What is Time Management?

Time management is the method of monitoring and tracking the tasks that time is spent on, in an effort to improve productivity and decrease unnecessary effort. The term can encompass a wide range of time tracking methods. On an individual level, many people use informal methods to do this. This can include everything from journaling time spent to creating a personalized spreadsheet. On an organizational level, an increasing number of companies are implementing web- or software-based time systems to analyze the types of activities that their employees are spending time on. 

Why Do I Need a Time Management System?

On an individual level, time management can improve your personal efficiency. If you are paid hourly or by contract, ensuring that you are spending time on the highest-paying tasks can increase your average pay rate. If you are a full-time employee, becoming more efficient can improve your work performance and promotion potential. A time management system helps you become more focus by allowing you to focus first on activities that are important and rewarding. The simple diagram below works well for an individual time management system.

Time Management Matrix

On an organizational level, a time management system can be invaluable in maximizing employee efficiency and decreasing wasted time. Goal-setting, reallocating resources and prioritizing tasks are the primary means by which time tracking can help improve an organization’s performance.

Based on the results of time tracking, goals can be set to improve efficiency or better allocate resources. For example, a manager at a major automotive company implemented time tracking last year. He found that his workers were spending a majority of their time in meetings and were spending a small minority of their time actually executing their work. The manager revised his meetings policy, insisting that each employee spend a maximum of four hours per day in meetings. The organization was able to have more efficient meetings, and his employees gained valuable time to complete their tasks.

An organization can also use time analysis to reallocate company resources. This is often done in conjunction with a profitability study, which illustrates which products and processes are providing the most benefit to the company. If employees are spending a large of amount of time on a low-priority project that does not contribute a great deal of profit, those employees can be re-allocated to work on high-profit projects and tasks.

One additional benefit of time tracking is that it allows organizations to assure that the correct project prioritization is in place. For example, a company might dictate that Project A is the most important project, and employees should therefore focus the majority of their time on Project A. By analyzing a month or two of time tracking data, managers can see if employees are correctly prioritizing and spending the optimal amount of time on Project A.

How to Design a Time Management System

 For organizations, there are two primary methods to designing a time management system: formal and informal.

 Formal time management systems provide a structured way to track time and analyze results. Generally, these systems are provided by web-based companies. Just a few of these companies include Ace Project, Click Time, and TimeTrak. Most web-based services are “Software as a Service” companies, meaning that customers must pay a monthly or annual fee for use of the system, rather than paying once to purchase the software.

 Informal time management systems can include hand-written time notes, ad hoc spreadsheets or verbal time estimates. In an informal time tracking process, managers ask each employee to report time spent on various activities, but do not have a formal software program to analyze and compile the data. These informal processes can be easier for employees, but lack the analytical power that software solutions provide. Most individual time tracking solutions fall into this informal category.

 Which system is best for your organization? That depends. If your company is very tightly regimented, with formal processes for systems and communication, a formal time management system is probably best. If your company is more laid-back, with very few dictated processes, consider an informal system. The style of time system that best fits with your company culture will ensure a minimal workforce disruption when it is enacted.

How to Implement a Time Management System

For individuals, implementing a time management system involves deciding on a time tracking format and setting accountability goals to ensure compliance. First, the individual should decide on the time tracking format that is best for them. A written journal, word processing program or spreadsheet can provide enough horsepower to easily record individual time. There are also free online time tracking programs such as Klok and Paymo. Second, set up accountability goals for yourself. Try to accurately record all of your time for a week or two and then analyze your performance. Set up check-ins with a friend or colleague to ensure that you continue to track and analyze your time.

For an organization, the first step in implementing a new time tracking system is to clearly and thoroughly explain the new procedures, software system and time tracking benefits to employees. Many employees will initially balk at the idea of a time management system, as they might fear increased scrutiny of their efforts and dislike the time required to interface with the system. Some might even fear that their jobs will be eliminated if major efficiencies result from implementing the system.

Be sure to state the benefits of time management to your employees. Frame the benefits in terms of their day-to-day job tasks and career prospects. For example, better allocating time might help free up additional time for an employee to work on “reach” tasks that will lead to a quicker promotion. Or employees might enjoy an extra hour or two off a week if the organization sees significant efficiencies.

Train the employees thoroughly on the new system. In order to receive maximum compliance with any new system, employees must be able to easily fit time into their schedule to input data. Utilize an in-house IT professional or hire a temporary contractor to ensure an error-free installation on employee’s computers. Hold training sessions with small groups to allow easy facilitation of questions and feedback. Allow employees to utilize the system in training to ensure they know exactly how to enter data.

Finally, be sure to evaluate the system’s results after 6-12 months. Is the system providing meaningful data that translates into actionable results? If not, contact your system vendor to discuss potential improvements. Are your employees accurately recording their time? Hold small round tables with employees to discuss the system’s impact on their daily work habits and any improvements they might suggest. Often, it is these end users who provide the most valuable feedback on system improvements.

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