Marc Carriere shares his advice for how contact centre team leaders can better manage their time.
First Things First – Determine Priorities
We so often complain about how busy we are and that there isn’t enough time for everything. But what is it that you’re actually focusing on?
A story called “Rocks, Pebbles and Sand” will get you thinking about what you spend your time doing. It’s just a metaphor from a philosophy professor who was giving a lecture, and in front of him he had a big glass jar, a pile of rocks, a bag of small pebbles, a tub of sand and a bottle of water.
He started off by filling up the jar with the big rocks, and when they reached the rim of the jar, he held it up to the students and asked them if the jar was full. They all agreed, there was no more room to put the rocks in, so it was full.
He asked again: “Is it full?” Then he picked up the bag of small pebbles and poured these into the jar. He shook the jar so that the pebbles filled the space around the big rocks. “Is the jar full now?” he asked.
The students looked around at each other and agreed that the jar was now completely full. “Is it really full?” he asked again.
Then he picked up the tub of sand and poured the sand in between the pebbles and the rocks and once again he held up the jar to his class and asked if it was full. And, once again they all agreed that the jar was full.
“Are you sure it’s full?” he asked and finally picked up a bottle of water and tipped the water into the jar until it was soaked up in all the remaining space in the sand, and the students laughed.
The professor went on to explain that the jar of rocks, pebbles, sand and water represents everything that is in one’s life. The jar represents your life. The rocks represent the most important things that have real value – your health, your family, your partner. Those things that if everything else (the pebbles and the sand and water) was lost and only they remained, your life would still have meaning.
The pebbles represent the things in your life that matter but you could live without. The pebbles are certainly things that give your life meaning, like your job, house, hobbies and friendships, but they aren’t critical for you to have a meaningful life. These things often come and go, and aren’t permanent or essential to your overall well-being.
The sand and water represent everything else – the small stuff. Material possessions, chores and filler things you do, like watching television or browsing the internet. These things don’t mean much to your life as a whole and are likely only done to get small tasks accomplished or just to fill time.
If you start with putting sand into the jar, you will not have room for rocks or pebbles.
The metaphor here is that if you start with putting sand into the jar, you will not have room for rocks or pebbles. This holds true with the things you let into your life. If you spend all of your time on the small and insignificant things, you will run out of room for the things that are actually important.
So, the lesson is to make room for what’s important. Take care of the rocks first – the things that really matter and are critical to your long-term well-being and happiness.
If you deal with the big issues first by putting the rocks in the jar first, the small issues can still fall into place. However, the reverse is not true. Identify the important things in life by setting your priorities and the time you need to work on them.
So, when we think about the lesson of this metaphor and apply it to how team leaders fill their day and week with all the different tasks they have to do, let’s ask ourselves… what are the rocks, what are the pebbles, sand and water?
Eliminating the “No Time” Excuse
When we think about the rocks, they’re the most important things a team leader needs to be sure to do, and everything else that comes up are the pebbles, sand and water. After all, a team leader’s primary focus should be on reaching their team’s goals each week, right?
Look at a list of typical tasks team leaders are faced with each day and week…
So, you need to make sure they have the time and energy to focus on really effective leadership and coaching. When you look at a list of the typical tasks team leaders are faced with each day and week, their time and energy levels are at a premium!
And, if your team leaders aren’t overburdened with too many tasks to deal with, then you’re really dealing with an excuse, and that’s an easy fix!
When you drill down with these team leaders, their problem with coaching usually comes back to a couple of simple challenges they face:
- They don’t really know what problems their advisors are having with their call process because they don’t spend enough time listening to advisors’ calls. So, how can they understand what areas their advisor needs coaching with?
- And many team leaders haven’t been coached on how to score calls, give nurturing and corrective feedback or develop coaching plans to fix the problems. These are the rocks in their jar!
It’s essential you coach them on these critical areas and ensure they effectively manage their time, so they prioritize time for call monitoring, providing corrective feedback and on-the-job coaching to more quickly turn underperformers into consistently productive advisors.
To make sure they’re using their time effectively, have them complete a weekly schedule every week and give you a copy. Review the schedule to make sure they’re particularly focused on the coaching tasks you want, and make any necessary amendments if needed, and their No Time excuse goes away!
You also want to keep them accountable, so periodically check in with them throughout the week to make sure they’re doing their coaching tasks when scheduled!
