By Buster Nicholson, Public Sector Outreach at American Public University
Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” Edison, who was known to get very little sleep (taking 15 minute catnaps here and there), lived to create. His creative streak would have been nothing without his unstoppable desire to problem-solve through his dedication to hard work and vigorous time-management acumen.
Many bright individuals have great ideas that go nowhere. Careful selection and development of winning ideas requires an investment of your time.
Don’t Hastily Jump to a Solution
Municipal leaders tend to be easily overwhelmed by the tugging of councils, boards, the public, and staff. It’s not uncommon for a manager to walk away from a meeting with a long list of tasks that include answering questions, assigning responsibilities, or scheduling more meetings.
As a manager, time is your greatest asset. If you spend it wisely, like Edison, you will be successful. Since the shortest path between two points is a straight line, it can be tempting to “solve” a problem as soon as it is presented. By doing this, you risk creating another problem by ignoring one of your most valuable time management tools: reflection.
Count the Cost
Time lost can never be retrieved. In the face of this stark reality, a manager must treat time as valuable as gold (especially in today’s market!). The way you view time will determine whether your tenure is commonplace or extraordinary. As a manager, being steadily presented with the latest issue du jour, day in and day out, it is imperative for him/her to “buy up the opportunities,” because time is an opportunity. A perceptive manager will thoughtfully purchase their time by quietly reflecting on numerable tasks and prioritizing them by which ones are worthy or productive.
Center Yourself on Principles
In my tenure as a small-town administrator, I was consistently given a myriad of tasks during council meetings. I jotted them down during the meeting (writing furiously) until my hand would ache. I would come in the next morning to decide which tasks were essential obligations. My guiding principle for this exercise was to put myself in the council member’s shoes and see the issue as he/she would.
In my youth, I was the ultimate decider of what was important, which guided how I spent my time. That attitude is erroneous, and it will cost you professionally. What seems to matter to you at any given time is not as important as how others view your character. You must carefully decide what tasks are vital by conscientiously determining what is important to the stakeholders around you and finding a way to deliver a solution in a timely manner.
By viewing time as a resource, you can clearly see where you should be spending it resulting in an organized plan for you and the people you serve. Focus on being a principled individual who makes wise choices, especially when no one is watching. Be disciplined and refuse to react to unexpected interruptions with a canned solution. Be willing to say, “Is it okay if I look into it and get you an answer by the end of the week?”
Make better use of your time, and this will in turn emanate outward and cause the locale where you serve to reap the benefits of abundantly positive progress.
About the Author: Buster Nicholson is a senior manager of Public Sector Outreach at American Public University. He has a Master’s degree in Public Administration and has worked as a public school teacher, an analyst for the United States Secret Service, a town administrator, and a director of public works. At APU, he works with directors, senior managers, and staff from state and local government entities to facilitate leadership growth through education and professional development. You can reach him at ANicholson@apus.edu.
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