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Why Time Management in Leadership Never Works and What to Do Instead
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Workforce Management

Why Time Management in Leadership Never Works: Here’s What to Do Instead

Why is time management for leaders so hard?

Because the chances are, you became a leader by saying yes. Employees who readily accept additional tasks and responsibilities tend to catch the attention of their superiors. And nothing lifts you up the corporate ladder faster than a “go-getter” reputation. What’s wrong with that? After all, don’t we want capable people in leadership positions? Yes, of course we do. But the habit of saying yes to any and every request has a downside. As you climb the ranks, you’ll find your to-do list growing, and growing, and growing. Your willingness to accept more work and responsibility–that prized trait that got you noticed in the first place—may eventually become a problem.

And it may not just be a problem for you. Chances are that leaders who struggle with prioritization inadvertently create a ripple effect throughout their team. When the person in charge is constantly juggling tasks without a clear sense of priorities, it’s only natural that their team members follow suit. And what’s the harm in that? After all, a team that’s always busy must be a team that’s making progress, right? Well, not quite. This kind of reactive working style can quickly turn into a whirlwind of chaos and disorganization.

It’s not just the leader who suffers; the entire organization might feel the effects of a team that’s always saying yes. When everyone is rushing from one task to another, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. Questions like “Why are we doing this?” or “Is this really a priority for the company?” can easily fall by the wayside. In the end, the very trait that got everyone noticed—their willingness to take on more responsibilities—might be the very thing preventing them from making a truly meaningful impact.

Time management principles don’t work. Instead, try priorities management.

Ok, that might be a bit of an overstatement. Some time management hacks can be helpful (we’ve included a few in the list below.) But in general, the “get more out of every minute of the day” approach to time management is not going to be as effective as an approach to your day that focuses on priorities and meaning over attaining greater levels of efficiency. Here’s why.

  • Priority management is about organizing your day around what’s most important and what tasks will drive the most value. This approach encourages you to assess the impact of your tasks, ensuring that the most valuable and impactful tasks are completed first. It’s about focusing on the quality of the outcome, not the quantity of tasks performed.
  • What happens when interest rates increase, demand for your company’s product plummets, or a competitor starts gaining ground? Priorities change. And an approach to work that’s laser focused on delivering value against the most important priorities of the day is far more suited to the volatility of the business world. Being able to adapt and reassess is crucial. And it’s a skill that you can lose when you’re in the mode of saying yes to everything and anything.
  • Finally, priority management fosters a more sustainable work-life balance. By focusing on the most important tasks, individuals can better allocate their time and energy, reducing the risk of burnout and promoting overall well-being.

How to make priority management work for you.

So, that’s the pitch. Our argument for priority management comes down to this: the most effective leaders organize their own personal efforts and the broader efforts of their team around the most important objectives. They understand that being busy is not the same as being valuable. Now, let’s talk about some practical ways to make this approach work for you and your team.

Before you say yes, pause. 

What happens when your boss or a peer asks you if you have time to do something? Think about it: requests like these often come across as a friendly or even flattering call for help, as in “I’d love your input on this document, any chance you could get me feedback by tomorrow, that would be a huge help.” It is only natural to want to say yes. Every instinct we have tells us: say yes! After all, saying yes has worked for you all these years—it’s why you’re a leader today.

But take a moment to reframe the ask. Is accepting this new task really in your best interest? Is it in the best interest of the company? Is the new task an urgent priority, one that’s tied to a compelling business objective, or is it just a random favor? If it’s the latter, recognize this situation for what it is: a detour, a distraction, a time suck. Invite your boss or peer into your decision making. Especially if it’s your boss, ask them how you should prioritize this new request against other initiatives. To make this conversation more effective, maintain a visible list of your ongoing projects and their respective priorities. This way, when discussing new tasks, you can have a clear overview of your workload and make more informed decisions together with your colleagues.

Implement the OKR (Objectives and Key Results) framework.

