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How to Manage Your Time Effectively and Efficiently

The key to successful time management is planning and then protecting the planned time. 

  • This can often involve re-conditioning your environment and particularly the re-conditioning the expectations of others. 

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 Statistics

Emphasising the huge significance and opportunities in time management, a 2007 survey by the Proudfoot Consulting (Guardian 22 Oct 07) covering 2,500 businesses over four years and 38 countries, indicated that wasted time costs UK businesses £80bn per year, equivalent to 7% of GDP. The causes of wasted time - labour inefficiency in other words - were:

  • inadequate workforce supervision (31%)
  • poor management planning (30%)
  • poor communication (18%)
  • IT problems, low morale, and lack or mismatch of skills (21%)

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

These failings of organisation 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.

Tips for Managing Your Time

Be prepared to make drastic changes. Be creative to find and introduce different ways of doing things. 

Calls and Emails: Manage your emails and phone calls - don't let them manage you. Ideally, check at planned times, and avoid continuous notification of incoming emails. The more senior you are the more selective you need to be about when to be available to receive phone calls.
  • Try to minimise the time that you are available to take unplanned phone calls unless you are in a customer-facing, reactive role (customers can be internal too), and even if you are customer-facing, you must plan some time slots when you are not available, or you'll never get anything important and pro-active done.
Saying Yes: 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.

Keep a log/use time-management templates: Really think about how you currently spend your time. If you don't know, keep a time log for a few days to find out there's a free time management time-log template tool here. Knowing exactly what's wrong is the first step to improving it.

  • Download and use the free time management assessment tool in the free online resources section, which will help you or another person to objectively judge your time management and underlying issues.

Reflect on things that might be wasting your time: 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.

Prioritise your activities and make plans: Review your activities in terms of your own personal short-term and long-term life and career goals, and prioritise your activities accordingly.

  • Plan preparation and creative thinking time in your diary for 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.
  • 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.
  • Use the 'urgent-important' system of assessing activities and deciding priorities. See more in the time management section.

Scheduling: 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 in the new time management section.

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 - a particularly new technology that helps others but not you - then you will open the way for new increasing demands on your time, 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.

Plan for unplanned activities and tasks that may arise: 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.

Complete tasks immediately: 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 under any circumstances pick up a job, do a bit of it, and then put it back on the pile.

  • Do not start lots of jobs at the same time - even if you can handle different tasks at the same time it's not the most efficient way of dealing with them.

Stay organised: Keep a clean desk and well-organised systems. Don't be obsessive about tidiness - busy people often make a mess - but ensure your mess doesn't undermine your effectiveness.

Delegation: Delegate as much as possible to others. If you have one, give 25% of your responsibility to your successor (for more information see the rules of delegation)

  • 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.

Find a space where you can work without interruptions: 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 organisation that you be able to work uninterrupted when you need to.

Use templates to save time: 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.

Always probe deadlines to establish the true situation: People asking you to do things will often say 'now' when 'later today' 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.

Break big tasks down into stages and plan time slots for them. 

For more information read the time management systems, techniques and training section. Choose some of the above time management tips and commit to putting them into effect.  

A Story About Time Management

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 Stephen Hart)

For more amusing time management examples and stories see:

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