Time management

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This unit is used in: First Line Management and Survey research and design in psychology


Relaxation - when is it a good time management strategy and when is it procrastination?

Time managment is a somewhat ambiguous term.

Time itself cannot be "managed", but an individual can manage him/herself and the way that s/he deals with time (Claessens, Eerde, Rutte & Roe, 2007; Cannon, 1996).

Time management refers to strategies which support successful executing of behaviours required to effectively achieve goals. Thus, time management aims to maximise individual productivity.

Time management strategies include planning and prioritising, allocating time, setting goals, monitoring time usage, and self-organisation of one's time particularly with regard to performance of multiple tasks within a certain time period (Claessens et. al., 2007). Ineffective time management affects productivity in the workplace and has detrimental consequences on individual's private lives.

A meta-analysis found that time management behaviours are associated with increases in job satisfaction, health, and stress reduction. 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 with regard to statistical significance. Time management can also be a useful strategy for coping with stress.

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.


Step 1 - How much time do you have?[edit]

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

Step 2 - What are the tasks?[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.

Step 3 - Prioritisation - What is important?[edit]

The next step is to ranking the tasks by their importance.

One method is to 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, put a number (starting at 1) beside each A list item.

We won't order the B or C list right now.

Step 4 - How much time will each task take?[edit]

Go through the list of A tasks and estimate how much time they will each take. Don't worry too much about being perfect, just be as reasonable as you can.

Step 5 - Planning a schedule[edit]

Based on the working time available and the estimate of how long each one will take, schedule an order for the tasks.

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. 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. So, 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 the ordering, drawing a line after the 5th item (5 items giving us 5 hours of effective work).

Step 6 - Do the work[edit]

Do the work.

Step 7 - 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 today's 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.



Time management can be conceptualised as a multidimensional construct (e.g., Macan, Shahani, Dipboye, & Phillips, 1990). Ppsychological research literature has identified several possible factor structures for time management.

4-factors (Britton & Tesser, 1991)[edit]

A study of 90 USA college students found that time management could be represented by three factors (Britton & Tesser, 1991):

  1. Short-range planning - daily or weekly planning, such as making a daily to-do list
  2. Long-range planning - setting goals for the entire quarter and being well organised
  3. Time attitudes - feeling in control of how time wsa spent and using time effectively

This three factor structure was replicated in a study of 350 Spanish students (Garcia-Ros, Pérez-González, & Hinojosa, 2004).

4-factors (Macan et al., 1990)[edit]

A more widely cited model identifies four underlying factors (Macan et al., 1990):

  1. Setting goals and priorities
  2. Mechanics of scheduling and planning
  3. Preference for disorganisation
  4. Perceived control of time

The Time Management Behaviour Scale (TMBS), for which there is some validity evidence (TMBS, Macan et al., 1990), is designed to measure these four factors. Macan’s (et al. 1990, 1994) models of time management have received the most support in the literature (Claessens et al., 2007). However, there are some consistency issues and disagreement as to whether perceived control of time should be included (Claessens et al., 2007). Macan (1994) has indicated that the perceived control of time factor is actually an outcome of time management and not a component.

5-factors (Bond & Feather, 1988)[edit]

Bond and Feather (1988) conducted a survey study of three samples of university students, extracting a five factor model of time management: # Sense of Purpose

  1. Structured Routine
  2. Present Orientation
  3. Effective Organisation
  4. Persistence

5-factors (Francis-Smythe & Robertson, 1999)[edit]

Francis-Smythe and Robertson (1999[1]) studied individual differences in time personality and identified five factors:

  1. Leisure Time Awareness
  2. Punctuality
  3. Planning
  4. Polychronicity
  5. Impatience

4-factors (Neill, 2016)[edit]

An alternative possible four-factor structure, that does not include perceived control of time is shown in Figure 1. The time management items in the TUSSTMQ9 are designed to measure these four factors:

  1. Efficiency and effectiveness
  2. Meeting deadlines
    • König and Kleinman (2005) explain that Meeting Deadlines is also an important factor of time management.
  3. Scheduling - Making plans
  4. Procrastination/Distractability - Readiness to engage in goal-irrelevant behaviour
Figure 2. Four possible time management factors


Sirois (2014[2]) found that students who chronically procrastinate over tasks usually thrive under pressure. As a result, their stress levels do not dramatically increase when deadlines are imminent because they work best in that state (Sirois, 2014).

Häfner, Oberst, and Stock (2014[3]) found that when students were taught and implemented TM skills, such as planning, procrastination was prevented.

See also[edit]

Wikipedia-logo.png Search for Time management on Wikipedia.


  1. Francis-Smythe, J. A. & Robertson, I. T. (1999). Time-related individual differences. Time & Society, 8, 273-292.
  2. Sirois, F. M., Melia-Gordon, M. L., & Pychyl, T. A. (2003). “I'll look after my health, later”: An investigation of procrastination and healthPersonality and Individual Differences35, 1167-1184. doi: 10.1016/S0191-8869(02)00326-4
  3. Häfner, A., Oberst, V., & Stock, A. (2014). Avoiding procrastination through time management: An experimental intervention studyEducational Studies, 40, 352-360. doi: 10.1080/03055698.2014.899487

External links[edit]