Effective time management in the workplace is a critical skill in both the delivery of results and the management of people and processes. There is the old saying, and I have found this very true, that work expands to fill the allotted time you give it. So if you are not disciplined in how you manage your time you either end up working most of the waking day and/or not delivering the results your performance is measured on.
The time management issues covered in this article may be very familiar to you. But like many good ideas we are often not good at consistently following through with them and a “refresher” is always a good step to bringing the ideas back into our conscious minds.
Like all of my articles your feedback and comments are always most welcome.
What are the benefits of managing your time?
Effective time management allows you to:
- achieve objectives;
- focus on priorities;
- tackle the right tasks first;
- develop your team by delegating appropriately;
- be organised; and
- create a stress free environment.
I was told early on in my career that there were two types of managers. Those that delivered and those that were busy. The former concentrated on the results and the later were concentrated on the activity of being busy. Of course it’s a little simplified, but it does get across the point that what matters in how you manage yourself and others is in the results you are measured by.
This is not to say how you get to those results is not important, far from it. But a good process in a team should be driven by the objectives and goals, not the other way round.
So how can I plan my time more effectively?
The key to remember here is we are seeking continual improvement. We are all good and bad at time keeping in different activities, so what we are seeking is being aware of what does soak up our time and being more protective from the time wasting activities that can so easily consume our day. And it can be done. As Mark Forster writes in his book Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management “To complain about a shortage of time is like a fish in the sea complaining that it has a shortage of water”.
Some basis hints and tips for planning time:
- spend 5 minutes at the beginning or end of the day planning work;
- use a day planning calendar;
- block time in your diary for administrative tasks, thinking time and your day work;
- allow time between meetings to travel to venues;
- only have files/paperwork needed for the task in hand on your desk;
- divide large tasks into small manageable chunks;
- do not over commit yourself, learn to say “no”;
- allow time for interruptions; and
- use prioritising methods.
How can I easily prioritise my day?
There are a number of ways in which to prioritise, the following is a quick and simple method. In order to prioritise effectively, each of your tasks should be ranked in order of importance and urgency:
- important – in relation to consequence ie something which must be done and is critical to successful performance; and
- urgent – in relation to time ie a task with an imminent deadline is not always critical to successful performance.
For both importance and urgency there is scale of high and low which will enable you to further rank and consider your actions using the following:
- A – must be done (today)
- B – should be done
- C – might be done (assess objectively)
- D – delegate
- E – eliminate
For example: if you have two important and urgent tasks you may choose ‘A’ must be done today for one task and ‘D’ delegate for the second.
Use the following grid to help you with this method.
(staff development, training, appraisals)
(flight departure, system cutover, project milestone)
(nice to do – read newsletters, other business information)
(interruption, request from others, phone calls)
“If you want to make good use of your time, you've got to know what's most important and then give it all you've got” Lee Iacocca
Hints and tips for the day-to-day work activities
Some hints on overcoming those activities which may hinder you from managing time effectively:
- do not answer your phone when you are at meetings or when you are not to be interrupted;
- prepare discussion points in advance when making a call;
- allocate time during the day to make calls;
- learn to say ‘no’;
- focus on your own priorities; and
- understand impact on yourself of doing too much can lead to errors requiring more time to correct, stress and an unhappy environment and working long hours impacting on your work/life balance.
- keep messages short, and use a meaningful title;
- send to relevant people and avoid copying unnecessarily;
- review your email folders regularly and delete or archive old material;
- delete old emails;
- when replying to emails don’t include everyone unless it's relevant to them; and
- do not reply with history unless it really adds value to the reader.
Set start and stop times:
- consider scheduling meetings for 45 minutes rather than one hour. This then provides some spillage buffer and enables others to get to other meetings on time; and
- when planning work always put an end time to it.
- keep your diary accurate and up to date to avoid confusion and extra effort for yourself and others;
- set your working day availability for meetings within lotus notes calendar;
- do not accept or schedule back to back meetings, schedule in non-availability;
- only plan three quarters of your day or week; and
- one of the biggest challenges of managing time is the impact meetings have. To minimise this impact the planning and organisation of meetings is critical.
- apply the 80/20 rule – 80% of unfocussed effort achieves 20% of results, the remaining 80% of results are achieved with 20% of focussed effort.
- deal with the task right away rather than pick it up, think about it and put it down again; and
- set time aside to deal with tasks that.
As you have seen already the ability to say “no” does come up as one of the simplest, most effective, and yet most difficult actions we can do in developing better time management. Pamela Dodd and Doug Sundheim highlight this in their book The 25 Best Time Management Tools and Techniques: How to Get More Done without Driving Yourself Crazy, which is just a fantastic title, you must be able to say no in order to prioritise and keep to your commitments, ie the commitments at work and at home.
Hints and tips on planning and organising meetings
There are many different kinds of meetings, eg communication, project, informal and managing your team. In general whatever the type of meeting there are three key phases to consider when planning: before; during; and after the meeting.
Before the meeting:
- be clear on the purpose of the meeting;
- set out what the objectives you wish the meeting to achieve;
- if there is overlap with another meeting ensure this is minimised and ensure the audience knows how the two fit together;
- ensure the meeting is focused enough but with room for discussion on relevant items;
- invite the right people, ie people who have a direct interest in the issues and / or can contribute to the discussion;
- those attending need to be able to make or at least affect decisions to achieve the goal;
- decide whether a facilitator required; and
- share the objectives and contributions expected of those attending.
- set a clear agenda – time, discussion items, speaker, venue;
- notify participants in advance of location of relevant documentation eg previous minutes, discussion papers, agenda;
- research and prepare any material you need; and
- to meet your objectives consider how you will achieve them eg agreement, decision, influence.
- appropriate venue – size, location, equipment, layout; and
- timing – estimate and allocate time to the agenda, schedule the meeting for this amount of time versus the traditional blocks of time.
During the meeting:
- avoid time wasting and keep to agenda timings.
Opening the meeting:
- introduce attendees;
- state purpose of the meeting;
- confirm agenda;
- clarify outputs required; and
- confirm roles eg chair, note taker.
- record outcomes, action items and timescales;
- chairing the meeting;
- ensure everyone has the opportunity to participate;
- keep the discussion on track and interject when necessary;
- ensure agenda items have been covered; and
- summarise what’s been agreed and next steps.
After the meeting:
- create and circulate minutes/notes of the meeting within 24 hours;
- track progress on outcomes of the meeting; and
- review the meeting to ensure it achieved the set objectives.
“Your greatest resource is your time” BrianTracy