When you add all these essential ingredients together, your team leaders will now have the time to help advisors perform better because they are finally getting the coaching they need!
For more advice on overcoming this classic excuse, read our article: Being Super-Busy: The Modern Excuse for Not Coaching Staff
Scheduling for Success
So let’s go through the best way I know how to have team leaders focus on their most important tasks and manage their time and energy as effectively as possible.
To get started, you simply make a list of all the tasks your team leaders deal with each day, every week. Include those done infrequently, and specify specific dates if necessary.
And to make sure team leaders’ energy levels are up to their peak when looking after the rocks, consider when is the best time to schedule these activities.
I set up different task areas in four different groupings. These include:
- General Administration Tasks – things that need to be done on a daily or weekly basis
- General Team Supervision Tasks – the usual things they do when dealing with their team
- Team Supervision – the list of the usual daily and weekly tasks, and
- Coaching and Advisor Development
Once you’ve pulled your list together, assign each task with a priority rating:
- A for the highest priority (these are the rocks)
- B for mid priority (these are the pebbles)
- C for low priority (sand and water tasks)
Then assign a priority level within each task rating, create a list in terms of priority and work your way down until you have completed every task.
This is really important, and whatever you do, don’t skip it because doing this really establishes task priorities and their importance in relation to all the other tasks a team leader needs to do every day, and every week.
Don’t be surprised when you see conflicts with different priorities that come up…
Don’t be surprised when you see conflicts with different priorities that come up. It’s going to happen and, when they do, trust your gut, and make a decision on which task comes before the other. Later, if you find you need to make a change, no problem, make the change.
In the first few weeks as team leaders are getting used to their schedule, this will likely happen. Just be sure that if it comes up it’s not just because the task is inconvenient.
Next, allocate the time it should typically take to complete the task effectively, so it’s not rushed. If you’re going to do something, you need to give it the time it takes to get it done right! Especially when you’re dealing with your top priorities, your “A” list priorities – your rocks!
After you’ve allocated the time you need, then simply set the best day or days of the week to do them and the best time or times of the day to do them.
When you have all your tasks listed, prioritized, and know the best days to do them, and the best times of the day to do them, all you have to do is put them into a schedule and see how it all fits.
Managing Break Times
Now, one thing we touched on a little, which I think is the first thing you should put in your schedule before anything else, and as counter-intuitive as it may sound, and that is breaks throughout the day, especially a meal break.
So, put their daily breaks into their schedule first, and then start filling in the schedule with all the rocks first, starting with the first task in the “A” list, and follow that sequence all the way through until you’re finished, and voila, you have their weekly schedule.
Oh, and make sure time is set aside in the weekly schedule for the best day and time to have your team leaders prepare their next week’s schedule.
Then have them pin it up somewhere around their work area for anyone on their team to check if they need to find them. When a team member sees what the team leader is doing, they can make a decision about whether they have to interrupt them or save what they wanted for later.
Now, some of you may find that you’ve put most everything in and still have some tasks left over. So, what do you do about that? Well, the first thing is to think about whether or not that particular task is something they really should be doing and who else could be doing it instead.
The first thing is to think about whether or not that particular task is something they really should be doing and who else could be doing it instead.
We need to focus on and spend our time and energy on the most important things that move the team closer to their goals and KPIs… those rocks that move the needle towards where you want the team to go!
Is it really going to help if you try to jam in as many things as possible into their day, including non-essential things? Do you really want to dilute their time or energy coaching and training advisors just to make way for something not as important? Of course not!
If something has to give, it shouldn’t be one of your top priorities. It has to be a lesser one, doesn’t it? So, see who else can do that less important task instead of your team leader.
Sometimes people ask me what happens when you’ve finished a task before the allotted time.
Well, that’s simple. Basically, you’ve got a little extra time up your sleeve to catch up on something you didn’t have enough time for earlier, or a little time to get ahead of yourself for another task coming up or simply more time being a cheerleader!
So, there you have it. The best way I know how to make sure team leaders use their time and energy on the most important activities, those rocks that will give you the best return.
Time management is Marc’s first pillar of seven for creating great team leaders. To find out about the other seven, check out the online course that he runs for developing team leaders.
For more advice on how to develop your contact centre team leaders, read our articles: