Take time to make time

Take time to make timeAs I “write” this, I’m sitting somewhere between Louisville, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee on the highway I-65, I think. I was listening to a podcast this morning that was quite good. It was an Entrepreneurs on Fire episode – #1106. One of the issues they were talking about was “return on time” (ROT). So, let’s talk about this a little bit.

When they talked about return on time, they were talking about taking care of activities that will get you more time in the future. The example they used was spending a couple hours setting up automatic bill pay so that way you could save time in the future months. What I want to do is look at this from the perspective of what we have been doing at Jamestown Community College with my little technology-enhanced instruction team. We have spent time on our processes so we can use the time saved to be building better programs for the faculty.

For the past year, we have been creating various products to help us run our processes better. Naturally, it has taken time to get these products and processes in order. But the results have already saved team members time. One of my team members was working incredibly long hours when I first met her; more hours than she should have been working, simply because there was just a lot of work to accomplish. And in my opinion, it wasn’t being completed as efficiently as possible due to no fault of hers. The team was under transition, they were taking on new roles and responsibilities, and still learning about those roles and responsibilities.

To save time in the future, we put a lot of different things in place. First of all, we created a common area where we would put drafts of email messages, various checklists and instructions, lesson plans, etc. It is a place where we share things so we aren’t duplicating efforts. By having common instructions, each of the team members can step in to support the responsible team member thus distributing the workload during peak periods.

We also put together a master schedule to ensure all tasks are completed on time as we prepare and roll out a new term for the students. There are probably eighty steps required for each new term from preterm until we shut the term down. We are running at least two of these schedules at one time because of the overlap. This has already saved a lot of time and reduced stress for our team members because we have documented a lot of things that were previously in someone’s head and using a lot of  mental processing power. Each week at our team meetings, we look at the master schedule to ensure we are taking care of the required tasks. We just keep working our way down the checklist. We are handling things on schedule or ahead of schedule; this is already improving processes across the campus.

We also have a communication plan that we use to send out various messages to faculty and staff and students on a specific schedule. This is also reducing a lot of uncertainty, and again, improving our processes. Because we sent messages on a regular cycle, we are able to keep everybody informed and we are able to continually hone our message.

Because we have taken time to build these checklists, schedules, and communication plan, very little is falling through the cracks. Through continual process improvement, we are improving our service and relieving the mental load from the team. As a result, we are gaining time back into our schedule. The individual I talked about at the beginning is now going home at the proper hour. She is able to spend more time with her family. This is good for her and for the college.  I don’t want anybody to be stressed from being overworked. Additionally, we are also providing better service.

A little investment of time up front taking care of major processes is coming back and returning time to our schedule so we can work on bigger and better things for our faculty.