Time Management Articles

Pillar IT Services members are involved in a variety of activities in addition to the maintenance of our programmes. Here you will find white papers and articles on their activities plus links to related blogs

Here is our first article from Andy Mann, you can also check out his blog Andy's Tips where he writes about the best ways to get the most from your time

4 Simple Steps to Time Management

Copyright Andy Mann

Introduction

Everyone can benefit from managing their time, and in most cases you probably are doing at least a little time management already. If you use to-do lists or enter timesheets regularly you will have some of this ability already. Adding a little more focus and effort can realise the full potential of this skill. Even if you are new to time management, it is a simple skill to learn, but one which can bring you huge benefits.

What is time management? I define it as

Management of priorities to maximise the goals achieved given the requirements and resources available.

You are not really managing your time but ensuring you achieve as many of your tasks with the resources you have. Of course a key finite resource out of those available to you is time.

A frequent goal for time management is productivity and this can be given a significant boost with these practices. However, time management can be used to improve many other things such as your work-home balance.

Managing your time can bring the following benefits.

  • Increased Efficiency
  • Increased Effectiveness
  • Personal Development
  • Increased responsibility
  • Reduce Stress
  • Empower colleagues

Ultimately time management can be used to improve your life and even that of your colleagues and friends.

If you want to manage your time you have already made the first step, consciously deciding to manage your time and revisiting this every few months, can have an enormous positive impact in the way you live.

Step 1 – Identifying your tasks

The simplest approach to this step is identifying the tasks in a task list or to-do list. These can simply be crossed off when completed. There is a vast array of methods of doing this; often the best are usually basic options such as a notepad or white board. However, if you need to manage many complex tasks, many software programmes now exist to hold your task list and allow you to assign priority to them and define them in more detail, with a hierarchy of sub-tasks. These can be part of a timesheet suite or dedicated software.

A key part of identifying the tasks is to select any which you regularly put off or delay. These either need to be divided into sub tasks to allow you to complete the tasks in achievable chunks, or reviewed to identify why you put them off. Often recording the positive benefits of having completed the task will help to get it completed.

Similarly, lengthy tasks with distant deadlines need to be broken into smaller tasks to ensure that they are not overlooked and you can see progress on a weekly or monthly basis.

When considering the list of tasks, those you regularly complete need only be recorded when they are of a significant importance. Most routine tasks can be discarded, particularly if you complete them daily:

It is also important to remove tasks that realistically you will never complete; otherwise the progress will be making will be hidden by the constant presence of these unachievable tasks.

Finally, try to include a task you like to complete on a weekly basis, possibly the last task for the week. This can be a good driver to complete your task, even those you are not looking forward to doing.

Step 2 - Prioritising the Tasks

A variety of different methods exist to prioritise the tasks you wish to complete. Depending on your situation and what you need to achieve you may select a complex or simple approach to the task. Moreover you can combine these methods to further refine the priorities. The key goal of the prioritization of your tasks is to focus your effort on achieving results rather than just being busy.

Methods:

ABC analysis

This consists of analyzing your set of activities and grouping these tasks into A, B and C groups. It can include more than three groups. Importantly for this to enhance your time management you need to assign some targets/restrictions for those groups. For example A must be completed within a week, B within the month, C within the year. Further refinement of the method can split the groups into A-1, A-2 groups again with assigned targets.

Pareto Analysis (80/20 grouping)

80 percent of the tasks can be completed in 20% of the time. Hence assign a higher priority to the 80 grouping.

The Eisenhower Method

All tasks are reviewed and put into the following groupings:

Important/Urgent

Important/Not Urgent

Unimportant/Urgent

Unimportant/Not Urgent

Tasks which are Important are completed personally, if also urgent they are completed immediately. Otherwise, they are given an end date by which they must be completed.

Tasks which are unimportant are delegated, if also not urgent then they are dropped completely.

The teal trust has a slightly different version of this. See the time management section. They see the Important/Urgent section as a fire fighting tasks and the important/not urgent tasks as key tasks. They suggest that the key aim should be to maximise the time spent on such ‘Quality Time’s tasks and allocate time when you are feeling your best to focus on such tasks, the theory is that many fire fighting tasks result from completing them when you are not at your peak and make mistakes or you have been distracted by a lower priority task.

