Business 101: Making Time Work for You

Things to do to ensure good time management.

Jim is a general superintendent for a general construction company who has the responsibility of overseeing some 12 superintendents for the company. He's a guy that moved up through the ranks, beginning as a laborer 27 years ago.

Jim understands construction, all phases of it. He has a love/hate relationship with most of his superintendents yet they all realize that Jim knows his stuff even though he's a bit old school in his approach.

For all the things that Jim is, there is one thing that he is not and this "not" is undermining his leadership. Jim is not a time manager. This may not sound all that critical to many in constructio but the fact is Jim has such poor time management skills that he's being pulled in 20 different directions each day and he's not making a positive impact on any one direction.

Time management is one of the oldest adversaries of the construction leader. The fact is managing your time as a construction leader is perhaps the second-most important skill you need to develop, and it is a close second after the need to be an effective communicator.

Let's look at a few time management techniques that could help you gain a bit more control over your time and responsibilities.

Use a calendar system (low tech or high tech)

Jim's No. 1 problem with time management was that he did not use a calendar system. He didn't even have a simple pocket calendar book like the ones his company sent to their customers as Christmas presents. Whether you use a manual calendar system or go more high tech with a Palm Pilot or cell phone and scheduling combo, get your hands on a system and use it.

Whatever system you settle for be sure to know how to use it. I must admit, while I flirted with my own Palm a few years ago, I finally went back to using my Day-Timer calendar book. For me, there is something about physically writing my appointments down on paper that builds greater memory. But if you are high-tech savvy, get acclimated quickly to an electronic scheduler.

Develop your own leadership 'Look Ahead'

Every Friday, before you head home for the weekend, take time and lay out in your head where you need to be for the next week. Look at already scheduled meeting needs and record those on your calendar. While many contractors use a one- or two-week look ahead in the field, it is this same process that you should use when scheduling your next week or two. Even when there are interruptions during the next week, you will still be clearer about what other commitments you have. Plus, with your schedule preplanned you will be faster on your feet to make the needed changes.

Block out non-negotiable periods of time

Most construction leaders I know all admit there are meetings they attend that are "non-negotiable." That is to say, unless they have a family emergency or some site has just had an accident, they are expected at the meeting.

In the same way, a construction leader should look at three or four two-hour periods of time each week to block out just what they want or need to do. For some leaders this may mean blocking out times to complete paperwork or to visit a jobsite that has a leader on it who is struggling. The secret of blocking out the time periods is so that the leader can say "No" when others try to cut in to his schedule. Without a strong commitment to complete some of a leader's responsibilities, he can be torn in many different ways, saying yes to everything and everyone.

Look at your time as money

The fact is, time is money! When you look at your leadership efforts consider the time involved with each activity. Where is your best time spent?

Consider your time in the same manner as a consultant considers his. Look for where your leadership effort can make the biggest impact on a daily basis. Spending your time on small issues that can or should be handled by others needs to be avoided. Scheduling your time, in advance (i.e., Look Ahead) gives you the advantage of identifying where your time is best spent. Leading your workers to better planning, thinking and performing is where you most likely need to be spending your time.

Don't give up when time doesn't go your way

Managing your time will be full of surprises and changes. Don't give up! Very few things in construction remain exactly the same as planned; however, it is very critical you maintain the consistency needed to achieve the desired results.

You strengthen your own leadership when you maintain a scheduling approach even when others are complaining of things never staying the same. Do not look at time management as a win or lose scenario, but rather see it as a regular negotiation to other means to achieving the needed results.

In our introduction to Jim, it was apparent that he had mentally given up. To not practice any time management is simply asking for greater problems than you might already have. Managing time is a never-ending process of starts and conclusions. Time itself is neutral; it knows neither friend nor foe. However, it is available to those leaders who understands the consequences of no time management.

Begin today to view time management as a skill in need of development. If you are like Jim, then commit first to getting a scheduling system that you will begin to plan future activities. If you are prone to getting frustrated early with interruptions to your day, take a step back and consider what you might be doing to encourage unwanted interruptions. Be proactive when it comes to tackling your time issues. See this effort as one that you need to make part of your leadership.

Brad Humphrey is a former construction company owner and president of Pinnacle Development Group, a consulting source to the construction industry. He is a popular speaker at World of Concrete and other industry events and has helped more than 200 companies improve their business operations. For more information about Brad and his company, visit