Time management

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This unit is used in: First Line Management

"Time" of Huntington Beach. A photo by Osamu Uchida

Time management[edit]

Time management is about managing one's time to execute behaviours required to effectively achieve goals. Thus, time management aims to maximise individual productivity. Time management skills include planning, allocating, setting goals, monitoring and organising the time an individual has to achieve tasks (Nonis & Hudson, 2010) Behaviours include , such as work or academic duties, which are aimed at using time effectively (Claessens, Van Earde, Rutte, Roe, 2007).

There is popular belief that poor allocation of time increases stress and subsequently impairs performance (Macan, 1994). Time management research indicates that ineffective or ‘poor’ time management can affect productivity in the workplace (Duffin, 2009) and have detrimental consequences on an individual’s private life (LeFebvre, 2009). A meta-analysis of time management research literature (1982-2004) found that time management behaviours are associated with increases in job satisfaction, health, and stress reduction (Claessens, van Eerde, Rutte, & Roe 2007). However they noted that the findings in regard to work and academic performance were unclear. Where effects on performance were found, they tended to be positive; however they were often of small effect size or inconsistent significance. Time management is an also effective stress-coping strategy (Nonis, Hudson, Logan & Ford, 1998).

Parts of time management are art, and parts are science. Also be aware that time management is a multidimensional concept that can be dissected into many skills and behaviours (Macan, Shahani, Dipboye & Phillips, 1990) - for more detail, see dimensionality of time management.

Why time management is relevant to the individual[edit]

As with all finite individual resources, scarcity is correlated to the implementation of applied management tactics. A related challenge, it is possible to work continuously and yet not achieve desired results. Similarly some projects are large enough to be daunting as the starting point isn't apparent.

While the tendency to be complicit and avoid change or to resist the burdensome may feel rewarding in the immediate tense, perhaps it may only be the perception of the issue at hand that binds one's ability to excel at it.

What to do first - How much time do you have?[edit]

First, we have to know how much effective time we have. For instance, if we want time to manage our day at work, we have to figure out how long we have to do work.

This is harder than it appears. You may work an 8 hour day, but it is doubtful that you have 8 hours of effective working time in that day. Meetings, trips to the water cooler, discussions about last nights TV shows all cut into your working time. Many people are interrupted by others when they are working -- this can be in the form of phone calls, personal visits or urgent e-mails. If you don't know how much effective time you have, you can do an informal time study. Underestimating the amount of time a task will take (e.g., by failing to account for setting the up, travel time to the location, etc.), or overestimating the amount of time one has to complete the task is a cognitive mistake consistently at the heart of poor time management.

Next - What do you have to do?[edit]

This is the simple step - you simply record what you have to do. This can be done on a piece of paper, in an electronic organizer, or in some other form. Make sure it's not just in your head, though -- while you might have a fantastic memory, we need the information in some form so we can manipulate it. Pick the form that you are happiest with, as it'll be you that has to work with it.

What is important?[edit]

Next thing is ranking the items. Make three lists, A, B and C. A is the list of items to do today; B are things that need to be done in the next week or so, and C are in the next month or so. Next, we'll put a number starting at 1 beside each A list item, until we run out of items in your A list. We won't order the B or C list right now.

How much time will it take?[edit]

We now go through the various A list items and estimate how much time it will take. Don't worry too much about being perfect, just be as reasonable as you can.

Do the planning[edit]

Based on what time you have available from our first step, we then schedule based on our estimate of how long it will take.

For example, after meetings and daily tasks, let's say we have 5 hours we can do work. We have 20 tasks, 8 of which are on our A list. We give the 8 tasks an order, and estimate that it will take 1 hour to do each task.

Now, from our plan, we know that we won't finish our A list today. We review to see if any of the bottom 3 items is due today (if they were, they should have been a higher priority, but we double check) and then we finalize our ordering, drawing a line after the 5th item (5 items giving us 5 hours of effective work). We then do the work.

Review the progress[edit]

As soon as we can after our effective time is up, we review our progress.

We only got through 3 items -- item A2 was 2 hours instead of 1 hour, and just as we got started on item A4 we got pulled away for the rest of our effective time for an emergency.

We learned a few things in this example. First, we underestimated item A2 -- so similar items should get more accurate in the future. We also learned that 5 hours is the maximum time that we have available, but we might have less. We can cross 3 things off of todays list.

It is important at this stage to avoid thinking of these misestimations, or of the undone tasks, as failures; they aren't. They are, in fact, successes in that they constitute new and important information that you have gained regarding how long those tasks take. This information will be useful to you in the future.


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