Articles

What Is In The Time Bucket?

October 01, 2023 - By Sean Hagger, Associate, Lean Management & Leadership (Pharmaceuticals & Sustainability Tech)

During a recent client visit the vital subject of how work is prioritised was a hot topic. There was a pervading feeling of being far too busy, which was causing stress.

I took them through the famous analogy of the bucket that’s full of rocks, pebbles, sand and water (the bucket is your available time; the rocks, pebbles, sand and water are your tasks – a few big ones, some more medium-sized ones, and lots of small jobs and continuous demands and interruptions; but the point being that unless you put the big rocks in first, you won’t get them in at all).

  • If we put the rocks in first, is the bucket full? No.
  • If we then put the pebbles in, is it full now? No.
  • Ok, if we put the sand in, is it full now? No, there is still room for the water.
  • But if we put the water in first, is the bucket full? Yes.

This stimulated a useful discussion. The realisation which emerged (as it often does) was that ‘we weren’t quite getting the priorities right’. The water and sand were taking over.

I always ask the question: what are the critical meetings/tasks that are needed every day, week and month that, if missed, will result in the business starting to become chaotic or even starting to fail?

At the task level this is normally well understood; its less well understood when you move up the hierarchy to the leadership teams.

Time spent really delving into this will surface what the rocks and pebbles really are for leaders. At Legitimate Leadership we coach Leaders to spend time on team meetings, 1-2-1s and watching the game – as these are where the leadership work is really done.

An extremely useful exercise is to take those rocks and pebbles and diarise them, creating your leadership drumbeat or rhythm.

Most leaders find this quite liberating. However, from experience, I often caution that this is not a one-off exercise. The world is a noisy place, the sand and the water do not go away, and in actuality the sand and the water are on occasion also critical actions and tasks that need to be attended to.

Prioritisation of work is a constant task. Leaders need to be self-critical as to where they spend their own time. They must also ensure they are providing clarity on what their teams are spending their time on. Leaving them to get on with it is often seen as a desirable leadership trait as “I don’t micro-manage my team”. However, teams need direction. There is no such thing as a confused productive employee. It’s a fundamental task for leaders to constantly provide clarity – and that starts with prioritisation of what we are all working on.

I have frequently found – as I did in this instance – that there is an imbalance in organisations. Some people focus purely on their rocks and pebbles and that is fine to an extent, but … the sand and the water do not go away and if you are not present and visible to the value stream the chances are you are not picking up the sand and the water, which means someone else probably is.

These are the little 5 or 10 minute actions/conversations/problems that arise all the time and you never know when or where they are coming from – they grease the wheels of the organisation.

The sensitive subject of working from home came up in discussion with the client. We all agreed that working from anywhere in certain jobs was fine, as long as you are attending to the sand and water and not ignoring those items for someone else to pick up and get overwhelmed by.

Has your time been organised to pay attention to all the items that need addressing or are you protecting yourself a little too much?

It is a leader’s job to keep a sharp eye and keen ear on the noise and make sure its correctly and appropriately distributed.

Sean Hagger
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