If you know anyone in the military, you’ve probably heard of a  “battle rhythm”. The clearest example I ever saw was the Air Operations Center planning cycle. I looked, but couldn’t find an official definition of battle rhythm. I’m just going to stick with my Air Operations Center example to get the concept across.

In the AOC, every day we created the next day’s Air Tasking Order. The ATO told all of the flying units what missions they would be doing. We each put our pieces together, on time, so that the plan was ready for the next day. We did all of this at the same time today’s missions were happening. It was a lot of moving pieces, but it worked because we had a battle rhythm. We had a plan every day for how we were going to build the plan. These 5 time management techniques for leaders will help you build a plan for your team. This battle rhythm will help them be successful in their tasks while dealing with surprises.

Time Management Techniques for Leaders #1 – Map Inputs and Outputs

First, you must have a good understanding of when input comes into your team and the outputs you provide. If the inputs aren’t enough to complete the outputs, your team will spend extra time and effort chasing them down. If your outputs aren’t meeting the needs of whoever they’re going to, you’ll be doing a lot of work over. Reformatting an input can take a whole lot of extra time. Understanding key inputs and outputs is essential to building your battle rhythm.

Time Management Techniques for Leaders #2 – Identify Tasks Associated with Inputs and Outputs

Often, our current tasks aren’t really aligned with inputs or outputs. They may start out that way, but sometimes tasks develop a life of their own. Additional items creep into the workflow that aren’t really serving our desired outcomes. Assess your team’s tasks and align the flow of those tasks with the inputs and outputs. Streamline individual tasks and interleave tasks to flow among each other instead of doing them sequentially.

Time Management Techniques for Leaders #3 – Assess Task Durations

Sometimes inputs are late or the deadline on your output moves up for some reason. Understanding how long it takes your team to do a task gives you the flexibility to work additional pop-up tasks without sacrificing regular tasks. With this insight, you’ll know if adding people to a task will speed it up or slow it down.

Time Management Techniques for Leaders #4 – Map it Out Visually

Look where tasks interact and if the inputs and durations align to outputs. If the task is due at noon, the inputs come in at 11 and it takes someone on your team 3 hours to do the task, you’re already starting out with a problem. You can choose to add people to the task or negotiate the timing of the inputs and outputs. That’s an extreme case. For most cases, don’t map out the actual time blocks on the calendar for your team members to work on a task. If possible, give them the flexibility to choose when they tackle a particular task. Map out when the inputs arrive and outputs need to go out, as well as any vector checks that need to happen.

Time Management Techniques for Leaders #5 – Communicate with Your Team

Once you figure out the new battle rhythm, talk to your team about it. Show them how all of the inputs, outputs and tasks align and where they have the flexibility to make choices. Get team input to confirm tasks can happen simultaneously or interleave with each other. Get input from the person who actually does the task to make sure your changes are possible. There probably will be some resistance to change, but getting team buy-in will make the change much smoother.

Don’t worry about it if your team doesn’t have a daily rhythm. You may look at your team’s day and not see one. Your rhythm may revolve around a different time scale, like weekly or monthly, but these tips will still work for you. Even if you’re doing creative work on a project basis, if you take a step back, you’ll probably find a time scale where you need to get inputs and give outputs to others and that can be the basis for developing your team’s battle rhythm.

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