There are 86,000 seconds in each day. In those seconds, people run countries and manage large conglomerates. Others, however, find it difficult to complete even the smallest of tasks. So, how do successful managers do it? The answer lies in effective time management.
• What is time management?
• Get SMART
• The four step axis
• Managing demands
What is time management?
Time management is any system of controlling and using time as efficiently and effectively as possible. Time itself is transitory and uncontrollable. It’s how you use it that you can control. We often complain that there ‘just aren’t enough hours in the day.’ However, by implementing a filter system into our daily routine, we can learn to identify and eliminate time wasting activities and take control of our time.
The introduction of a time management system into a manager’s daily routine will differ according to individual circumstances. However, the first stage in development is to analyze your workload in relation to the time available. You can then set your objectives.
Tim Stanley, a marketing director for a leading communication agency, advises his staff to ‘Get SMART’. He suggests ‘the use of clear, concise objectives provides a framework from which we can make the correct time management decisions’.
The SMART theory is simple:
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Realistic
T – Timescales
It is important to have direction in your work – where are you going, what are you doing and why are you doing it? What are the aims of your department or organization? A clear understanding of your achievements can make it easier to focus on time management issues.
Objectives must have a scaling system so that you can measure if they have been achieved or how far you have to go to reach them.
Whatever your objective might be, for example, to sell a certain quantity of product over a specific period, it is always advisable to set it out in qualitative terms so that you can judge your own success or failure. This way, you can look back each day or week to see how achievable your goals have been in relation to your time and input.
Are your objectives attainable? Do they fit in with the objectives of the organization as a whole, and can you rely on the support of the other departments to achieve them? For example, a conflict of interest may arise if the resources are not available to hire five new members of staff to assist you.
You should set dates of completion for duties and tasks and target dates for completion of overall objectives. This will help you to categorize key tasks and provide you with the framework to refine and develop your time management system.
Stanley’s position involves the strategy and implementation of short and long-term goals; therefore it is vital that he has an efficient time management system. ‘I have to be in control of my time’, he says, ‘and focusing on the key business priorities is the first step.
Get organized: the four-step axis
Once your objectives have been set, it’s now time to think about prioritizing your personal tasks. A diary system is a useful support method. The Microsoft Outlook calendar facility on your pc is also helpful.
For maximum effect, the priority task list should be as clear and concise as possible. According to James Uxbridge, manager within a general insurer, ‘categorizing my tasks and placing them into an ordered structure has helped me overcome the initial time management problems I encountered during the transitional stages of becoming a manager’. Uxbridge’s own manager recommended using a matrix or an axis such as the one below:
How to use the axis
• Write a list of all your activities
• Alongside each task, write U (urgent) or I (important)
• Classify each activity on a scale of 1-5 (1 = most important)
• Place your tasks on the axis in order of importance (see key)
Managing your team’s demands and interruptions
Senior or experienced members of any group will find they are regularly sought out by junior staff wishing to clarify a point or discuss an immediate problem. Uxbridge recounts being inundated with questions and problems when he was first put into his managerial position, and says, ‘after some management training, I realized that by giving into these constant whims, they were managing my time, instead of me!’
He learnt to deal with this by focusing on the following three points:
• Identify the problem: Ask him/her to explain the situation, and ask them what they have they done so far to solve the problem. This should encourage them to think for themselves.
• Discuss the options: What would you suggest we do now? What else?
• Try to turn the focus back to the person so that they can solve the problem.
• Offer a solution: As a last resort, offer solutions but try to encourage them to find their own so they have the confidence to do it themselves next time.
Stanley, on the other hand, says he has one simple way of dealing with unnecessary interruptions. ‘I just say “no” and sometimes I say “yes” later. I try to strike a balance as I want to be seen as firm but fair.’
A high level of interaction between people at work is considered healthy; however, this can result in potential disadvantages for one’s personal effectiveness. For example, idle conversations, interruptions from your own staff, your colleagues or your boss, and prolonged or unnecessary meetings can all potentially be disruptive. Your time is precious.
You can endeavour to reduce time-wasting situations by making appointments to see people at set times, and telling them not to interrupt you during certain times. If you are interrupted, impose a time limit by saying ‘I’ve got five minutes and adhere to it. Do not invite the person to sit down and try to remain standing yourself.
Asking a co-worker to say that you are in another meeting or on the other line can also divert telephone interruptions. Similarly, don’t distract yourself! If you are working on a project that you do not particularly like, it is easy to pick up the phone and have a chat with a mate, or go for numerous coffee breaks. Don’t be your own worst enemy.
In delegating a task, a manager is effectively sharing his workload with a subordinate. If done efficiently, this can allow the manager to focus on his/her more urgent tasks.
Make sure the person you are delegating to has the correct set of skills and experience to undertake the task.
Set the objectives to be achieved.
• Explain exactly what is expected of the employee concerned
• Define the limits of the person’s authority to commit
• Devise a simple control procedure for ensuring that progress is being made and difficulties are dealt with
• Ensure that the task has been completed
The first step in improving your personal use of time is recognizing you could achieve better results within the 86,400 seconds that make up a day. During the time you allocate to certain activities, identify time wasting activities and tackle them in a systematic way. In turn, you can work on improving your communication and assertiveness skills to achieve more effective results. As Tim Stanley says ‘learn to say no now, and yes later – maybe.’
And, don’t forget to leave enough time in your hectic schedule to enjoy your free time!