“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?’ – John Wooden
Effective time management is a science. In today’s work environment, time is one of the most precious resources we have. Numerous studies have been conducted into what makes some people more effective than others at time management. The following points are regarded as key characteristics of good time managers.
Motivation. The best time managers are actually motivated to manage their time effectively. They understand the benefits of good time management to them and others on a professional and personal level. There are numerous models and methods of time management available, but these will be of little use to you if you are not motivated enough to want to manage your time effectively. How motivated are you to manage your time more effectively? What would better time management mean to you both professionally and personally? What could you achieve if you improved your time management?
Goal clarity. The best time managers are clear about what they need and want to achieve. This includes both personal and professional goals. Such goals will, therefore, vary from long range to medium to short term. What are your personal and professional goals? Which of these are long term and which are medium or short term? How important are these goals to you? (They should be very important – if not, you will lack the motivation to manage your time effectively!)
Decisiveness. Good time managers make decisions about their time management and stick to them. This may be tough as there are many distractions that can get in the way, so we will need to be firm n our decision making about what we are spending time doing. This may mean foregoing certain pleasurable, but ultimately wasteful, activities such as the social chat around the coffee machine every hour. It may also mean we will have to be more assertive with others, particularly managers, who seek to monopolise our time with their requests or desire for social intercourse! How decisive are you? If you answered that question by saying ‘I’m not sure’, then you probably aren’t very decisive!
Be proactive! Good time managers actually take the time to manage their time. For example, they will sit down at the end of the week and review their progress against their goals. They will also plan their next week or next few weeks. Their diaries are full of time slots that are allocated to different activities. They allow contingency time for unexpected events, but then use that time wisely if such an event does not occur. How often do you review your progress against personal and professional goals? How do you manage your diary to ensure you are allocating appropriate amounts of time to your priorities?
Identify your time bandits! We all have time bandits – those little activities that seem harmless enough in isolation but, added together, they steal hours of productive time from us every day. Mobile phones as one of the biggest time bandits of modern times. The few moments that we spend here and there checking our emails, surfing the web or responding to texts all add up. The best time managers are quite comfortable with switching their phones off! It may seem unthinkable to many of us, but effective time managers only check their phones at certain times of the day. You may believe that you need to be contactable at all times and this is probably true at certain times of your life but, trust me, if someone desperately needs to contact you, they will find a way even if your phone is switched off! What are your time bandits? How could you eliminate them or manage them more effectively?
The ‘Urgent versus Important’ matrix: a model for time management
The ‘Urgent versus Important’ time management matrix (Figure 1) was originally designed by US President Dwight Eisenhower during the Second World War and was later adapted by Dr Steven Covey (author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’).1 It is one of the most commonly used time management techniques in business today. By considering how important and how urgent a task is, we can place each task into one of the 4 quadrants and then prioritise how to deal with it. You will need to decide how to judge what constitutes ‘urgent’ and ‘important’ in your workplace. To decide which quadrant to place a task into, we can ask 4 simple questions, as follows:
Hopefully, you are not spending too much time in the ‘Do it now’ quadrant. This would suggest that your time management skills need improving or that you are taking on too many tasks and need to be more assertive in dealing with requests from your managers, colleagues, subordinates and so on.
In his bestselling book ‘Eat That Frog’, Brian Tracy suggests another great time management tip. The idea is that if you had to eat frogs every day, you would probably start by eating the biggest and ugliest frog first. So, in a work environment, we should get the most unpleasant or boring tasks out of the way first. This then leaves the rest of the day/ week/month/etc. free to deal with the tasks that we enjoy.
Time literally waits for no-one. Once it’s gone, it’s gone!