Time Management and Delegation Helpful Skills for Boards

Time Management and Delegation

Since it's a common belief that the best way to get something done is to give it to a busy person, it's often the busiest shareholders and unit owners that are elected to serve on the board. How do they find the time to add yet another responsibility to their already full plates? Many busy people in all walks of life from high-powered executives to full-time homemakers—are relying more than ever on time management and delegation techniques to get (almost!) everything done.

Managing a Hectic Schedule

"I knew all about time management before I was elected board president," says a shareholder at a 60-unit Queens co-op. "But I was always too busy to stop long enough to incorporate what I had heard into my daily routine." According to this harried shareholder, once he began serving on the board, he had no choice but to apply some basic time management principles in all areas of his life, including his board responsibilities.

Now he sets a starting time and deadline for every project, has trimmed the "fat" from his schedule by dropping low pay-off activities and incorporated the mantra "do it now" into his vocabulary. He also blocks out a time period for certain activities—such as making phone calls or filing—rather than performing these tasks throughout the day. And he looks for—and finds—tasks that could be delegated to others. "It's hard to believe," says the board president, "but since I've started doing these things, I actually feel like I have more time now than I did before I was serving on the board."

Prioritizing Tasks

Time management experts agree that the first step is to take a look at what's on your plate. According to Day-Timers, Inc., the Allentown, Pennsylvania company known for its appointment books, calendars and planning tools, if you take ten minutes a day to plan your day, you can save up to an hour of execution. According to 10 Timebuster Tips—a handy guide that Day-Timers includes with the purchase of some of its products—you can gain time in your schedule by making a list of everything you need to do today and then numbering each item in order of priority. Distinguish between urgent and important items, but be sure to make time for the latter.

You can begin implementing time management techniques right away. "Take five to ten minutes right now to ask 'what do I need to do?' " suggests time management expert Henry Barbey, a business and personal coach in Manhattan who co-founded The E Group, a training and development firm that aims to boost performance and effectiveness. "Planning is a basic fundamental. You don't want to start the week without an overview," explains Barbey. "Ask yourself what hats you—and the board—will be wearing this week. Are you dealing with maintenance, the building manager, a boiler repair? You may be wearing one hat or many hats as a group or individual." After weekly tasks have been determined and prioritized, you can schedule blocks of time during the week to accomplish objectives.

Barbey recommends taking a few minutes at the start of the day, or before a board meeting, to plan, prioritize and schedule. "The purpose, goals and objectives of the board need to be defined," says Barbey. This will serve as a guide to enable allocation of time for specific activities. After priorities are set by a group or individual, you can begin working on the most important activities first and move sequentially down the list.

"When you don't practice time management—as an individual or as a group—you tend to be less effective and not as efficient," adds Barbey. "You can get off on tangents that slow the whole process down. You can frustrate people by not being prepared, and get on the wrong side of those who are relying on you. People can get angry and irritated if they think you're not holding up your end of the bargain."

Let Someone Else Do It

Delegation is another way to squeeze more time out of the day. Barbey suggests constantly asking yourself, "What is the best use of my time right now? Could someone else do this task?" According to Don Gabor, a communications expert and the president of Conversation Arts Media, a Brooklyn-based firm that teaches communication skills, delegation can save board members valuable time and energy so that they can focus on the high priority tasks that require their complete attention.

"Most of us like the way we do things, but we all need all the help we can get to complete everything that needs being done," says Gabor, who is also the author of Big Things Happen When You Do the Little Things Right, a book about goal-setting. He provides these tips: "Before delegating, you need to prioritize the tasks and estimate a reasonable time frame to complete them." The decision of when and how to do daily tasks can be delegated, but long or difficult tasks should be broken down into shorter and more manageable segments before they are delegated. Gabor also suggests that you encourage questions and feedback on more efficient ways to perform the tasks being delegated.

"Show how little tasks fit into the big picture," adds Gabor, "so the person understands why they are important. Ask 'can you handle it from here?' or 'What else do you need to begin?' Then check on the progress a short time later." At this point you can provide any necessary feedback and then leave. It's important to avoid unnecessary interruptions once you have delegated the tasks. Always acknowledge your appreciation upon completion of the assignment.

If delegation is a problem, Gabor suggests passing around a list of things that need to be done. This gives people a sense of choice. "Some people don't like to be told what to do," he explains. "But others do. Sometimes the problem is that a person is tapped out. If a person doesn't want to—or can't—help out, maybe he shouldn't be on the board." Gabor is a believer in the direct approach and suggests having a conversation to air your concerns rather than hinting that you're unhappy or making innuendoes.

Delegating to Board Members

According to Jay Cohen, executive vice president of A. Michael Tyler Realty, a residential real estate management firm in Manhattan, board members can benefit from knowing the proper etiquette for conducting meetings and finding volunteers to tackle special projects. Sticking only to items on the agenda is a great time saver that can bring marathon meetings back to a manageable one to one-and-a-half hour time frame. The board president can also keep meetings moving along swiftly by reiterating—ahead of time—the importance of reading background material before the next meeting. Then, if a show of hands indicates that the information has not been read, the president can table the issue until the following meeting rather than bringing the group up to speed at the current meeting.

"Some board presidents don't understand how to run a meeting," adds Cohen, whose firm offers its clients coaching in this area. According to Cohen, if the board president doesn't take control, everyone starts talking. You can use a gavel to prevent cross talk and to stop people from interrupting each other. There is also delegation etiquette. For example, the board president announces that he needs a volunteer to head the house rules committee. If no one raises his hand, he selects a board member, saying "Mr. Smith, you will head the house rules committee and Ms. Green and Mr. Black will serve on the committee with you." These appointments then go into the minutes.

"I have found that delegating tasks to fellow board members isn't always easy because different people have different notions of what it's like to be on the board," says Carol Butler, a Manhattan-based mediator and communications expert who has served as president of her 75-unit condo on 13th Street. "Some think it's just coming to a meeting once a month and giving their input. Some board members may refuse to do anything else, and in these instances the president may be stuck. I had good boards during the time I was president," adds Butler. "Some members did more than others. Some were very specialized. I found that you have to work with what the board members are willing to do."

Implementing Systems

Butler found that she was spending quite a bit of time discussing informal requests when she ran into unit owners in the elevator or other common areas. She devised a more efficient way to handle inquiries and suggestions. "I would ask people who came to me with a question or request to please put it in writing. This doesn't need to be a formal letter," Butler explains. "But once they've written down their concern and put it in your mailbox, you can respond in an orderly way. You can put the item on the agenda for the next meeting or you can delegate, if an immediate action is needed." After implementing this policy, Butler found that some of the people who stopped her in the elevator never did put it in writing. This was helpful in weeding out the casual comments and idle complaints.

"You need to know what the most important things are in a given day, hour or conversation," adds Mary Ann Donahue, long-time board president at a 47-unit co-op in Manhattan, who was elected board president the same year George Bush was elected president. "We're all familiar with the balancing act and prioritizing. Despite the fact that we are all busy, we have a responsibility to our fellow shareholders and to ourselves to babysit the affairs of our building."

While some appear to have been born with these skills, anyone can become proficient in delegation and time management if they work at it. "You may start out conscious of your incompetence with these techniques," says Henry, "but one day you'll realize you don't have to think about it as much. You will have become unconsciously competent."

Diana Mosher is Managing Editor of The Cooperator.

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