OKRs are a goal-setting methodology that focuses on setting specific, ambitious objectives, along with measurable key results that indicate progress towards those objectives. This approach fosters a culture of focus, transparency, and accountability in prioritizing tasks and ensures that everyone’s efforts are aligned with the organization’s overall vision.

For example, if one of your organization’s objectives is to increase market share by 15% in the next quarter, you can set key results such as acquiring a specific number of new clients or launching a targeted marketing campaign. When new tasks come your way, evaluate how they align with your established OKRs. If a task doesn’t contribute to achieving your key results, it might be best to delay, delegate, or reconsider it. By centering your priorities around the organization’s vision and using the OKR framework, you can more confidently manage your time.

“Regularly reviewing and updating OKRs allows leaders to identify areas for improvement and adjust their time management strategies accordingly,” says Paycor’s Senior Product Marketing Manager Cam Steinmetz. “These updates are easily communicated with our continuous talent development strategy that encourages leaders to meet frequently with their teams. In fact, our team insights dashboard can track those discussions, ensuring everyone is on the same page.”  

Add ABCDEs to your OKRs.

Ok, bear with us, we’ve got another acronym. The ABCDE method is a prioritization technique that involves categorizing tasks based on their urgency and importance. Tasks are assigned a letter from A to E, with A being the most critical and E the least. By applying the ABCDE method, you can make more informed decisions about which tasks to tackle first and which to delegate or delay. This method works perfectly with OKRs, as it helps you align your day-to-day tasks with your team’s and organization’s strategic objectives.

For example, suppose one of your team’s OKRs is to successfully launch a new software product within the next quarter. Here’s how you’d apply the ABCDE method to that OKR:

  • A (most critical) – Fixing major software bugs that could affect user experience and jeopardize the product’s success.
  • B (high priority) – Developing and executing a targeted marketing campaign to create buzz around the product.
  • C (moderate priority) – Updating documentation and user guides to reflect new features and functionalities.
  • D (lower priority) – Organizing a product launch event to celebrate the release and showcase the product to stakeholders.
  • E (least critical) – Revamping the team’s workspace to reflect the product’s branding and create a sense of unity.

By categorizing tasks like this, your team stays focused on the most important and urgent tasks first (A and B), while scheduling less critical tasks (D and E) for later or even delegating them to others.

Match your team members’ strengths to your company’s OKRs.

If you take only one thing from this article, take this: the most powerful thing you can do as a leader is discover what each of your team members’ strengths and passions are, and then align those qualities to the OKRs of your organization. By taking a methodical approach to employee development, you can gain a deeper understanding of who excels in which areas and then align their natural skill sets to the OKRs of your organization. It’s a win/win/win. Employees win because they have a clear path to succeed. Your company wins because everyone’s working on the right priorities with a shared sense of purpose. And you win because you’re delegating the right tasks to the right people.

The best way to achieve this is to have regular one-on-one meetings with your direct reports. “That’s where the magic happens with our Talent Development solution,” says Paycor’s Steinmetz. “With customizable, preloaded templates, the 1:1 tool supports a continuing conversation between managers and their direct reports. Dedicating the time to discover your team members’ unique abilities will enable you to delegate tasks that not only suit their strengths but also contribute directly to your organization’s strategic goals.”

This targeted delegation approach encourages a sense of ownership and motivation among team members, as they are entrusted with tasks that are both challenging and in line with their expertise. There’s no better way to drive engagement and motivation.

How Paycor Helps

Keep track of objectives and key results (OKRs) and goals in a transparent platform that shows how your individual, team, and organizational objectives are connected. Align your workforce to your company’s top priorities and let employees see where they’re making the biggest impact, eliminating hours spent on unproductive work.

Paycor’s 1-on-1 tool streamlines a continuing conversation between managers and direct reports. With customizable and preloaded templates, you can build coaching sessions with your employees to get the most out of your time together. This keeps everyone focused on and accountable to their top priorities, helps remove roadblocks, and provides opportunities to celebrate success.

Leaders can use quick-link dashboards to analyze results with data that includes department and manager filters. Facilitate a culture of engagement, self-improvement, and team development — all while keeping a record of development-based conversations.