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How do workers choose what’s most important when their to-do list now goes on for pages?  What administrative services have been cut which create unexpected time sinks? How do they produce quality work when they are distracted with worry? On the other hand, what if your people are suffering from too little to do? 

If recent years were a boon time, and there is a sudden dearth of phone calls, emails and meetings, what should your team do with all their free time? The lack of structure can be very disorienting to workers who have gotten into the habit of being completely reactive.

The result? Harried, anxious workers who feel paralyzed and end up buried in a rut of disorganization and inefficiency.  Managers can combat the time management backlash by concentrating on the Five F’s with their team:


1.      FEAR:  Managers may be at a loss as to how to quell the fear of their employees because they too are unsure what the future holds.  But avoiding the issue only leads to higher levels of stress and anxiety which distracts employees from concentrating on their work.  Managers can reduce this fear by providing clear guidance on what the remaining team can do to stay reasonably safe.  Conduct weekly or bi-weekly meetings, asking people what they fear, and address their concerns honestly. 


2.      FOCUS: Give your team a sense of key priorities for the next 8 weeks; it’s hard to plan much further ahead in this economy, as we all don’t know what’s next.  Help your employees manage conflicting priorities by defining what tasks and activities they should be focusing their time on right now to ensure the company has the highest chance for survival.  (e.g. Servicing top tier clients, closing new accounts, producing innovative products, ensuring compliance with government regulations). Being clear on what employees should say yes, and no to will fuel their confidence to make decisions and stay engaged.


3.      FACE TIME: No matter your industry, relationships with the decision makers that affect your company’s revenue are critical.  Encourage each employee to make a list of the most important clients, customers, and colleagues and start a disciplined campaign of getting in touch.  Suggest that they bypass the cluttered forms of communication (email), and opt for face time whenever possible.  Swing by someone’s desk, make appointments for in-person visits, meals or meetings. Find out how key partners or potential customers are doing in this turbulent time and ask how you can be helpful.  Now more than ever, professionals must be malleable and provide solutions for their clients and customers.  Face time will help you be a better resource.


4.      FILTER: During this time management backlash, accomplishing anything will take significantly longer because every client, vendor and colleague is also overwhelmed.  Managers should encourage employees to expect things to take longer, and filter their daily to-do list accordingly.  Suggest that each employee map out their days to proactively tackle no more than two to three critical to-do’s and two to three critical contacts per day. This leaves time for interruptions and surprises, while providing the satisfaction of completing strategic tasks.  Getting four to six tasks done daily is far more rewarding than starting many things, and finishing none.


5.   FUN: Whether your team is overwhelmed with too much, or too little to do, convey the message that success in this downturn will be dependent on everyone managing their energy and brainpower to work smarter, maintain their perspective, stay innovative. This requires planning their time off in a way that recharges them—even if money is tight.  Encourage the team to put as much time planning their “play” time as their workdays, so that they properly recharge.  Evenings and weekends can be planned around the acronym P.E.P.—Physical health (exercise, healthy meals, doctor checkups), Escapes, (hobbies, pampering and entertainment), and People (friends and family), to ensure the rest and recharge that will boost performance on the job.


Finally, strategize for the FUTURE. This is the perfect opportunity to invest hours to innovative thinking, for those who have extra time on their hands.  If your staff is short on business, get everyone in strategic planning mode—reinventing the company and its products and services, thinking ahead to new markets to pursue, getting all of your ducks in a row for the turnaround… Lead strategy sessions…and seize the opportunity to proactively innovate and you and your staff can come out ahead in the future. 

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