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See main subjects index for more materials, ideas and resources.

time management tips

time management quick tips here

time management techniques, tools, free systems samples and templates here

Time management starts with the commitment to change. Time management is easy as long as you commit to action. The key to successful time management is planning and then protecting the planned time, which often involves re-conditioning your environment, and particularly the re-conditioning the expectations of others. In terms of time management, you are at your most efficient the day before you start your annual leave. Your time management and efficiency on this day is probably awesome. If you really want to, you can be that well-organized every day...

Time management enables each of us to improve and be more productive and fulfilled individually, so logically the effects across whole organisations of good or poor time management are enormous.

The collective implications of wasted time, and happily also the benefits of increasing personal productivity, are immense.

time management tips - and ideas for time management skills training

  1. Question routines, habits and assumptions - your own and others. Time management depends on controlling and changing things. Many routines, habits and assumptions are obstacles to control and change.
  2. Be creative to find different ways of doing things. Invite suggestions from others, who can often see situations more clearly than you, and come up with new ideas.
  3. Small changes can produce very big results. See the 'Pareto Principle' (80:20 Rule) to help understand this. Look for small easy changes that will produce big results.
  4. Assess what efforts and activities are most productive, and which are not. The acronyms PAY and MILE help explain this. See the Urgent/Important time management tool.
  5. Emails and phone calls are usually major opportunities to improve time management. Don't let them manage you - manage them. Try to check your messages at planned times, and try to avoid continuous notification of incoming emails. You may have to explain why you are doing this to people who communicate with you.
  6. The use of modern technology such as smartphones and other online distractions can be major time stealers. Question the degree to which you are managing all this, rather than it be managing you.
  7. Generally the more senior your role, then the more selective you need to be about when to be available to receive phone calls - where possible plan time slots for this, and if necessary/possible remove yourself from the situation to create space/time when you cannot be interrupted.
  8. If you are in a customer-facing, reactive role giving constant customer service (customers can be internal too) you must still try to plan some time-slots when you are not available, or you'll never get anything important and pro-active done. Often this isn't easy, but it can be done with some thought and determination.
  9. Challenge your own tendency to say 'yes' without scrutinising the request - start asking and probing what's involved - find out what the real expectations and needs are. See the guidance on assertiveness and self-confidence.
  10. To take a broader approach and properly assess how you currently spend your time, keep a time log for a few days to find out. See the free time management time-log template tool. Measuring something is the first step to improving it, especially if you need to explain/justify changes to others.
  11. Challenge anything that could be wasting time and effort, particularly habitual tasks, meetings and reports where responsibility is inherited or handed down from above. Don't be a slave to a daft process or system.
  12. Review your activities in terms of your own personal short-term and long-term life and career goals, and prioritise your activities accordingly. See the career development tool for exploring this in depth.
  13. Plan preparation and creative thinking time in your diary for the long-term jobs, because they need it. The short-term urgent tasks will always use up all your time unless you plan to spend it otherwise. The 'Rocks in a Bucket' story explains this.
  14. Use a diary, and an activity planner to schedule when to do things, and time-slots for things you know will need doing or responding to. There's a sample time management activity schedule template with examples on the new time management section.
  15. Re-condition the expectations of others as to your availability and their claim on your time - use an activity planner to help you justify why you and not others should be prioritising your activities and time.
  16. Manage your environment as a whole - especially at the proposed or actual introduction of new systems, tools, technology, people, or processes, which might threaten to generate new demands on your time. If you accept changes without question - particularly new technology that helps others but not you - then you will open the way for new increasing demands on your time, or new interruptions, or new tasks and obligations. Instead consider new technology and other changes from the point of view of your time and efficiency. Ask yourself - is this going to save my time or add to my burden? Managing your environment - which includes managing, redefining, or reconditioning the expectations of others - is a critical aspect of effective time management.
  17. You must plan time slots for unplanned activities - you may not know exactly what you'll need to do, but if you plan the time to do it, then other important things will not get pushed out of the way when the demand arises.
  18. When you're faced with a pile of things to do, go through them quickly and make a list of what needs doing and when. After this handle each piece of paper only once. Do not pick up a job, do a bit of it, then put it back on the pile.
  19. Avoid starting too many jobs at the same time. It's usually not very efficient. Understand your capabilities to multi-task. Usually it is better to finish jobs before staring new ones. This is an easy decision to explain to others. "Ok, I'll deal with this new job when I have finished the ones I am currently working on.."
  20. Be firm and diplomatic in dealing with time allocated for meetings, paperwork, telephone, and visitors, etc. If you keep your time log you will see how much time is wasted. Take control. Provided you explain why you are managing your time in this way, people will generally understand and respect you for it.
  21. Keep a clean desk and well-organized systems. Untidiness always causes inefficiencies and wasted time.
  22. Delegate as much as possible to others. If you have one, give 25% of your responsibility to your successor. See the tips and techniques for delegation.
  23. You don't need to be a manager to delegate. Just asking nicely is sometimes all that's required to turn one of your difficult tasks into an easy one for somebody else better able to do it.
  24. If you can't stop interruptions when you need a quiet space for planned concentration time-slots, then find somewhere else in the building to work, and if necessary work at home or another site, and fight for the right to do this - it's important for you and the organization that you be able to work uninterrupted when you need to.
  25. Set up an acceptable template for the regular weekly or monthly reports you write, so you only need to slot in the updated figures and narrative, each time.
  26. When you reach a senior position, having a good assistant, secretary or pa will greatly improve the way you manage your time.
  27. Sharpen up your decision-making. See the decision-making and problem-solving tips. Importantly however, avoid wasting time on decisions that do not yet need to be made.
  28. Always question deadlines to establish the true situation - people asking you to do things will often say 'now' when 'later today' or 'tomorrow' would be perfectly acceptable. Appeal to the other person's own sense of time management: it's impossible for anyone to do a good job without the opportunity to plan and prioritise.
  29. Where appropriate negotiate deadlines and deliverables that are imposed on/expected of you.
  30. Break big tasks down into stages and plan time-slots for them. Use project management methods.
  31. Read the time management systems, techniques and training section.
  32. Poor time management is a major cause of stress, so it's worth investing some thought and effort to improve how you organize your time. Meanwhile, many stress management techniques are very helpful in managing your time better.
  33. Commitment is a major aspect of successful time management, so choose at least one of the above time management tips and commit to putting them into effect. You will make a commitment more likely to happen if you attach a timescale, some way to measure that it has actually been done, and its results, and also tell others of your commitment.

