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Delivering Time Management for IT Professionals: A Trainer's Manual

By Jan Yager
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  1. Free Chapter
    Why Time Management Is More Important Than Ever
About this book
Publication date:
March 2015
Publisher
Packt
Pages
260
ISBN
9781783000920

 

Chapter 1. Why Time Management Is More Important Than Ever

To the trainer:

In this chapter/training module you will establish the core idea of time management with your attendees and why it is useful to your workshop participants in how they go about their work, as well as their personal time.

Here are the topics that will be covered in this chapter:

  • A definition of time

  • A definition of time management

  • The consequences of poor time management

  • The positive benefits of effective time management

  • Time management is a series of skills that can be taught

  • Deciding on your training agenda depending upon the time frame your training covers: a 1 all-day seminar, 2 half-days, a weekly class, or 90 minutes

  • Sharing the agenda for the training with your attendees

 

Introductory exercise


You can begin this first key module in your time management training by sharing examples of how the management of time has made a difference in your own life, or at your company, or you can ask your attendees to share examples from their own departments or even previous job experiences.

Note

Tip

Please note that if you think your workshop attendees were sufficiently invigorated by the ice breaker exercises described in the introduction, you can skip this introductory exercise and go right to the definition of time.

 

A definition of time


We all have a notion of what time is, from the concrete—seconds, minutes, hours, days, months, years, and decades—to something more esoteric, "I'm having the time of my life," meaning you're enjoying yourself or, "Is that really worth your time?" meaning you're making the value judgment that time is equated with something that is worthwhile to do.

Those in the IT field, your workshop attendees, will probably agree that time is something that is key to how their value is measured by the companies they work for. The two basic measures for practically everyone in IT are:

  • How fast can you get something done?

  • How effectively and accurately can you do it?

Being fast—getting work done on time or in time or with plenty of time to spare or even being late because you ran out of time —is a key factor, of course, to how effective you are. But if what you deliver is wrong, outdated, inaccurate, or just plain same old, same old if innovation was required or preferred, just being on time will not turn out to be the best use of your time.

Note

Make a note

Time is a finite measure, usually by the use of a clock or a calendar, of a set number of units of moments, whether it's a second, minute, hour, day, month, year, or lifetime that help us to organize projects as well as interactions between individuals or groups. Time gives order to events so someone in India can set up a specific moment when it will be possible to interact by phone in real time with someone even if he or she is on the other side of the world, in another time zone, and even if it is a different day of the week.

 

A definition of time management


We all have to deal with time, whether you feel you don't have enough of it in general or for a particular project, or, quite the opposite, you perhaps have lost your job and suddenly you feel like you have "too much time" on your hands.

Time management is a way of approaching time that refers to a more proactive system of taking control of how you go about certain tasks in your work so you can accomplish more while being extra effective as well. There are certainly references to a greater concern about how time is handled by such inventors and observers, such as Benjamin Franklin in the 1700s, who wrote, "A place for everything, everything in its place" or by essayist Henry David Thoreau, a century later, who wrote, "Our life is frittered away by detail…Simplify, simplify."

But it is an outgrowth of the industrial revolution that time was looked at differently. As parts of the world became industrialized, it was no longer recommended that time be measured by the rising or setting of the sun, or the changes in the seasons as denoted by the growing of crops in mostly agricultural societies (or the availability of fish or meat in societies that fish or hunt by season).

Frederick Winslow Taylor's book, The Principles of Scientific Management, published in 1911, reveals his views on how to increase the productivity of workers. Some of his findings, which today may seem like common sense, back then were considered revolutionary:

  • Giving incentives to employees to become more productive could lead to greater accomplishments

  • It would increase productivity to learn the optimal number of rest periods during the workday and to allow time for those breaks

  • Offering training to workers to help them to do their jobs rather than depending on self-training would lead to more efficiency

With the work of Taylor, it became clearer that time management is not just how each individual deals with his or her time. It is also the way that management approaches tasks, scheduling, and even the training of the employees and how that can have a positive impact on how much is accomplished.

Just as the industrial revolution forced a dramatic assessment of how work could best be accomplished, working around the clock became possible because of the invention of the light bulb. But instead, a push to take one or two days off a week—the so-called weekend—might be a better alternative. The most widespread industrial application of the weekend is attributed to American car factory head Henry Ford who, on May 1, 1926, according to http://www.history.com/ and other sources, instituted the policy of a five-day, 40-hour week, which included granting his factory workers Saturday and Sunday off.

Note

Make a note

Time management means the conscious effort to improve what you do with your time, how much you accomplish, as well as the quality of those tasks so that you get more done but in less time and, ideally, with less stress.

