Technology has helped to make business processes cleaner, leaner and more efficient. Cloud computing and the latest software are increasingly automating those time consuming tasks that used to eat substantial holes in a business manager's day.
So, how come executives and supervisors are still finding that time management can be an enormous headache – and the source of many stressful situations? PAs can also still spend a considerable part of their day trying to tie up meetings and interviews on behalf of their bosses - with a queue of unhappy colleagues or clients waiting for a diary slot.
There still doesn’t seem to be enough time in the working day to get things done. And, despite the advent of technological systems to make appointment making streamlined, it can still feel like teams are all “on a separate page” when meetings or deadlines approach.
So, we thought it would be useful to bring together the best ideas, techniques and systems to make diary management less time consuming and more effective.
This should go a long way to helping you to be more productive and feel more in control during the working day.
If you are setting up your diary management from scratch, then you will find a myriad of platforms on which to base it. This includes cloud computing options and software.
If you have chance to build it from the basics, then research the options carefully. Find the system that is not only easy to use now, but that can become more advanced and versatile to cope with your business as it grows and changes.
How many people does it need to network together? How many access points does there need to be or do you need to limit availability?
Once an organisation has chosen and set up a diary system, adherence needs to be company-wide and closely guarded.
Having someone in a pivotal position who prefers to use their existing platform, or a maverick who lives an unfettered business day, can soon make diary management a nightmare.
Everyone needs to be informed what the diary does, and the expectations of how they will use it. Flying solo is not an option!
Once you have everyone on the same system, make it clear how important diary management is. This is an essential business tool – a way of avoiding wasted time, confusion and lost productivity.
It needs to be a mandatory element of everyone’s working systems to add to it and check it regularly. A well orchestrated company can't have musicians who aren't reading the music!
A lot of the problems with diary management crop up because multiple pieces of technology – and a variable number of users – have access to the calendars of key business decision makers.
If you have multiple people able to add, amend or direct appointments for the MD, for example, then errors and misinformation can be endemic.
The starting point of good diary management is a clear chain of command.
For some senior staff, who are under particular pressure, it’s a good idea for all appointment making to go through their PA.
That way, one person is the conduit for all bookings and briefings.
This can even include ensuring that the MD or FD themselves always only adds or changes appointments via their PA.
There isn’t much point in assigning roles and responsibilities over diary management, if the PA involved is unclear on the boundaries and expectations.
Always make sure the conduits for appointment control are fully up to speed on the software, but also what is expected of them.
Does this particular decision maker have preferences, pressure points, special projects they need to know about? Is there a possibility that home life may also impact on their working day in some way?
If there has to be several people who can create or alter diary entries for senior staff, they all need to be 100% clear on their boundaries and duties, and how they overlap with each other.
Whoever it is championing quality and quantity control over diary entries for executives and managers, needs to be provided with regular one to one time with them. Leaving them in a vacuum can lead to problems and misunderstandings.
They will need access to the decision maker and key figures, as regularly as possible, to check things and reinforce the entries and keep everyone "in the loop".
Relying simply on electronic communication misses out the ambiguities and inferences that may need to be clarified and confirmed.
The various software or cloud computing platforms that diary management sits on these days, offer handy ways to schedule recurring appointments such as regular team briefings, quarterly sales reviews, and reporting deadlines.
Explore and use this facility of your diary management to create a framework for key appointments.
This may mean ensuring staff embrace and stick to a regular pattern. If the venue keeps changing for a regular meeting slot - and no one tells the PA - confusion is bound to be a problem.
The temptation is to get a little “trigger happy” with recurring diary entries, setting them up a long time in advance. And for every thing that "may" happen in the future.
It doesn’t take much for a change to be needed, such as the venue or timing of the meeting needs a tweak.
To make life easier, and to avoid confusion, it makes sense to schedule recurring appointments no more that 6 to 12 months at a time. Also, schedule in time to remind yourself to audit and double check them on a regular basis.
With daily firefighting and a myriad of demands on the time of senior staff, it is all too easy to pack diaries full of appointments and deadlines morning until night. There are lots of good reasons why “white space” is a key diary management tool.
This means leaving gaps around some appointments if possible, within boundaries agreed with the manager. This includes providing time to assess, regroup and consider before and after meetings, in a calm way, for example.
On the other hand, if you create a stress filled and pressurised day with a clock forever ticking, it is not going to get the best out of anyone.
The gaps around appointments referred to above must include plenty of time for the person to get from A to B. Not just externally - on the road, rail or air travel - either. Sometimes you need to be aware that even going from one part of the business to another takes time and can involve distractions or obstacles.
Again, someone feeling “late” or rushed may not be in a position to give their best at the meeting.
One of the hardest things when managing diaries for decision makers - especially managers who have serious pressures on their time or particularly sensitive work patterns and needs – is getting a balance.
If the person controlling the diary is too rigid and prescriptive, it can cause friction all round – even with the individual themselves. Too flexible and easy going, and confusion can be a daily occurrence.
One of the best tools to manage diaries is making sure the PA in control has good intuition and understanding. They need to know when to bend the rules and when to impose them with an iron fist - what sort of "wiggle room" is allowed and what appointments are totally immovable.
This provides greater chances for spontaneous and reactive business activities to be slotted in too.
Modern digital diaries make it much easier to gather and store relevant information, and attach it in a digital format.
A great tool for effectively managing diaries is to create data files linked to meetings, with all the information required. Or add in website links and other sources of background information.
That way, the manager can save time and hassle, by accessing what they need, as they need it.
Probably the most timesaving advancement available to help with diary management, is technology to facilitate virtual meetings.
Whoever is in charge of the business diary needs to be insightful and confident enough to set up time-saving options such as conference calls, video calls and virtual meetings. This could save a lot of travel time and hassle if a face-to-face meeting can be avoided.
There may even be times when a simple email or telephone call before or after an event or meeting can be used in place of actual attendance.
One of the best ways to manage complex diaries – either individual ones or across teams – is to put the process in the hands of a neutral third party.
Having the ability to rise above all the daily minutiae can be vital. Being able to keep the diary streamlined, error free and logical is far easier for someone not distracted by other tasks and internal politics.
To explore our professional skills, insights and experience, contact us today. No diary entry needed.