The Secret to Effective Time Management

Time management is one of those areas that all of us struggle with.  I’ve been asked to teach time management seminars and I’ll always caveat my agreement that “you can’t manage time, just your ability to work within it.”

I recently worked with a team that struggled with competing priorities which lead them to be operating in a constant state of crisis.  While listening to them, my mind wandered back to some of the training I had while in the Navy many years ago.  My rating was Dental Technician.  In peacetime we served aboard ships and in clinics taking care of the dental needs of patients.  In wartime however, we were either sent operational on ships or augmented the medical teams with the Marine Corps units.  Our counterparts, the Hospital Corpsmen worked in this capacity full time which meant we had to bone up on casualty care treatment.  It was in this context that I learned about the important concept of triage.

In wartime, casualty sorting is key.  Basically, there are four categories of wounded, each of which demands a different level of priority.  Therefore, casualties are grouped into one of the four:

Expectant.  This means they are dead or beyond help.  No treatment is given.

Walking Wounded.  These patients are wounded but are not in a life-threatening state.  They can be used to assist in the battle aid station or sent back to the rear (hence the term “walking wounded.”)

Delayed.  These patients are in bad shape but not so critical that they need priority.  Most of time if they have IV fluids and some sort of monitoring, they can wait until treatment resources are available.

Immediate.  This is the worst condition.  These patients need treatment somewhere in the range of two minutes to two hours or they will die.  This is the highest priority.

This system is demonstrated on the following model:

Time Triage Model









So what do that have to do with us and our ability to manage our ability to work within it?  It’s all about triage.  One key element must be identified first though – the Most Crucial Task (MCT).  The MCT is the highest value activity that must get done.  If we do it, we’ll accomplish much and add value.  If not, we’ll get set further behind.  It’s different for everyone, but let’s use the example of a financial advisor.

The MCT for a financial advisor is to call prospects.  The business grows only as new clients come in.  This is absolutely job #1.  Nothing else matters as much as this.

But of course in any day, other tasks seem to get in the way.  When they do, and they potential take away from the MCT, we use the triage method.

Here are some examples of tasks and how they should be triaged:


Client has a death in the family and needs to activate life insurance, etc.  This requires immediate action.


Client needs to sign some really important paperwork to start insurance, investments, or their financial plan.  This is important, but not necessarily critical.  It should be scheduled soon though. (“scheduled” is the operative word here).

Walking Wounded:

Non-urgent calls and emails to return.  A walk-in client that wants to talk to someone about debt consolidation. These should be scheduled for later or delegated.


Rearrange the files, work on a spreadsheet, or other non-vital administrative tasks (which should be delegated to the admin assistant).

If the MCT is slated for a two-hour block of time, the rest of the day then can be used for scheduled appointments (some Delayed or possibly Walking Wounded tasks).

Sounds easy doesn’t it?

It’s not.  Often the MCT is one that’s not fun or in some cases, frightening or intimidating.  When this happens, it’s easy to let the Walking Wounded or Expectant tasks filter in because we feel like if we’re busy, we’re actually accomplishing something.  But don’t confuse activity with accomplishment.  The MCT is what needs to get done FIRST and FOREMOST!

All of us get the same 24 hours per day.  Those who make the most of them take ownership of them and don’t allow themselves to be managed by the tasks.  That’s the secret, and it’s no longer a secret.  Make your calendar your slave.  Don’t let it do the same to you.

Don’t Make Your Solution More Complicated Than the Problem

Complicated or simple.I recently spoke to a group of learning and development professionals on the topic of performance management.  I always start the talk off with my Top 10 list of the Biggest Mistakes Made by Companies in Performance Management Programs.  I start with #10 (a la David Letterman) and then get down to #1.  With this group I let the suspense build by making the #1 mistake a multiple choice quiz question.  Can you figure out the biggest mistake?

  1. Confusing the ROI of training with the value-add of performance management.
  2. Juxtaposing the syntax of Kirkpatrick’s Model with the Reuterbaga Model of Performance Excellence® Model for peak performance enhancement.
  3. Combining mindfulness with strategic learning and thinking.
  4. Looping change management complexities with the principles of learning management and knowledge transfer.
  5. I don’t know.

The answer is actually “I don’t know” (which leads to the real #1 problem which is making performance management a once-a-year event).  In fact, the other four choices are just a bunch of training mumbo jumbo I threw together.  Everyone fell for the bait though and thought since it was the BIGGEST mistake, you would need the BIGGEST and MOST COMPLICATED solution.

