When I bump into people around town one of the most common questions I get is “what are you working on these days?” so I thought I’d take a few minutes to share my “to do” list with you.
I read a bunch of Steven Covey’s work years ago and I think he offered one of the best ways of slicing up your work load so that you see where you’re spending your time vs. where you should be spending your time. He suggested using a simple two-by-two matrix to identify your highest-priority tasks. His quadrants are defined as follows:
1. Urgent and important tasks (Quadrant I). For example, dealing with a product recall or completing due diligence before an acquisition can be approved.
2. Not urgent but important tasks (Quadrant II). Examples here include developing key business relationships and drafting a plan for how your company will respond to the changes you foresee taking place in your industry 18 months down the road.
3. Urgent but not important tasks (Quadrant III). Examples of these tasks are taking impromptu phone calls from sales reps or fielding a request from a subordinate to help make arrangements for next week’s unit party.
4. Not urgent and not important tasks (Quadrant IV). For instance, surfing the Internet or gossiping around the water cooler.
Covey says Quadrant II is the most significant because it represents the activities that build towards the future rather than reacting to what gets thrown in front of you.
So, here’s what I’ve got going on in my day for each of Covey’s quadrants:
1. Urgent and Important – I spend a lot of time in this quadrant, probably close to 90% of my day ends up dealing with another “can’t wait” priority. Right now the biggest item in this category is the city budget. We’ve got to get the 2007 proposed budget wrapped up and presented to Council before Thanksgiving so that we can then get it passed before the end of December. The budget is one of the most important documents we produce so we’ve got to get it right and with our finances as tight as they are there’s no room for error.
The other big piece of the budget pie this year has been our year long financial strategy sessions. At this point we’ve done our homework and have received a recommendation from the blue ribbon panel. Now I need to take that recommendation on the road and get feedback from the community on it’s contents. We’ve also assembled a survey to solicit information from citizens and we’ve got about 60 survey’s returned to us. I’ve got to summarize the data and evaluate the trends so that I can report them back to Council and the community. Plus there’s a whole lot more information that needs to get out to the general public.
With 180 employees it’s not unusual for personnel items to come knocking on my door. Last week I dealt with a resignation, a new hire and a few small disciplinary measures. We also have a couple of critical vacancies that we’ve had to freeze due to our budget issues and that means everybody else is carrying a heavier load — which is fine but over time frustrations with work load can mount and priorities get compressed so I spend a fair amount of time trying to answer questions of priorities and resolving employee frustrations over the lack of resources.
Downtown Kent is both urgent and important so I spend a lot of time doing whatever I can to get things happening downtown. I have a good bit of time invested in the Main Street program and we continue to work on attracting other redevelopment opportunities downtown. We are working on the demolition of some of the city owned properties downtown and we’re trying to get option prices to purchase the land needed to assemble enough to attract a quality developer. We’re at a stand still with Right Dimensions properties so at this point I’m focusing my time on the other properties downtown.
I’d throw the Old Hotel situation in this category as important and urgent. Renovating the building has been important for 30 years but we’ve finally said it’s also urgent so I’ve been spending a fair amount of time trying to negotiate with the current owner and work with our attorneys to craft legal actions that will stimulate some level of activity on the building. You’d be amazed at how much time this can consume.
A lot of my blog posting work probably also falls into this category. I think it’s important to keep the community engaged and informed but it does take time to keep the stories coming.
Quality of life in the neighborhoods could probably fit into every category but right now it’s still an issue that gets a lot of attention from City Council which means it gets a lot of attention from me. This issue is particularly hard because it’s dealing with behavior issues that are very hard to change and sometimes you get the feeling that no matter how hard you work on legislating “good” behavior it’s a losing battle. That’s why we’ve been trying to spend more time researching success stories in other university cities rather than merely reacting to another weekend of parties. I’ve actually been encouraged by some of the work we’ve discovered in East Lansing Michigan and Charlottesville Virginia — now if I can just get some time to really get into their programs maybe we can begin to shift our strategy to be more proactive. In the meantime we’ve also been meeting with a group of volunteers that want to help out with graffitti and nighttime nuisance issues by re-forming the old party patrol. I think it’s a great idea but again these things take time to organize, plan, and prepare before you just send people out into the streets.