 

the priest and the politician (a story about time management and being late)

After twenty-five years in the same parish, Father O'Shaunessey was saying his farewells at his retirement dinner. An eminent member of the congregation - a leading politician - had been asked to make a presentation and a short speech, but was late arriving.

So the priest took it upon himself to fill the time, and stood up to the microphone:

"I remember the first confession I heard here twenty-five years ago and it worried me as to what sort of place I'd come to... That first confession remains the worst I've ever heard. The chap confessed that he'd stolen a TV set from a neighbour and lied to the police when questioned, successfully blaming it on a local scallywag. He said that he'd stolen money from his parents and from his employer; that he'd had affairs with several of his friends' wives; that he'd taken hard drugs, and had slept with his sister and given her VD. You can imagine what I thought... However I'm pleased to say that as the days passed I soon realised that this sad fellow was a frightful exception and that this parish was indeed a wonderful place full of kind and decent people..."

At this point the politician arrived and apologised for being late, and keen to take the stage, he immediately stepped up to the microphone and pulled his speech from his pocket:

"I'll always remember when Father O'Shaunessey first came to our parish," said the politician, "In fact, I'm pretty certain that I was the first person in the parish that he heard in confession..."

(Adapted from a story sent by S Hart, thanks.)

For more amusing time management examples and stories see:

the rocks in a bucket story

the monkey story

the 'we've always done it that way' story

 

some interesting time management statistics

This piece of research was a few years ago, but relevant today still to illustrate the potentially huge values that can derive from improving time management. A major survey of 2,500 businesses over four years and 38 countries indicated that wasted time was costing UK businesses £80bn per year, equivalent to 7% of GDP. The causes of wasted time were broadly categorized as:

Clearly organisations are vastly under-utilizing their people, and could be doing a lot more to enable more efficient working.

These failings of organization and leadership make it all the more important for individual people to think creatively about time management, and particularly to start making changes to improve time management at a personal individual level. (Source Proudfoot Consulting/Guardian).


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