How do you help an employee with time management?

The warning signs are clear: tasks that are finished at the last minute, late, or even lost. Meeting sluggishness. No responses to emails or responses at odd hours, like 2 a.m. And there’s a lot more explanation than action when describing why things aren’t done.

You have a direct report who is having trouble managing their time. It is challenging to know how to handle the situation as a manager. You rely on them to do tasks, and your natural reaction may be to express your displeasure with their lack of follow-through or even contemplate writing them up. You probably have some talented people on your team who you know could be great contributors if they could find out how to manage their time. If you’re a manager who isn’t sure how to help, these are some practical things you can take right now.

Recognize and accept your feelings.

If you’ve been working with this person for a long time, you’ve probably felt a wide variety of emotions, from mild irritation to outright rage. The severity of the issues, the costs involved, your objectives, and your stress levels will all influence how you feel.

Recognize your own emotions before providing comments to your employee. In a free-flowing manner, write down everything you’re thinking or feeling. Do not send your unfiltered thoughts to your coworker (by email or otherwise). This practice is designed to help you become more aware.

Process your emotions on your own or with a trustworthy person, and be honest with yourself about why you’re unhappy. Is it a case of being out of control? Fear? Embarrassment? Stress?

This process allows you to remove pent-up feelings before giving feedback, ensuring that you aren’t too harsh with your employee. 

Examine your role.

Your direct report may have terrible time management skills. However, you should analyze whether you have poor time management abilities and, if so, how you’re contributing to the problem.

You may be contributing to the problem if you introduce tasks at the last minute, don’t give clear instructions, refuse to define priorities, don’t have a follow-up procedure, or forget to provide feedback, your actions may be contributing to the problem. You’re responsible for your employees’ troubles if you expect them to be available 24/7 via email, chat, or other channels, preventing them from setting limits to finish focused work.

You can go into the feedback discussion knowing where you could have done better by identifying these concerns ahead of time.

Determine the source of the tension.

I had an unpleasant incident with a contractor earlier this year. I needed them to finish a project, and they were very behind schedule. When I was thinking about it one day, I recognized that there were a few specific pieces that mattered the most. My stress level would drop substantially if those were complete, while the remaining tasks may take longer.

I felt less worried after I identified my critical needs. I could explain what I needed back most urgently, even if the entire job wasn’t completed.

Take some time to consider what’s giving you problems with your employee’s poor time management: Do you lack the materials you’ll need for crucial updates or presentations? Do they ask you to evaluate items at the last minute, causing you stress? Is it costing you time or money as a result of their actions? Do you get worried when there isn’t good status communication? When you understand this, it will be easier to target your feedback. 

Make sure you’re clear about what you’re looking for.

Once you’ve figured out what’s upsetting you, calmly convey what you require, when you require it, and why you require it. You can also inquire about what they require from you for their success. 

Although you may be inclined to vent your frustrations on your employee about the stress they’ve caused you, a harsh approach is usually counterproductive. Your fury will overwhelm them, causing them to shut off, get defensive, and stonewall. Take a few calm breaths and remember that they most likely have good intentions but are struggling in this area.

Help from the beginning 

In many cases, simply providing input about what you need will help improve the situation. But, in other cases, you’ll need to contribute more to help things move forward.

Consider taking the following steps with your direct report to get them started:

  • Work with them to prioritize the tasks; brainstorm ideas for a new direction; and go over the smaller details.
  • Create a series of intermediate goals.
  • Request regular reports on what they planned to achieve and what they’ve completed. 
  • Do some of the work with them in a meeting. 
  • Team them up with colleagues.

It can make a huge difference to structure the circumstance such that they can gain and maintain momentum.

Notice small steps in the right direction

When you notice progress, express gratitude for each step ahead. You could be concerned that offering good comments too soon after they haven’t completed all of their tasks will encourage them to slack off. But the opposite is true. Positive feedback boosts their self-esteem, positivism, and motivation, propelling them toward better and better results.

Your direct report is probably aware of their poor time management and may be more concerned than you are. It’s counterproductive to berate them. Heightened feelings about their work usually lead to greater delays. Keep in mind that you’re both on the same team. Rather than pulling them down, build them up along the way.

Seek help from others.

You can become too close to a situation at times. You will never be able to deliver objective, calm feedback, no matter how hard you try. Alternatively, your employee may be unable to tell you the truth about what’s going on, such as squandering hours each day scrolling on their phone or a domestic crisis that’s distracting them.

In these cases, connect your employee with outside resources such as time management training, an internal coach, or an external coach who can assist them develop these abilities. Someone who has helped others to overcome these obstacles and is detached from the situation is often more effective than someone who has a history of frustration.

You can’t force somebody to improve their time management as a manager. But the way you communicate can have a powerful impact on your employee’s ability to overcome obstacles and boost productivity.

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