Reflections on Time Management Facilitation

Context:

I had the pleasure of running a series of 3 x 3-hour open sessions for NHS Finance and Procurement employees across the East Midlands. They were run in 3 separate locations, with attendees ranging from Commissioning and Support Services through to front line Hospital, Mental Health and Community Trusts.  Group size was variable, as was seniority and role type. I did not have access/contact details for attendees prior to the event.  The brief was to provide content as well as an interactive element.

This piece has been written in response to a nudge from Kurt Ewald Lindley @CoachDeveloper in a private group on Twitter: Creativity FlashMob (set up by Krystyna Gadd @KrystynaGadd).  I am hugely grateful to Kurt and others for their encouragement (@thatmarkgilroy @stellacollins Maria Salkeld and Anna Edmondson). Whilst this reflection piece comes at the end of a 3 – 4 month time span (the last session delivered on 9th July 2019), I have also consciously amended aspects of the sessions throughout the delivery period, due to a number of factors:

1.      Some of the exercises took too long in practice (the irony of running out of time in a time management course was not lost on me!)

2.      Shortened content input: I provided an e-book after the events so individuals could continue to read about the topic whilst not detracting from the interactive elements (my hope was for an immersive and relational learning experience)

3.      The size of the groups changed radically and therefore some exercises needed to be altered accordingly

4.      Capturing feedback about what to keep, dump and what made the biggest impact informed the structure/approach for the next sessions

Pre-session thoughts:

How do you equip individuals (given the context above) with enough space and input to make it meaningful for them in 3 hours?

What change can be elicited realistically in this time frame?

What exercises could have biggest impact in relation to their own time management concerns and time drains; given they were unknown (specifically). Will my best guess be ‘good enough’?

My question to Creativity Flashmob was whether they had successfully used interactive exercises to support time management during facilitated sessions?  In hindsight I was already concerned about the content vs the process of managing a great session. I received lots of interesting input and in the end opted for a 5-step process, which I could dip in and out of as necessary dependent on the presenting needs of the group.

 Pre-work (me):

I read a lot of books, articles and blogs about time management before starting to put together the framework for exploration. I had a loose structure in mind based along the following broad topics:

1.      Auditing how we actually spend our time: what’s really important to our work roles and life – pre-planning and prioritisation. When we can’t do everything, what should we do?

2.      Managing our attention and when we do our best work – i.e. managing our energy vs time

3.      What gets in the way of managing our time? (internal/self/our relationship with time and external factors)

4.      Time to explore the myriad tools, frameworks and technology/apps to support successful time management: Timeboxing vs To Do Lists, Urgent/Important or Ease/Impact Grids, Do/Delegate/Defer/Dump exercise, Circadian Rhythms, Pomodoro technique, The GRID exercise (courtesy of Magdalena Bak-Maier)

Pre-work (attendees):

Attendees were asked to complete and bring with them a Drivers Questionnaire. (More information on Drivers can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taibi_Kahler). In short, Drivers “have us” versus we have them; they are automatic responses, programmed from early experiences, often not in our awareness. They can both support (known as working styles) or hinder/limit progress. In summary they are Be Perfect, Hurry Up, Please People, Be Strong and Try Hard. In times of stress or ‘busy’ the driver may be more prevalent.

What worked well?

Using the pre-work:

Raising awareness of the Drivers was often enough for individuals to start to think about ‘who they are’ in the moment and provide choice about their response to competing demands, unrealistic deadlines, working tirelessly on ineffective projects, asking for help versus ‘manning up’ etc. 

Having a lens through which to explore some of their automatic behaviour was extremely useful and provided rich data that might otherwise have been left outside the room. It also provided a common language when discussing time drains such as procrastination, perfectionism, distraction, feelings of overwhelm etc.

Introductions:

Providing time at the beginning to explore with the group what topics they’d like to conquer in relation to time management and how their driver might be either supporting or hindering that goal. This was a ‘content-free’ discussion (ie there was no slide driving a discussion just a sense that ‘we’re all in this together’.  Note: there are a large number of Be Perfect and Please People drivers across the three groups.  The impact on both time and stress management was significant. We had a great discussion about ‘how to say no’ for the Please People and ‘what does good enough look like’ for the Be Perfects.

Interaction between group members was never stilted despite coming from different organisations, albeit in the same system. One participant fedback that they were surprised how open the group had been.

My role in this was about giving them permission - “The wisdom is in the room” and “I don’t have all the answers”. Also providing the caveat that they might not conquer time management once and for all, but that it is a process of ongoing analysis, reflection and adaptation.

Loose structure:

The aim was to create a practical and experiential session, rather than a ‘sage on a stage’.  One of the aspects I struggled with was how to make the rather ‘dry’ topic of time management interesting, and dare I say it, fun. (I’m not sure I achieved the fun part all of the time).