In my experience, sometimes a complicated solution makes a complicated problem even bigger.  How can we tackle a complex problem more effectively and efficiently?  Try the following steps:

  1. Clearly define the problem.  A problem is simply a condition where current reality doesn’t meet our expectation.
  2. Narrow the problem down to its root issue.  Think actual condition, not symptoms.
  3. Identify if it’s a people problem or a process problem.  Don’t get these two mixed up.  If you blame a problem on people but they can’t be successful because of a broken process, fix the process.
  4. For people problems, use my 3-Legged Stool of Great Performance® model to figure out if it’s a Skill (needs training), Will (needs motivation, or Focus (needs guiding or coaching).
  5. For process problems, start by mapping out the process the way it currently exists using a flowchart.  Be honest here.  Show it exactly like it is.  Then draw out the ideal.  Where the discrepencies are, begin your intervention…
  6. …Which should always be done in small steps that should be tested.  Don’t tweak everything at once.  Small step, test, next step, test etc.

Don’t be afraid to admit the problem is simple and needs a simple fix.  Big problems are simply a whole bunch of little problems joined together in a tangled mess, much like that big ball of Christmas lights you have to untangle every November.

Problem-solvers are respected, compensated well, and sought after.  Why not work this week to improve your problem-solving skills.  Think simple, not simplistic and you’ll be on your way to solving those big, complicated problems.

How Do You Feel About Puppy Breath?



I’m an animal lover.  Dogs and cats.  As a kid growing up I had both and now as an adult, not much has changed.  They are especially fun when they’re small, full of energy and very animated.  And with puppies, there’s that wonderful smell of puppy breath.

Now a lot of folks love puppy breath but plenty of others don’t like it.  When we added to our dog family this year with our goldendoodles Rusty and six months later Elvis, it brought all of that warm feeling back.

But then, one morning driving on some back roads, I saw a dead skunk on the road.  Then it hit me:  puppy breath smells exactly like a skunk.  It’s no wonder some folks don’t like puppy breath.  The associations are really strong.  It didn’t matter to me though.  I still associated it with young Rusty and Elvis.

Associations are common and important to identify.  All of us are impacted by people, places, and events.  Our senses keep a permanent reminder and it brings it back, sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a negative way.  I hear certain songs and they bring back good and bad memories.  I smell a particular type of floor cleaner and it brings me back to the bad old days of Dental Technician “A” school when I was in the Navy.  I’ll hear smooth jazz songs and they remind me of a particularly boring job I had while living in the Washington DC area (I listened to a jazz station on my way to work…in awful traffic!)

The key though is to distance ourselves from the negative triggers and associations and compartmentalize them.  If we don’t, we risk never moving past them.  To help you process this, I recommend the following steps:

  1. Identify the trigger.  Is it a song, smell, or sound?
  2. Identify the feeling it elicits.  Anger?  Frustration?  Sadness?
  3. Now look at the trigger from a different perspective.  Reframe it with your CURRENT state rather than the PAST state that cemented the mindset.
  4. Make a commitment to move forward!

I don’t expect you to love puppy breath but just for a moment, think about how a playful puppy can put a smile on the sourest face.  Focus on that and not on a dead skunk and you’ll maybe develop a new appreciation for it.  If you aren’t feeling that, then do the personal inventory and follow those four steps.  I’m working on it and I hope you will too!

5 Ways to Implement a Change Without Screwing Everything Up in the Process

change aheadOne of the most common calls we get at our company sounds something like this:

We are looking for some training on how to deal with change. Right now our company is undergoing some massive changes and we can’t seem to get the employees onboard with them. Do you provide any workshops that will teach our people to embrace this change?

Now since training only fixes issues with skills, the client assumes it’s a skill problem. It’s not though. Dealing with change as a skill is a reactive approach that can’t be taught once the emotions of the change have set in. Trust me on this. I have done WAY too many of these workshops when I worked with a large training vendor years ago. The best change adaptation tools won’t help if everyone’s attitude sucks. Most of these sessions turned into “bitch sessions” and attendees left worse off for the experience. The key to having a positive reaction to change is to implement it the right way in the first place.

Why is this so?

Any time you introduce a change to your organization, you shift the status quo. It doesn’t matter if the change is an improvement. Rocking the boat freaks people out.