2. Not Urgent but Important — this is a category that never gets as much time as it should. It’s those long term strategy discussions and planning sessions that tend to get bumped to the back burner. I’ve got a long list of strategic priorities that need to be discussed with Council. We’ve got to continue to track and report on the progress of the implementation of the bicentennial plan. We need to develop a new economic development strategy. We’ve got to analyze our Kent retail market and do a better job of finding those retailers that thrive in our niche. We’ve got organizational development needs that are being neglected. We’re trying to take our web presence up a couple of notches to really promote Kent in a more engaging and interactive way and as the chief creative designer and text writer I’m having a hard time finding the time to take it the next step after getting started with the Blog. We’ve got the JEDD’s established in Brimfield and Franklin but now we’ve really got to get them rolling. We’ve got to look longterm with the townships and establish better growth strategies based on some form of mutual land use planning — and we should also be talking about more service collaborations, like fire districts that just make sense. We’ve got to come up with some fresh new ideas to re-establish Kent as a relevant and vibrant city — and promote those ideas with a Kent branding strategy. We’ve got to leverage the presence of the university and it’s research to jump start our economy which means finding/building new business lab/accelerator space, working with emerging businesses early on so that we can get them in the Kent development pipeline and customize our incentive packages to fit their needs. We’ve got to get a world class downtown hotel and conference center built and we need to look at how to take advantage of our terrific river that runs through downtown to stimulate more sustainable entertainment, dining and retail options. I could go on and on but it’s too depressing because the items in this category also tend to be some of the most fun work to do but the only time I have to do them is around 10 o’clock at night which means I don’t last long.
3. Urgent but not Important — As a customer centered government, citizen questions tend to pile up in this category. The truth is, a lot of the citizen questions probably shouldn’t get as much of my attention as they do because they aren’t that important in the “big picture” but in a community of our size there’s an expectation of having access and the attention of the city manager for any matter big or small and I’m such a believer in being a responsive city government that I keep my door open all the time. I think that goes a long way towards building the trust of the citizens but it comes at a cost of having time to spend on the long term strategic issues facing the city. Lately I’ve had a couple of code enforcement issues, police relations matters and development items that I’ve been actively engaged in.
When it comes to our city council, we’re also a busy city government with council meetings just about every week (which for reference purposes is more than any other city I’ve worked in) and that means I have to be sure the staff and I are prepared to present information and answer questions that will come up. Likewise, with 10 members on council it’s not unusual to get 3-4 questions a week from individual council members that require my attention and follow up. Again, these issues are often not necessarily super important in and of themselves but since they come from council I’ve got to stay on top of them.
As the CEO I also have a lot of sign-off responsibilities that I have to attend to that keep the city government running on all cylinders. I bet I sign 100 documents a week that I try to read thru and understand before I sign. These are things like purchase orders, budget transfers, payroll, etc. I hate to even think about how much time these types of items actually take each week.
Again, as the CEO I get a lot of requests for interviews with the media, both the Record Courier and the Kent Stater, and even occassionally the Beacon Journal. It’s important to get the right information out there to people so I never turn an interview down but again that comes at a price. With all the press-in-training at KSU you’d be amazed at how many student requests I get for interviews — some of them end up in the Stater but a lot of them turn out to just be homework assignments that never get published. Unfortunately I can’t know which will hit the wire so I have to treat each one as if it’s tomorrow’s headlines which I don’t mind doing, but it takes time.
4. Not Urgent, Not Important — I’m still a relatively new city manager so it’s still very important for me to have face time around the city. People need to see the city manager at functions, employees need to see me walking through their buildings and the KSU faculty and administration needs to see me at their happenings. These social events form the basis of business relationships but they are also very time consuming.
Well, that’s a snapshot of my “to do” list. I’m exhausted just looking at it.