The Fit Method

This really is just the application of current resources to the prioritization of the tasks you have. Tasks which fit with the available resources at the time are given precedence. If you have 30 minutes available, it is best to do something which can be completed in that time with the resources available.

Selecting a Method

The choice of prioritization method is really down to the best fit for you. Try them all or use your own method.

Many people would end their time management at this step. However, once you are prioritizing your tasks and are comfortable with the method you have chosen then you need to start some assessment to review the tasks you have completed over a set period.

You may find it easier to prioritise your tasks if you set out some goals for yourself. It is important to have selected goals in all areas of your life (not just say work) this is to ensure that you are aligning the task’s importance with your personal goals not just those of the business.

Setting your goals is a topic not covered in this article, but you can ensure you have appropriate goals by using the SMART criteria (see the time management guide at http://www.time-management-guide.com/goal-setting-guidelines.html). Essentially making sure your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, rewarding and timely.

Step 3 – Revise your task list.

Once your current task list is complete, consider how, what and when of your tasks. Specifically how and what you use to complete a task, plus when you do it. Are you doing this in the optimal way?

Clearly this should be more of a consideration where the task is a higher priority. You could try re-organizing a long working lunch into a short conference call, to focus and improve the task. However, simple adjustments, such as eating breakfast when you get to work to allow you to get through the traffic earlier, can make big gains. It is also possible to combine some tasks such as listening to an audio book / language cd whilst driving. There are now a large amount of MP3 and pod casts available for enhancing your career or simply relaxing. This can enhance how you complete tasks (and make them more interesting).

If possible, estimate how much time you think your tasks will take, give a rough estimate, ensuring that you over estimate where the duration is not clear or the task is new. You may be able to get an estimate of how long existing tasks take you from your timesheet software. Don't worry if you are not sure. This exercise, combined with step 4 (reviewing your progress) can gradually improve your estimating without any real effort.

Step 4 – Review your Progress

An essential part of time management is reviewing your progress. Some people will do this automatically through time recording options which are required by their workplace. However, everyone can benefit from doing it on a regular basis to assess how their time management is really working and how much you have achieved by managing your time.

The best way to approach this is to record how your time is spent over a period of say a week (and be as accurate as possible – not necessarily what goes on your timesheet) you can see where your time is going and critically see if your time is being used on the higher priority tasks. It is often found that the lower priority tasks have crept into the available time, and or you are assisting someone else with their tasks and it has taken longer than the ‘can you do this for me will not take a minute implies.

If you review this log of your time, you can:

  • Identify jobs which you should not be doing and re-assign or remove them.
  • Improve your scheduling of the highest priority tasks
  • Reduce the time you spend on personal activities, possibly by grouping them together to minimize time away from your desk.
  • Improve your estimates of task durations

Looking at this list in more detail, you are probably doing at least some jobs which are not really part of your job, often because it seems simpler to complete the task without referring to another person. If say you choose to revise text in a report given to you for review, it just means you will continually have this job to do in the future. Spending time passing on your critique of the work and explaining why the changes should be made mean the situation will be completely removed in the future. Saving time for both yourself and the person whose work you were reviewing. Obviously, if you are delegating a task it is worth ensuring you make some time to monitor it’s completion, although hopefully that can be phased out at the next review of your time.

You may also spend considerable time assisting other people with their tasks, whilst it is great to have assistance and have the favor returned, you must review how much time this is taking from your key tasks.

Scheduling high priority tasks when you are most able to complete them with your full focus stops them turning into tasks you need to fire fight later. Friday afternoon is rarely a time when the key report for a client presentation should be started.

Vital for your planning and time management is the ability to accurately assess how long a task will take. This review of your progress will gradually, without even directly checking, improve your ability to do this. Clearly if project planning is a major part of your tasks it pays dividends to explore this in more detail, but that is not covered in this report.

It is important that once the you have completed this task you return to step 2 to identify the task that you really need to do, re-prioritise and continue the cycle refining and improving your management of time.

Lastly ensure you remember to celebrate the tasks and goals you have achieved.

Copyright Andy Mann

More tips on the blog at Andy's Tips

Also check out the free time tracking / timesheet tools available to download from our product pages