Knowing this will happen regardless (and it’s doesn’t matter if the change is driven from the top either) means you’ll have to spend a huge amount of time planning and anticipating all reactions before you settle on your change initiative.

Based on my experiences with companies that have done it the right and wrong ways, I’d like to offer up five strategies to help your next change effort go over a whole lot better.

Here we go!

1. Communicate Well

In any change effort, communication is key. By being open and up front with people, you’ll be able to fill in gaps of knowledge with real, legitimate information. Here are some suggestions:

Good Marketing

Be sure any communication puts information in a positive light. Be very clear about the upcoming changes. Don’t hold back on any small details. Acknowledge the pain, but work to reframe it in a favorable light. (“doing these burpees is going to hurt like hell but imagine how good you’ll look in that Speedo this summer!”)

Allow People an Opportunity to Vent (productively)

We often expect people to handle difficult news professionally, but human nature dictates otherwise. Allow people an opportunity to vent their questions and frustrations.  This should be a facilitated event, with professionals keeping the discussion on track. “Bitch sessions” don’t work and often exacerbate the problem. Use good active listening skills and help manage yours, and the emotions of the people around you.

Discuss Rumors

The Grapevine is a tricky issue. 75% of what’s carried on it is usually true, which makes it credible enough to be believed as fact. When you hear rumors, be sure to address them with facts whenever possible. Ignoring rumors gives them credibility.

Be Sensitive

Empathy (as opposed to sympathy) is a helpful behavior for managers and supervisors. Don’t blow off your employees’ fears. Look at the situation through their eyes. Empathy means you listen intently and offer suggestions and help.

Be Optimistic

Optimism is an attitude. We have to choose our attitudes. You can’t expect employees to handle change well if you’re giving off negative vibes. Fix your own attitude before you try to fix those of your employees.

Don’t Ignore Your Employees’ Fears and Questions

Again, be willing to dialog with employees. Ask probing questions. Get their feedback. Establish an environment where they feel comfortable coming to you with their uncertainties.

2. Use Good Policies and Procedures

In any large change effort, you’ll need to lock in some really good policies and procedures to leave your supervisors and employees equipped for success.

Clearly Communicate the Program

This builds on Point #1. Let people know as much information as you have to give them. Don’t allow the Grapevine to do your job for you. Refer them to websites and information sessions as much as you can.

Set Up a Support System

If you’re implementing a new program or system, have the program representative take an active role in giving out communication. Set up a portal on your website to link employees to information,  training, and send out regular email containing program updates. Equip your managers and supervisors. They have to carry the torch for this program.

Encourage Managers to Have Open Conversations

MACK Worldwide’s Interactive Supervisory Skills courses teach the techniques to have these productive conversations using the principles of active listening and negotiation. Contact us if you are interested in providing this course for your managers and supervisors.

3. Effective Performance Management

Performance management is a critical element of a change effort.  Employees are required to show value-added in meeting the company’s goals and mission. Performance management is a constant process that requires a hands-on approach.

Set Clear Expectations

You can’t expect a marksman to hit a target he can’t see. The same applies to employee performance. Your job is to set clear goals and objectives for your employees at the beginning of the cycle and continue to check with them throughout the year. Don’t be vague – your employees need clear communication on your expectations for them.

Link People to the Mission

Do your employees know what your agency or company exists for? If not, educate them! Show them what you’re all about and how their job ties directly into the company’s success. All employees should be evaluated based on their contribution to the mission. Be sure they know what the contribution looks like!

Clearly Communicate Throughout the Year

Traditional performance management gives the goal at the beginning of the cycle and then rewards/punishes a year later. There’s no way to do a course correction in performance if the employee doesn’t know they’ve gone off course. Set regular intervals to check in with your employees and talk about their performance.

Dialog in Person

Don’t give important feedback (good or bad) through email. Let people know up front, in real time. Recognizing good performance verbally encourages more good performance. Addressing poor performance verbally (and professionally) when it happens is much better than waiting until the employee forgets about it.

4. Good and Effective Training

Training is often seen as a panacea for changes, but good training helps facilitate a process through difficult stages. Here are two approaches we recommend change efforts:


These courses should come first. They equip managers and supervisors to have productive conversations with employees and give them initial help in addressing performance issues.


These courses include anything that builds the skills needed in the new change. Be sure to equip employees before expecting them to successfully implement your change.