The feedback was consistent in that the interactive element and hearing from other people from different organisations was the most beneficial aspect of the sessions. I structured the sessions to include individual, paired and group exercises and whole group discussions within the above-mentioned topic framework.

Practical exercises:

I chose one practical exercise to kick off thinking about how they use their time and then continued to use that list when we looked at time boxing (colour coding tasks and blocking time) and prioritising (urgent/important or ease/impact). Having a thread throughout was a useful learning anchor and one I will use again.

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Interestingly, I realised after session 1, that the Urgent/Important grid which I thought was very familiar to most folk these days, is not in fact widely known. I spent more time on this in subsequent sessions and was cited as the most useful tool across the three sessions. Valuable learning for me too – don’t assume the learning level of your audience; ask first. I’m thankful that I didn’t assume prior knowledge in this instance.

Group Work:

Each group was allocated a time drain and then tasked with giving examples of what it meant for them and how they might realistically go about managing the impact. I’m always humbled by how inventive, imaginative and supportive we are when we create space for it; this is where I felt most energy in the room.

One individual is going to run a mini session on the key points we covered in session 3. This was following a discussion as to how difficult it might be to implement some of the practices without the support of others in their team.

What was not as effective?

Pre-work: In an ideal world I would have liked to have made contact with individuals prior to the event to gain an insight into their needs and learning objectives. This would have maximised the time we had together rather than have to cover this at the beginning of the session. I would ideally like to do this as a Zoom group call so that the rich initial sharing is not lost.

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Content vs Time: Time keeping was an issue and I realised by the end of session 1 that I had been too ambitious with regards to the number of exercises I was hoping to cover (and for them to be useful). The irony of this is not lost on me.

In the first session I tried to cram too much content in and was too rigid in terms of the structure.  By session 2, I was more comfortable with the range of topics and exercises and was able to navigate back and forth as needs arose. I was definitely out of my own comfort zone in session one and possibly got in the way of the group’s ability to learn for themselves. In session 2, due to lack of time, I amalgamated 2 exercises into one; this did not work and was also confusing for participants. In session 3, I left out the least appropriate exercise rather than amalgamate or rush it. Less is more!

My own Circadian Rhythm: I ran a different session in the morning, so I was extremely tired by late afternoon. Keeping things on track and to time, when you’re not at your best, is a lesson well learned. I am not sure what else I can do here given the times and places are set by the sponsoring client but it certainly added useful context when we were discussing energy and attention management.

Expectations vs In the Moment: I need to manage my own sense of ‘what should be happening’ and be more in the moment, allowing time to allow the group’s thinking to emerge. I think this happened sporadically rather than as a given. I am definitely more at ease in one to one situations and I will be reflecting more on why the group setting poses this as an issue for me.

Reflecting:  There was time for individuals to state what they will do differently, what they liked, and key learning; but I wonder if more could have been explored around the how, by when and gaining firmer commitments. Also, there was an element missing around sustainability and on-going learning. How will they continue to assess their learning needs in this area? I have more thinking to do about whether I could reduce any of the content to provide more in-depth reflection opportunity. Or maybe this is ‘good enough’?

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What would I do differently next time?

1.      Managing my own drivers (and imposter) in relation to new topics so that I am prepared enough to allow flow. Consider the state of over-preparation and its impact.

2.      Being looser in terms of structure and allowing more time for reflection, summarising and for ongoing learning opportunities.

3.      Using different tools to support reflection and sustainability: In other topic sessions I have used postcards so individuals can send a ‘note to self’.

4.      Creating a learning network: many of the individuals knew each other but didn’t necessarily work together, some didn’t know anyone at all. We did not create learning networks around the topic (in the main due to how the sessions are set up through a 3rd party). I believe this is an opportunity missed; it would be useful to their individual organisations and also for the NHS system generally.

5.      Provide enough input, content and exercises so individuals feel confident about taking back the learning to their teams – and setting this out at the beginning.

6.      Not necessarily different, but a commitment to continue to ‘throw out’ exercises or pieces of content that don’t work in practice.

7.      If I had the time, participant numbers and space I would like to run this as a world café type event where individuals could experience aspects of time management in different ‘learning areas’ of their choosing. (Thanks to Anna Edmondson for that piece of inspiration).

What has perhaps surprised me throughout this process, is how a relatively dry topic has become a passion and a keen area of interest. I am by no means an expert but I have thoroughly enjoyed exploring the subject with others. Time is one of those factors that is essential part of our lives – we either manage ourselves, or it will surely manage us.

Thanks again Kurt. It’s been a blast.

11th July 2019

 

 If anyone would like a copy of Time Management Guide please drop me a line and I will be happy to email you a copy