous requests. It can be hard to refuse to do something, especially if you are worried that you may not be asked again if you refuse this time. By having a weekly schedule for all of your tasks you can see more clearly what is actually possible to fit in to your week and month. So, for example you may decide that you can only do one review per month rather than trying to fit in three reviews in a month. It is also easy to neglect your physical well-being due to work pressures, but by having your overall professional and personal goals in mind will help you to prioritise these unplanned requests. Without an overall plan your health and well-being may end up being jeopardised to the point of having to take time off work because of stress related illness.
Set and stick to professional and personal goals. Keep the channels of communication open with your team. Doing this will help you learn to say “No” which in turn helps you to be more focused on developing your leadership skills and your own well-being.