5. Management Skill Building

Well-prepared and equipped managers and supervisors will ensure your efforts will succeed. Part of this is training and the other part is attitudinal. Here are some suggestions:

Measure Success as What You Do Through and For Your People

This is the leadership component to management. Management in a large part refers to processes and functions but the key element is developing people. Do what you can to build and grow the most important resource you have, your people.

Keep Learning!

You’ll never learn all there is to know when it comes to dealing with people. People skills are hard to come by and even harder to master. Commit to studying one hour per day on managing and leading people. You spend this much time on technical skills, why not devote it to your people skills?


Managing change is difficult. It’s more difficult when it deals with people and in the way people are paid and evaluated. Keep these five principles as you implement these and other changes in your organization.

If you’d like us to sit down with you and help you think through your upcoming change initiative, just give us a call at (931) 221-2988 and let’s set up some time to chat!

The Old Lady in the Freezer

panic buttonBack between 2005 and 2009 I taught quite a few military-to-civilian transition classes up at Fort Meade in Maryland.  Since the traffic was horrendous, I’d leave my house really early and arrive on base at 6:30 AM.  Class didn’t start until 8 so I had some time to kill.  Most mornings I would drive to the Class 6 Shoppette (a gas station that sold groceries and alcohol) to get my Red Bull and a 5-Hour Energy shot.

One morning I was in the Shoppette and heard a woman’s muffled screams coming from the back of the store.  I went back there and saw an old lady in the beer cooler.  She was pounding on the door trying to get out.  I grabbed the handle and opened the door.  She hugged me and said I saved her life.

Then she asked me, “How did you manage to get in here?”

I told her I just pulled the handle.  She told me that she was desperately pulling the handle from the inside.  I guess she didn’t realize she had to push it.  The harder she pulled, the more stuck she became.  Then she panicked and when she did, she thought she was trapped.

I never forgot about that old lady in the freezer.  Some of us are a lot like her.  When trouble comes, we panic and when we do, we do some dumb things.

Today I got an unsolicited email from a gentleman wanting work as a proposal manager:

Good afternoon,
I am available immediately, and have a lot to contribute to your organization.
I have extensive experience in government proposal development.
Recently came off a four month effort, rested a bit, and I’m available immediately.
Also, recently responded to 8(a)Stars, Sources Sought, and IDIQ submissions.
I’m looking for full time or contract work – rates TBD.
My resume is attached for your consideration and phone review.
The pleasure of a reply is appreciated.  Call or write.
Thank you.

He attached his resume to this email.

Now of course he has no idea about what I do so how would he know he has anything to contribute to my organization?  When I read it, I thought of the old lady in the freezer.  Desperation makes you do dumb things, like shotgun a resume to as many email addresses as you can find.

And yet we’ve all been in the same predicament, haven’t we?  Stressed, facing a deadline, needing resources and having lots at stake.  How can we prevent ourselves from looking desperate and also solve our problem?  Here are some suggestions.

  1. Take a deep breath.  Yeah I know this is somewhat of a cliché, but taking a deep breath causes oxygen to flow to our brain.  Your solutions will start in your brain so don’t starve it!  Take a deep breath (or several) and focus on the solution.
  2. Take charge of your self talk.  Start speaking rational language rather than emotional language to yourself.  When you do that, move on to steps 3 and 4.
  3. What is worst case scenario?  It may seem like a stress-increaser but if you at least own what could happen, you know where your solutions need to focus.
  4. What is the most likely scenario?  This is where your thinking brain has to override the emotional one.  Emotions will push you towards worst case scenario but the rational side of you should look at the most likely scenario.  Often this is far better than you can imagine, but you won’t know that if you’re pulling the handle in the freezer rather than pushing it.
  5. Find yourself a support team.  Facing an ominous scenario alone is like finding yourself in a bar fight against four other people.  You need backup!  At least find someone you can call to bounce ideas off.  They might be able to give you a suggestion or point you to a resource.
  6. Take one positive first step towards solution.  Don’t worry about the huge problem.  Focus on just one small step.  It will give you confidence and move you closer to the bigger problem. “One step, one punch, one round at a time.” (Rocky Balboa to Adonis Creed).
  7. Finally, remember Satchel Page’s famous words “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”  Or pulling on the handle.  Or shotgunning your resume to everyone with a pulse and an email address.

None of us are going to be exempt from a crisis but how we handling it well gives us confidence for the next one and gains us a huge amount of respect from the people around us.  Take a deep breath and think about that this week…