Most of us will probably agree that there never seems to be enough time and that this in turn can create stress. No more is this so than in the workplace. As our jobs tend to dominate our lives, usually out of necessity more than choice, the problems we encounter there can get carried over into our private lives as well. This can cause all sorts of added difficulties. Because of this, I have concentrated my opinion on time management within the workplace.
In business and in a lot of employment we are faced with the responsibility for achieving results through meeting targets, schedules and plans. These results, however they are expressed, are always measured against a time scale, either in terms of units per hour or by specified deadlines and target dates. Time, therefore, is a measure of efficiency and the only denominator for comparing relative efficiency between different individuals, product types and companies.
It is not possible to talk about efficiency without including the element of time. The effective worker or business person is the one who gets more done in less time and can devote increased hours to important matters. If any tasks have to remain undone, they should only ever be non essential ones.
As time is a resource its use must be planned, controlled and accounted for. As a resource it is as important as any industrial or commercial asset. The difference being that you cannot buy it, trade it or drill for it, but you can manage it.
~Where Does Time Go?
In order to improve the utilisation of time it is important to understand where time goes. The use of time falls into two broad categories:
(a) Time spent on useful work and
(b) Time that is wasted
Useful work can be further classified into four types:
(1) Routine Work This includes what are often essential tasks such as filing reports, writing memos, answering phones and other administrative duties. Such tasks are usually of a minor nature, but they have to be kept under control otherwise they can consume time out of all proportion to their importance.
(2) Key Tasks Every job has its heart, key activities or tasks which produce the main results or pay off. They include planning assignments, sales, progress checking, inspecting for quality, measuring and controlling output, perhaps training staff, directing labour and issuing instructions. Unfortunately it is easy to lose control and and these can often receive less attention than they should.
(3) Special Projects A lot of us have to carry out special projects from time to time. These may range from evaluating a new type of machine to designing and implementing improved systems or procedures. These projects are extremely varied; the only predictable features are that they do arise and can take time away from Key Tasks and sometimes Routine Work as well.
(4) Innovative Work The successful person needs to take steps to constantly improve his/her area of activity by using imagination, creativity and innovation to improve such things as sales, methods, systems, layouts and quality.
~ How Is Time Wasted?
There are probably six main ways in which time at work is wasted.
(a) Failure to focus on the Key Tasks which lead to the achievement of results
(b) Failure to communicate properly
(c) Failure to delegate, if you have staff or helpers
(d) Failure to plan ahead
(f) Fatigue leading to low performance
~ Suggestions For Managing Time Better
We have looked briefly at why we should manage time, key tasks and how time is wasted. Here are a few ideas for managing time better.
(1) Personal Time Study Begin to manage time by first of all finding out where it is going. Try keeping a daily log of the time spent on your various activities at work over a two week period. Once you know how your time is being spent you can take steps to correct areas where it is being used unproductively.
This can also be done for other apsects of our lives besides the work place. I wonder how many hours are spent watching television that is of little interest, for example. How long do we actually spend time: talking to our wife, husband, partner or children; taking exercise; following our hobby; laughing and having fun? Obviously you can take this sort of thing to extremes but finding time for what, to us, are really important things in life must be worthwhile.
(2) Budget Your Time Assign different blocks of time to the four categories of work i.e. routine work, key tasks etc. Strive to achieve a balanced time budget, which allows time to give proper attention to each of the four categories.
I am talking about work, but why not also budget personal time as well (without becoming obsessive and stopping all spontaneity).
(3) Communicate Do this effectively in order to reduce misunderstandings and the rectifying of costly mistakes. How often we waste time because we haven't got over what we are trying to say, whether this be in the spoken or written word. We have to make sure that the other person really understands the message we are trying to convey. This also applies in our personal lives.
(4) Cut Down Paperwork Eliminate forms, records and reports that achieve nothing. Be ruthless and concentrate on the really essential communications and records that contribute to actually achieving desired results. Simplify, eliminate and combine documents wherever possible. Keep it all simple.
I realise some companies have set paperwork that has to be followed. This doesn't mean, however, that you can't look for improvements and make suggestions.
(5) Be Decisive Effective people can make swift decisions and dispose of minor matters quickly. Do not spend a long time vacillating over small matters. Decide straight away if you want a digestive or plain biscuit with your tea!
(6) Control Interruptions Stick to the point, limit telephone calls to essentials, reserve unessential contacts for a free period, set aside time in your budget for routine communications and allow for legitimate interruptions. Be firm in dealing with unnecessary interruptions and limit social gossip to lunch and other breaks.
(7) Set Specific Times Set definite timed appointments of a defined duration, if this is applicable to your job.
(8) Use A Checklist Write down planned activities on paper. Use this as a checklist to remind you of what needs to be done. If the scheduled time for performing a task is passed by, without it being completed, efficiency can suffer.
When I do lists myself I prioritise the entries in order of importance and find there is great satisfaction in crossing off completed tasks. When I feel there is a lot to do, getting it all down on paper removes a lot of the stress as it acts like a map, and you can clearly see where you are heading. The journey often turns out to be far less difficult than first thought.
As I have already said work often dominates our lives. Employers are becoming more and more demanding. Though many of us have responsibilities I think we owe it to ourselves to try and find work that we really like and enjoy. What is the point in spending forty hours doing something we hate? All this does is effect our health and often relationships outside of work as well. It is true we need incomes but there are usually options if we 'really' want them.
We all have only limited time and I think we should try and gain as much enjoyment, in the true sense of the word, as we can from our lives. We need time to watch our children grow, to develop our natural inbuilt talents and to follow our true purpose. We can only do this if time is our friend and not a foe we are constantly fighting.
~ Good luck.