People are gripped with time management these days. Every single person I have discussed this subject with has had a strong opinion on the subject of what helps in effective time management. Some use various apps in the Play Store, some rely on diaries and year planners, and some on their sharp memories. Several studies seem to indicate that some tools and strategies work for some people in some settings, but not for others. “The link between time management and well-being exhibits much variability,” write researchers Brad Aeon, from Concordia University in Montreal, and Herman Agurnis, from George Washington University, in a research paper. What makes so many people fail in their battle with time management? Are there smarter ways to maximise the use of time, without the help of technology, so that we live a life that offers us adequate time for our families and ourselves?
Some people are more mindful of the time and how they use it than others. They have better alertness of how much time they will spend on what. Others are very prone to being optimistic when ‘budgeting’ it – a common pitfall when managing time, called ‘the planning fallacy’. Many people choose to do one thing at a time, while some others feel more comfortable multi-tasking. At the same time, how time is understood and used, and how its use or misuse is appreciated is also governed significantly by cultural norms and can vary significantly. Indians are said to live by “Indian Stretchable Time”, but the Swiss and Germans (and most Europeans) live by time measured in split-second precision. This is also a key factor in cross cultural engagement.
Is time management important for all of us? Yes, it is. Whatever job we may be tasked with, at any level or hierarchy, time management is crucial. It is important in managing our day-to-day chores at home as we all have limited time at hand, but due to the complexities of our time, the tasks before us have also increased. Time management is not easy to do, and yet it is one of the most important areas of improvement for all of us these days. The core of time management is the following:
These may appear to be very simple and even basic steps at first look and even a child can do them. But when we examine them through the lens of optimization, they become much more intricate. In order to make the best use of these steps, we must concern ourselves with recognizing the “right” or the “best” way to complete each step. We can easily see that some decision-action groups produce smarter results than others. So, the question then becomes, “What is the thing that needs to be done right away, and what is the smartest way to do it?”
Answering the phone is urgent. If you don’t do it, the caller will hang up, and it may be an important call, though it could also be a telecaller informing you that you may be eligible for a prize on a lottery ticket you never bought or someone trying to sell you insurance. That’s not important!
Going to the dentist regularly and getting a health check-up regularly is important. If you don’t, you may get a toothache or other health problems. But it’s not urgent. If you delay it too long though, it may become pressing, because it may progress to a severe toothache.
Picking children up from school is both urgent and important. If you are not there when school ends, they may be wandering around the school premises and anxious to get home quickly.
Reading WhatsApp messages or checking Facebook is neither urgent nor important. So, why is it usually the first thing that you do every morning?
This difference between what is priority and what is important is the key to deciding how your time is spent and the workload we bear, be it at work or home. The advantages of managing your time well are not just vital for the furtherance of your career, but they also have substantial influence upon your personal life. Failing to correctly manage your time in one area of your life will affect many other areas adversely. In order to avoid such conflicting situations, you need to accept that learning about time management involves revisiting and reorganising your lifestyle. In other words, you need to adopt a lifestyle that is consistent with effective time management. For example, it’s hard for someone who doesn’t practice punctuality as a value to be effective at managing their time.
Setting daily goals at your workplace is a good time management strategy.
a) Set daily goals, which are specific and relevant to your job profile. These goals need to be achievable and yet the bar should not be set so low, that they are comfortably achievable. One way is to break each goal into chunks of smaller activities of shorter time targets, as accomplishing these milestones will provide the motivation to achieve the larger goal.
b) Measure your performance periodically, preferably at the end of the day. In fact, you can also track the performance of short-term tasks too.
c) Take quick action if you notice that you are off the target. Try delegating tasks to achieve more in shorter time.
1. Don’t procrastinate: Procrastination cuts your productivity and increases the stress level, especially if you have deadlines to meet. Have someone hold you accountable for the tasks that you had written up for the day – did they get done or not?
2. Schedule yourself: Daily scheduling of tasks is a corollary of goal setting. Scheduling of tasks will also include prioritizing of tasks. Don’t waste time over unimportant tasks, rather prioritize which tasks are imperative at that time and concentrate on those only.
3. Stay away from distractions: Block out all distractions during work time. No Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp or even checking emails except at stipulated times. Many people keep checking messages or mail notifications frequently during their work; always set aside a fixed time to check messages and send replies.
5. Prioritize your tasks: Always build the habit of prioritizing your tasks, as suggested earlier – unimportant tasks consume energy and time.
6. Delegate some tasks: Don’t try to do everything on your own. As a manager, you need to get your work done, but you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Delegate some of the tasks to others on your team and make them feel empowered.
7. Good housekeeping: Practicing good housekeeping methodology such as 5s will keep you organized and will help you save precious time at your workplace. 5s, a Japanese methodology consists of 5 steps in order starting each with “S”, – “Seiri”, “Seiton”, “Seiso”, “Seiketsu” and “Shitsuke”, which means, at your workplace:
Keeping everything organized and clean will save your time to access resources, whenever you need those urgently.
8). Keep yourself stress free: Do stress busting exercises of your choice at your workplace and there are many available to choose from. Stress inevitably reduces your productivity and, of course, affects your health. Take short breaks of 5-10 minutes, whenever you are performing tasks for longer duration.
9). Have the courage to say NO: Most people don’t want to say no while they are assigned tasks when they are already overloaded with work. This leads to bitterness when tasks are not completed in time or quality is compromised. Hence, it is better to say “No” politely when you are already overloaded with work.
10). Review Progress: Good time management is always fulfilling – professionally or personally, while bad time management takes a toll.
Let us look at a case to understand what time management is in a competitive start up scenario:
Suppose, you are an entrepreneur heading a start up, which is at a very nascent stage. The market is very competitive and dynamic for the kind of product the company is offering, i.e. the first mover gets all the advantages. Now, you are under a lot of pressure from your investors to introduce this product quickly and in fact you have been given the deadline of a month for this. You and the team are on a tight leash.
Now, if you must make this project work and secure further investment, what must be given importance? In one way or the other, the answer would be time management.
Common areas of improvement:
Apart from good time management, there are obviously other ways to improve performance, which managers can work upon to increase their productivity:
Maintain good relationships with all your colleagues, be they your supervisors, peers or subordinates. Remain socially engaged with them and not just in work related matters. Good relationships always generate positive vibes and energy which contributes to a congenial work environment. Some chatter at lunch or tea breaks will also help in reducing work related stress too.
Good and timely communication helps you share your assessments and thoughts clearly without ambiguity. Communication doesn’t mean verbal communication. Expressions and your body language communicate a lot more than words do and in fact it is estimated that only about 20 percent of the message is conveyed verbally.
In today’s age, you need to constantly and intentionally work upon upgrading your skillset as the ones for which you were hired may gradually become obsolete. There is no fixed age of learning and online courses have made it easy and often affordable too. Identify your weaknesses and get yourself trained, and don’t just depend on appraisals and performance evaluations to flag areas of learning.
Good time management is a skill and the more you practice it, the better you get at it. Time management makes the workplace better organized and smart. In summary, to be a good manager at the workplace, practice good time management skills day-in day-out. This article is only an attempt at offering a teaser into good time management skills.