 

Why time management is more essential than ever before


Today, because of the widespread availability of mobile or cell phones, which make it possible to be connected to work 24/7, as well as the ability to work at home or from home, some or all of the time, looking at "best practices" for today's workers to achieve optimum time management is crucial.

You would think that because we have smartphones that enable us to connect with people at any time of the day or night, or we have the Internet that allows us to write to each other, across time zones, and to be in touch with each other in just a few minutes or even instantaneously, that we would have fewer time management challenges. Ironically, I have observed that just the opposite is true. Theoretically having 24/7 access now puts the burden on each and every one of us as to when we will answer the phone after work, if at all, and how often we will check e-mails, not just after the official workday ends, but during the day as well.

Are you finding yourself feeling distracted—what I call "distractionitis"—or even being fragmented? When's the last time you had one whole hour, or two, or three of uninterrupted time to work, to think, to interact without phones ringing, or even phones on vibrate distracting you through the vibrations? Have you avoided the temptation of allowing your eyes to wander to the incoming e-mails, wondering whether it's a priority or something you can delay responding to till later in the day, the next day, or never?

Why is time management so important today? Not only will it increase the likelihood that you will shine and get ahead at your current job, it can make the difference in how appealing a candidate you are when you're looking for a new job. For example, Lindsey Madison, cofounder of Social Centiv, previously known as HipLogiq, shared with me how time management skills are crucial when considering a new candidate for an IT job at her company. Two questions she asks, says Lindsey, are: "What did they do for other companies and how long did it take them to accomplish that task? That really helps us find the right person for our needs."

 

How time management relates to productivity


If you are managing your time better, in most instances, you will also be more productive. Researchers have discovered that working every moment is not the secret to being more productive. That's where time management comes in. If you're on a deadline, or even if you've passed the deadline, it may be tempting to work around the clock thinking that that will lead to greater productivity. You might think that you'll even be able to catch up, as much as possible, and get that project in sooner rather than later.

Alas, working around the clock is usually a sign that someone is not managing his or her time well. Time management—the kind of time management that does lead to greater productivity—means taking breaks at regular intervals and getting enough sleep. It means interacting with your family and friends, as well as making the time for recreation and leisure time activities—measures of what we like to call a life that has a work-life balance.

 

Managing time in the IT world


There is no better time to be an IT professional throughout the world. Facebook just agreed to pay a company started by two former Yahoo employees, the app Whatsapp, $19 billion—that's billion with a "b"—for their company. (It also turned the 50+ employees into instant millionaires as well.)

There are oodles of other IT-based millionaires and even billionaires, such as the developers of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a 2014 article posted at Times.com, "These are The Five Most In-Demand Jobs Right Now," includes software developers, systems software in the number three slot.

So the numerous jobs in the IT (Information Technology) field are in demand, and growing, in industrialized and emerging countries around the world (although the recession did take its toll in the IT field as it did in most fields). Fortunately, as the worldwide economy is improving, so too is the need for IT professionals.

There's a useful book entitled Time Management for System Administrators by Thomas A. Limoncelli. The edition I have been reading was published in 2006 and there are, of course, certain pieces of advice Limoncelli offers that are somewhat outdated. For example, he says that the central tool for time management is your Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) such as a Palm Pilot, Zaurus, or similar product.

If you share that with your workshop attendees you will probably hear many of them saying, "What? A Palm Pilot? What about my iPhone or the Samsung Galaxy?" But the iPhone wasn't even introduced until June, 2007 so when Limoncelli was finishing up his book in 2005 or 2006, the smartphone that was about to change the landscape for how phone calls are placed and information is accessed, retrieved, and even stored was still in development or beta testing at Apple.

Limoncelli, who has a degree in Computer Science, points out some aspects of being an SA (System Administrator) that justify having a separate time management book just for those who are SAs. Here are the three ways he sees SAs having different time management concerns from others:

  • SAs have more interruptions than others who interfere with doing a project.

  • SAs are able to solve problems with more technical solutions than a nontechnical/average person.

  • SAs lack mentors who could teach them time management skills. As he notes, "Our mentors are technical peers, often on e-mail lists, and often in different parts of the world."

Although I agree with Limoncelli on bullet points 2 and 3, I disagree with him about bullet point one. Perhaps before smartphones and the increasing habit of checking e-mail constantly to the point of addiction, SAs may have had more interruptions than others. But today, it is rare to find anyone whose job does not include the potential or reality of constant interruptions. How you handle those interruptions, and whether or not those interruptions can be deferred to someone else, or avoided completely, is something that each and everyone one of your workshop attendees have to explore.

