Business Basics: Essential time management and soft skills for leaders

Spread too thin or stuck for time? Recruitment expert Nigel O’Donoghue is on hand with some must-have managerial advice to help out.

04 February 2019

In this edition of Business Basics, we sat down to talk with Nigel O’Donoghue, co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer of Frank Recruitment Group, the niche IT staffing firm that helps start-ups and international enterprises find the people right for them.
Nigel O'Donoghue

For small businesses and first-time managers, Nigel’s insight into developing and learning the skills to better manage employees will prove invaluable to those looking to grow. From splitting up your team and utilising apps, to sharing soft skills with your employees, be sure to heed Nigel’s insightful advice below.


 

What methods do you use to ensure you effectively balance your own tasks with helping members of your team with their tasks and requirements?

 Setting aside time to meet with people can be useful in safeguarding your own time. Having an open-door policy during set hours, and setting up a process whereby people can come to you with issues during those hours is helpful.

Male and female discussing work

Equally, make sure you communicate that there are times when you are absolutely inaccessible—except for real emergencies—and block out time in your schedule to focus on your own tasks. Also, set aside two half-hour slots a day to check emails, so you can stay focused on the task at hand, and reassess your workload and list of priorities at set times.

In terms of time management, do you use any tools or technology to aid you on a day-to-day basis?

Outlook calendar is great for mapping out your time and planning workloads. Features like Quick Parts, which lets you set up template messages, automate recurrent tasks, and delay delivery can save a lot of time.

Reminders and reoccurring events are useful too, as is the ability to set desktop notifications only for important emails, so you aren’t being distracted by every email that lands in your inbox. Combined with the twice-a-day email checking strategy, you can define who or what can still make it through, if it’s truly important.

Woman is pensive in front of screen displaying stats

I find apps like Evernote useful for time management. I can forward any personal emails somewhere else to deal with later, take photos, and send links to one place. Then, 30 minutes at either the beginning or end of the day I can run through this app and put things in order. It’s accessible offline too, so I can put my commute on the tube to good use and get on top of things.

Interruptions are almost inevitable in any workplace. What steps do you take to ensure disruption is minimal, and normal operations resume in a timely fashion?

If you truly don’t have time to lift your head above the parapet, communicate this clearly. Add a message to your email specifying that you’re on a deadline and that colleagues should only reach out if it really can’t wait until tomorrow. This might make co-workers think twice about how urgent their communication really is.

Use a shared calendar to block out time and set yourself as unavailable. Specify what you’re working on, too; make it clear that you have something really pressing on your plate.

Woman drinks coffee in front of computer for a late night in the office

When it’s a disruption that affects the whole team, try to redirect. Ask everyone for an on-the-spot status update and help get people’s minds back on track.

Many employers seek team members capable of multitasking, but how do you view multitasking as a practice? Is it something that stands in the way of time management or a valuable asset everyone should master?

Everyone would like to be able to dedicate their focus to a task 100%, but that’s rarely possible. True multitasking doesn’t really exist, all we’re actually doing is flitting between tasks and spending micro-bursts of time on something before moving on.

It’s really about balancing the need to do more than one thing at a time with the need to do things well. Try to prioritise work and dedicate time to it in the appropriate order wherever possible; it’s often better to put something off for an hour and then dedicate your complete attention to it, rather than doing a poor job of things simultaneously.

Soft skills are increasingly important in this day and age. What do you find to be the most valuable soft skill that you routinely employ, and seek in others?

I think flexible people are incredibly valuable. It’s far more productive for the business to have someone on side who’ll take a run at anything that needs to be done, rather than someone who rigidly sticks to the boundaries of their job description and is unwilling to take on anything new. Their adaptability and proactive attitude will benefit their teams both in the short term and the long term.

Man looks at phone while working on laptop

How can a first-time manager go about developing their soft skills if they consider themselves weak in a specific area?

People learn best by doing. If you’ve identified an area that you need to improve, don’t shy away from opportunities that require that skill; embrace them. The more you do it, the better you’ll become.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help and advice from other managers. If you’re a new manager especially, you might benefit from having a mentor who can give guidance and pointers on how to handle situations and build your skills.

The people you manage will have a great view of what you’re skilled at, and what could be improved, too. Create a culture of openness in which your employees can offer constructive feedback comfortably and honestly.


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Dealing with difficult situations, such as giving criticism or resolving employee conflict, might be something managers aren’t necessarily used to. How would you recommend a manager approach situations like this?

Gather all the information you can before you sit down to address the matter, and make sure you have a full and thorough understanding of any company policy that might come into play.

The most crucial thing about giving feedback, or dealing with employee issues, is to be clear but empathetic. It’s important to let your team know their concerns have been heard, understood, and appreciated, and that you’ll do what you can to help.

What can a manager do to ensure soft skills are imparted on their team? Can soft skills be transferred via training, or is it something which people build over time with the right guidance and influence?

Soft skills are by their nature harder to teach than technical skills, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be developed. A training assessment can help you spot gaps in your employees’ arsenal, and then you can begin to work out how best to bridge those gaps. This could be through updating your onboarding training, or making further training accessible to all employees, in whichever format suits them best.

Male and female with glasses discuss their work across a wooden table

Additionally, things stick when people see them in action, and understand the positive effects these skills have, so take every opportunity to put them into practice, and your team will learn by seeing, and eventually doing, themselves. Make sure you offer plenty of opportunities for employees to practice and develop these skills.

Many thanks to Nigel for his contribution. If you found his advice helpful, please check out some more of our related guides below:


 

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