Every person in every organisation is well aware that by adopting even the most basic time management techniques they can become more effective, and hence more productive. Even if they don’t actually do it.
Businesses have to be able to bill accurately and profitably, and missing an important external deadline (such as a tax return lodgment) through being disorganised can obviously be very damaging to the business. There is nothing quite like the end-of-financial-year rush to make one swear to be more organised next year.
The vast time management industry is predicated upon the fact that the pressures to perform are becoming more and more intense each year, and that there are only 24 hours in a day and 168 hours in a week.
Nightmare statistics abound, such as the horrifying news that executives on average spend a total of three years of their working life in meetings, and two years playing telephone tag.
The mystery then is why only a few people are able to manage this rarest and most precious of business resources effectively.
Even more so, when the benefits arising from effective time management include giving a structure to the business day, and peace of mind through knowing that goals benefiting the business are being met.
It also increases productivity, ensures that nothing slips through the gaps, and engenders a feeling of accomplishment and well-being in the organisation. In addition, avoiding crises reduces stress levels..
Ohio State University in the US has classified the major time wasters into external and internal categories. By looking at these it is possible to establish the cause of an individual’s lack of efficient time management and pinpoint the old habits that need to be broken.
The external ones are: telephone interruptions; meetings; visitors; socialising; lack of information; excessive paperwork; communication breakdown; lack of policies and procedures; lack of competent personnel and red tape.
The internal ones are: procrastination; failure to delegate; unclear objectives; failure to set priorities; crisis management; failure to plan; poor scheduling; lack of self-discipline; attempting to do too much at once and lack of relevant skills.
To overcome these time wasters, employees must not only change their behavior, but also maintain and persist with it.
Self-discipline and control is needed to ensure that behavioral changes will become habitual.
However, a sense of balance is also needed – there is no need to be too rigid, as the classic time management rules don’t work for everyone. There may also be some elements of an individual’s work that cannot be controlled, or don’t need to be controlled.
The basic techniques are actually very easy and, once the systems are set up, don’t take much time.
The first step is to keep a log that will identify the applicable causes of time wasting and those tasks which are unimportant. Delegation is one of the key principles of time management, and this log will also identify what can be delegated.
The next, and most important, step is to set the goals that need to be achieved, and then prioritise them. By doing this, time can be allocated to the most important objectives.
Once the goals have been set and prioritised, daily “to do lists” can be drawn up – ensuring that sufficient time is allocated to the major projects. It is also worth remembering the 80/20 rule, i.e. that 20 percent of projects normally account for 80 percent of a firm’s revenue.
Additional ways to manage time include: using technology as much as possible; utilizing shortcuts wherever possible; investing in education and skills training, and buying planning tools – but only if they will be used.
When dealing with clients, it can also help to clarify all details at the outset; identify the decision-makers and stakeholders; analyse their culture; effectively manage meetings; and regularly request feedback.
The basic elements of time management are therefore relatively simple. There is no need to spend huge amounts of money on fancy systems or programs. The hard part, as ever, is actually putting the elements into practice. The only solution to that is to start immediately, and to remember that no one has ever successfully managed their time without at least writing down a “to do list”.