Another interesting trend is the necessity of non-IT professionals to learn IT skills. This is an intriguing development because it impacts on what kinds of individuals you may have in your training programs for time management. You can no longer assume that everyone who works at an IT company, or in the IT field, is someone who majored in computer science or IT. For example, I know a psychology major who had a series of jobs as a journalist and in public relations. But a recent writing job for a company website required him to learn HTML coding. So in addition to writing and editing, he was also, basically, a programmer. Another example is that those who do marketing are being asked to learn Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Some in HR are also being asked to learn HTML basics. Being a tech-savvy professional is becoming a requirement for more and more individuals beyond a more narrow definition of who is an IT professional that might have been true previously.

This is a useful idea to keep in mind: be careful what assumptions you make about who is in the audience for your time management training. That is also why I especially like the ice breaker at the beginning of a workshop that I discussed in the introduction. By asking attendees to say their name, and their job title, especially if it is training that has participants from a variety of departments or job categories at the company, you will have a better idea of what types of jobs your trainees have. You will also learn how many in your training are more likely to have a shared IT background.

In this training manual, and in the workshop you are conducting, I will try to point out technology that will help your attendees to save time as well as changes in their way of thinking because, as Limoncelli points out, SAs—and I would generalize from that to those working in the IT field—are more inclined to find technical solutions to their challenges, in this case their time management challenges, than nontechnical persons would. But you will still benefit from an understanding and application of more general time management principles.

There are two reasons for that. The first is that technology is known to fail or to be discontinued. So if you're reliant on a particular app or technology to help you with a time management concern, such as scheduling, if that app is discontinued, or if your electronic device loses its power, you need a backup plan so you don't miss all your meetings.

The second reason is that you may have to interact with those outside of your IT world who are uncomfortable with a particular technology solution or using technology in general. How will you communicate or solve your scheduling challenge without an overreliance on technology? Will you alienate them or fail to make the appointment that you both need to schedule or will you turn to the old-fashioned telephone or put an appointment in your calendar through an e-mail communication instead of the calendar app that you personally swear by?

If you look over the table of contents of Limoncelli's book, Time Management for System Administrators, almost all the chapter headings, and the subheadings, such as Stress Management, Eliminating Time Wasters, Prioritization, and The Cycle System: Life Goals, would apply to anyone in business.

But there are also a few chapters, such as Documentation and Automation, which are geared specifically to IT workers.

The book Death March by Edward Yourdon focuses how time specifically impacts on IT professionals as it highlights a key IT time management issue. Published in 1997, Yourdon, who at that point had spent 30 years working in the software industry, explored the causes and solutions of finding oneself working on a death march project in his book. Just what is a death march project? In a nutshell, it's an IT project that should take 12 months, but you've been given just six to complete it; the budget is way smaller than what's needed to do the job and there are fewer people and resources assigned to it.

But no one wants to say no, or to ask for more time, out of fear that they will be seen as lazy or inefficient. Yourdon also makes a case that the Death March type of project that results in working 13 to 14 hour days, six days a week, rather than the normal 40 hours work week has, for software developers in the IT field, become the norm. (There was a consensus in the interviews I did with a range of IT professionals that the Death March situation is quite common, and is a situation that most have had to deal with at least once, or more frequently, in their careers.)

Although it is also my observation that the Death March projects that Yourdon writes about have become a norm for more than just for IT software developers, such as association managers, sales professionals, a whole range of service providers, since this training manual is focused on IT professionals, let's stay focused on the more typical IT population. Hopefully this training will help all those in the IT field in your workshop, including software developers, to hone the practical time management skills to reverse the death march trend.

 

Consequences of poor time management


Just within the past year, we've seen the horrific example of how poor time management can lead to an early death. It wasn't an IT worker; it was an intern based in London working for a major international bank, and the official cause of death was ruled epilepsy. But the 21-year-old student's father believes that the epileptic seizure could have been brought on by his son's lack of sleep from the grueling schedule he was keeping as an intern. Pacing oneself, including getting enough sleep, is one of the cornerstones of excellent time management. Burning out, or worse, are dramatic consequences of poor time management.

Here are some other examples that denote the consequences of poor time management:

  • Missing a deadline and having a client or customer who is furious with you as he or she waits days, weeks, or even months till you get the project done

  • Showing up late for work or for a meeting and getting a bad reputation for being late and not showing enough concern for the time of others

  • Having to work around the clock for a couple of days, or most evenings and weekends, for days at a time because you agreed to an unrealistic deadline that you are breaking your back to try to meet

Applying the pros and cons of effective time management to yourself

Consider yourself and your average work day. When did you show poor time management and what were the consequences? Use the space in Worksheet #1 to write down an example of what you did (for example, missing a deadline, getting in late, failing to take a lunch break, pulling an all-nighter, agreeing to an impossible deadline, and so on) that showed poor time management and another situation where your time skills were excellent.

