Taking time to task

Is it time that time management reared its ugly head again?

Not having time to get things done is a common complaint in workplaces nationwide, but time management champions believe it’s not how much you’ve got to do, but how you do it that is often the problem.

Asim Khan, chief executive of consulting firm Business Management Group, writes on WebProNews that one of the most important issues in managing time is to focus on results.

“Many people spend a great deal of time on tasks that are simply not productive and do not contribute to the results they wish to achieve,” he says.

Tools which can help, he says, include activity logs, action plans, and to-do lists.

While activity logs might seem like another thing to take up time, they pay off because many people are unaware of how much energy they spend unproductively, he says.

People should keep a log for several days and note, whenever they change activity, the time and how they feel — whether they're alert, tired, energetic or whatever, he says. After several days, they will have a clear record of how much time they spend productively and which part or parts of the day they are most alert and productive.

An action plan is a list of the tasks people need to carry out to meet a specific objective — all the steps are part of the same goal and help complete what can seem like an overwhelmingly big project.

“There are also ways to manage time more efficiently by finding ways to stop procrastinating, minimise interrupts and ensure that your mind and body are in top form,” he says.

Interruptions can sabotage time management, he says. One way to address this is to physically move away from co-workers (work from home or use a conference room) or, for people who have an office, close the door.

“Keep in mind that you do not have to be available to co-workers at all times. Let people know when you will be available and when you will not. Block off certain hours to work without interruption and let people know that you will not be available during those times.”

Khan suggests that when people are approached with questions or requests, they should ask how much time is needed and whenever possible ask their colleagues to come back at a specific time so they can address their concerns “with greater concentration”.

Gerard Blair, a senior lecturer at The University of Edinburgh, questions what would happen if people spent company money with as few safeguards as they spend company time.

Like Khan, Blair advocates noting how you spend your time for, say, a week and then allocate time to reviewing the log.

“In your time log, look at each work activity and decide objectively how much time each was worth to you, and compare that with the time you actually spent on it.”

Blair says people should also make sure they do not do subordinates' work — even if it seems faster to do it themselves than train someone, in the long run, it’s not.

Another problem can be doing the work of other colleagues. While it’s obviously good to help others out, check your own work log before deciding how long you can afford to spend on others’.

People’s managers may also be a problem, Blair says.

“Consider what periods in your work log were used to perform tasks that your manager either repeated or simply negated by ignoring it or redefining the task, too late. Making your manager efficient is a very difficult task, but where it impinges upon your work and performance you must… confront the issue,” he says.

Time management counsellor Peggy Duncan, interviewed on about.com, says people should not work overtime and take work home constantly.

“You want to keep your life in balance, and you can’t do that if your work time takes up too much of your off time.”

She acknowledges the problem may sometimes be that someone has been assigned too much work.

“Or perhaps you’re in a situation that your company just wants the work done and is saving money by not hiring enough people. Instead, they choose to work you into the ground. If that’s the case, I’d say that it’s time to dust off the resume.”

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