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Addressing the Challenges of Effective Time Management

Ten tips for lab managers to make better use of their time

John Sadowski

John Sadowsi is the executive director of the Association for Lab Managers (ALMA).

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Time management and controlling the clock are important tools for winning basketball and football teams. Managers, however, can’t stop the clock.  They have the same number of hours in a day as everyone else, but some get more done than others. Why? Do they work longer hours or work harder? Not necessarily.

We have all tried using  to-do lists, checking some things off, and updating them periodically. The problem is that some tasks stay on the list forever and the list keeps growing longer. A John Maxwell Company blog post  said, “Don’t manage your time, manage yourself.”   This advice is valuable and applicable to those who manage a laboratory. 

To help maximize their time, a lab manager should ask themselves, “Am I doing things ineffectively, and am I spending my time on things that truly matter?”   

 Here are some tips:

  • Start with a clear understanding of what is truly important. High-priority items must align with the mission of the organization. Put your to-do list to the test.
  • Don’t focus on things you cannot control. Tight budgets, limited capital, the need to do more with less, and personnel leaving or retiring are inevitable. Devote your energy to things you can control.
  • Many managers spend most of their time on a small percentage of the people. Understand why. Are there training or performance issues? Address them.
  • Learn how to say, "No." Managers cannot handle every request that comes their way. Responses like “I’ll try” or “I’ll get to it” when you really mean "No" create an expectation of action. Remember to give a reason why the answer is no.
  • Manage interruptions. Learn how to deal with the, ”You got a minute? interruptions. If the request is something that can be handled later, acknowledge that it is important and deserves your full attention. Schedule a time to talk about it. Interruptions waste time and break your concentration.
  • Make meetings count. Meetings can take up a lot of your time and your staff's time. If the primary focus of a meeting is to share information, consider a less time-consuming way to convey the information. Meetings should result in action points that are followed up on later. A meeting that results in no action points may have been a waste of time.
  • Control your appetite for information.
    • Do you need to be cc’d on every email? Set boundaries on what you want to want to receive, how much detail, and how often. CC’s, like carbs, should be limited.
    • Do you habitually write and review reports that aren’t really needed or read?
  • Break down large tasks or objectives into smaller ones that you can accomplish. This way, they aren’t so daunting that you avoid them and waste time.
  • Delegate effectively. Are you reluctant to delegate because you don’t want to burden others? Do you feel that no one else could do it as effectively as you can? Do you want to continue doing what got you promoted in the first place? Mark Simmons advised the “80 percent rule of delegation.”  If someone can do it 80 percent as well as you could, delegate it and watch them grow and excel.
  • Lastly, recharge periodically. Take those vacation days and come back energized and ready to take on the challenges that await.

You can’t control time, but you can control what you do with it.

- This article was originally published on the Association of Laboratory Managers website. It has been reposted here with permission.