 

Benefits of excellent time management


By contrast, here are some examples of how different is the outcome if you evidence commendable time management habits in work or personal situations:

  • Working in a more relaxed way that includes pacing yourself throughout the day and in the evenings and weekends

  • Taking at least one extended weekend or a week or two of real vacation time on a regular basis

  • Feeling like you are getting your priorities done and you still have time for the people and activities outside of work that matter to you

Here is a chart that shows, on the left side, examples of poor time management and, by contrast, on the right side, the preferred way to behave that is an example of excellent time management:

Poor time management

Exemplary time management

Being late

On time

Exhausted from too little sleep

Getting enough sleep regardless of what's going on at work

Tuning out or even falling asleep in meetings

Taking regular breaks throughout the day including, if a meeting is long enough, as part of a meeting

Needing more time

Making or beating deadlines

Saying "yes" to everything and everyone

Making sure what you say "yes" to is in the best interest of you, the company, and your job

Doing everything yourself

Delegating when appropriate and wise

Always overwhelmed by work

Feeling you have enough time to get done what you have to get done

Being constantly distracted

Having either a schedule or a plan that you apply to how and when you deal with distractions or interruptions

 

Time management is a series of skills that can be taught


During our formative years, at least till now, few are taught time management. (There are exceptions, of course, including the weekly Saturday course I once taught over several weeks to ten year olds.) For most, however, we learn how to manage our time by observing our parents or by studying those at school or in the workplace who seem to handle their time well in contrast to those who do it poorly.

Of course there are countless books on time management available, as well as workshops that you can attend. You may have read one or more of those books. You may have attended one or more of those workshops.

The good news is that time management consists of skills that can be learned. Whether this is the first time you're systematically looking at your time management skills, or the third, it's a skill that can always stand improvement. Also, time management is not frozen in time. What you need to do today to have a better handle on your time is going to be somewhat different than what you might have done ten or twenty years ago, not just because technology has changed, as well as the world, but you have changed as well.

In the next workshop module we'll look at how you are currently spending your days, evenings, and weekends. You'll also look at the work and personal demands on you now so you can figure out what the best way to handle your time today is, not tomorrow or two years ago.

The time management skills you will be learning, or reinforcing, in this workshop, will help you on your journey to achieving more in less time and with less stress.

Training agenda

This workshop can be presented in one of five basic ways.

One way that you could present this time management training is as an all-day seminar, beginning at 8:30 a.m. with registration and networking, and ending at 5 p.m. It could also be presented as two half-day workshops, with day one from 8:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and day two from 8:30 am. to 12:30 p.m. (If you prefer, of course, the two half days could take place on two afternoons, from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., rather than over two mornings.)

The third way this workshop could be presented is as a weekly course, for 10 weeks, with one topic per week. (Content from Chapter 11, Closing the Training (Conclusion) can be merged with that from Chapter 10, Cultivating a Work-life Balance.) The sessions can last from 45 minutes to an hour, or an hour and a half, depending on your style of presenting, how much time you want to devote to the training, and how interactive you want the sessions to be.

Note

Tip

A 4th possibility as shown in the sample agenda in the Appendix, is as a 90-minute workshop. A 5th way is a 2-day all-day retreat.

You may want to photocopy the Agenda from the Appendix that matches the workshop schedule that you will be following. Have your workshop attendees look over the agenda with you. Discuss it, in a general way, and ask whether there are any questions. (You can also have your attendees download the agenda if you are using the electronic version of this manual.)

 

Activities


Here are several activities for your attendees to do, which are related to this chapter. The activities begin at a more elementary level, with the second activity more intermediary, and the third for someone who has more advanced time management skills. But you can also have everyone do all three activities if you like. The benefit of having all the attendees do all three levels of activities is that they are getting two or three times the reinforcement of the ideas that they learned in this module. The negative aspect of having attendees do all three exercises is that it will take two or three times as long to complete the activities.

Activity 1

Make a list of time management challenges that you are currently facing. Next to that list, note whether you think that particular challenge is unique to your IT position, or if anyone and everyone deals with it.

Look over your answers and see whether you can group your IT-specific challenges apart from those that you would be facing, whatever field you were working in.

Activity 2

Think about the last time you felt that you were in total control of how you were spending your work and your personal time. When was that? What were you doing differently from what you are doing now? Was the office environment different? Were you performing a dissimilar job?

How can you recreate the conditions that aided your productivity?

Activity 3

Take out your smartphone and program your phone to go off in five minutes. If you do not have a timer on your phone, tell the group that you are going to stop them after five minutes. Ask them to sit and do nothing but think for the five minutes.

At the end of the five minutes, ask the group to share their answers to the following questions:

  • How did you feel taking five minutes to "just think"? Was it comfortable? Uncomfortable? Stressful? Relaxing?

  • When was the last time you had five minutes of uninterrupted thinking time?

  • What did you think about?

  • Would there be a benefit to building into your work day at least five minutes of uninterrupted thinking time?

  • When and how will you implement that five minutes of thinking time if you agree this would be beneficial to your goal of improved time management?

 

Bibliography


 

Resources


  • Everything Sysadmin

    www.EverythingSysadmin.com, blog written by system administration expert Thomas Limoncelli, author of Time Management for System Administrators.

  • Harold Taylor Time Management Consultant

    https://www.taylorintime.com/

    Resources including planners as well as a blog from veteran time management consultant Harold Taylor.

  • The 4-Hour Workweek

    http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/

    Website for Timothy Ferris, author of the mega-bestseller The 4-Hour Workweek. It includes a blog.

  • The Productivity Pro®

    http://theproductivitypro.com/

    Website of Laura Stack, time management expert, whose latest book is Execution IS the Strategy.

 

Summary


Here are the top ideas in this chapter:

  • Time is one of the two key ways an IT professional is judged. How quickly can you accomplish something? Is it on time? With the second key factor: how well have you done it? These two factors may sometimes be at cross purposes which means you don't want speed to have a negatively impact on quality.

  • Time management is the application of certain principles and strategies that will help you to get more done in less time and with less stress. As an IT person, you may be more inclined to want to find technical solutions to your time challenges but you will still benefit from an understanding and application of more general time management principles such as prioritizing, writing things down to gain mastery over what you have to do including using a to-do list, the value of delegating, and how better communication and improved relationships aid in our productivity.

  • There are some characteristics of those who are in the IT field that are unique to that field such as the projects that have become known as the ones with intense pressure and too short deadlines for software developers labeled as the death march. But there are other time challenges, such as goal setting, prioritizing, eliminating time wasters, better e-mail management, and dealing effectively with stress, which are universal whether you're a banker, a lawyer, a writer, or a laborer. The key is to know yourself well and to know what your particular job in the IT world demands of you so you can adapt and adopt in the most efficient way.

About the Author
  • Jan Yager

    Dr. Jan Yager is a business consultant and sociologist who has been researching and writing about time management since the early 1980s. She is the award-winning author of 40 books including five on time management, translated into 12 languages: Put More Time on Your Side (2014); Work Less, Do More: The 14-Day Productivity Makeover (2nd edition, 2012); 365 Daily Affirmations for Time Management (2011); Creative Time Management for the New Millennium (1999); and Creative Time Management (1984). Dr. Yager, President of Timemasters.com, has taught at the college level, which includes teaching at the New York Institute of Technology, Penn State, Temple University, The New School, St. John's University, the University of Connecticut, and most recently at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (CUNY). Often interviewed by print and broadcast media, her appearances have included such major talk shows as the Today Show, Good Morning America, the BBC, ABC Nightline, CBS Sunday Morning, CBS This Morning, CNN, as well as morning and evening news shows in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Some of Dr. Yager's other titles, translated into 32 languages, include additional business and relationship books, such as: Productive Relationships: 57 Strategies for Building Strong Business Connections; Grow Global; Who's That Sitting at My Desk? Workship, Friendship, or Foe?; Business Protocol; When Friendship Hurts; Friendshifts; Effective Business and Nonfiction Writing; 365 Daily Affirmations for Happiness; Road Signs on Life's Journey; 125 Ways to Meet the Love of Your Life; The Fast Track Guide to Speaking in Public; and Making Your Office Work For You. Dr. Yager's books are available in print, e-book, and/or audiobook formats. Follow her tweets on Twitter at @drjanyager. Dr. Yager, a coach, professional speaker, and trainer, delivers seminars, workshops, and presentations about time management and other business topics, including work relationships, business writing, and business protocol, throughout the U.S. and internationally before corporations, associations, the public, and the government. To book Dr. Yager for time management training, speaking, or coaching, contact your favorite lecture bureau or contact her directly: yagerinquiries2@aol.com. For more on Dr. Yager, or to read her blogs or excerpts from some of her writings, go to: http://www.drjanyager.com

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