In this chapter, we will:
Define time management
Understand how different people think about time management
Identify some of the effects of poor time management
Enumerate the benefits of this concept called time management
Determine what people expect in a time management program
Time management is defined as the practice of controlling activities and events within available time. In order to do so, it is first necessary to understand and evaluate how time is currently being spent. The first exercise is to log activities, analyze how time is spent on various activities, determine your ideal allocation of time for each of these activity buckets, and plan and execute accordingly.
There is a story of five blind men who want to find out what an elephant is like. They come upon an elephant and reach out to touch it and satisfy their wants. Each one touches a different part of the elephant. One feels a leg and says, "An elephant is like a pillar." Another feels the side and says, "An elephant is like a wall." The third feels a tusk and says, "An elephant is like a spear." Another feels the tail and says, "An elephant is like a rope." The last feels an ear and says, "An elephant is like a fan." All of them are partially right but none are right. Likewise, people have different opinions as to what time management is. They all are partially right. They have a limited view. They don't have the big picture.
One way to determine what people think about time management is to ask a few general questions and collect answers. The questions can be:
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the phrase time management?
What does time management mean to you?
How will you benefit from better time management?
What aspect of your time management skills do you most want to improve?
How will your life change with better time management?
These are open-ended questions and form a good basis for a discussion.
The first benefit of opening the presentation with a question is that we are engaging the audience right from the start. Then again, there are no wrong answers with questions like these. When the participants see that all answers are accepted with no judgment, they are all the more willing to participate.
What do people think about the subject of time management? What is the first thing that comes to their minds when they come across the term time management? I have collected the following responses over the course of 8 years:
Being able to accomplish more
Getting more done
Completing all tasks on hand
Using a planner/organizer well
Ability to do what I want
Checking off items on a to-do list
Rating high on a performance review
This is not a complete list. There were some outliers and quite a few unprintable responses. This is a representative set of the responses that appeared most frequently.
Just as with the story about the five blind persons and the elephant, all of the previous statements are true but they're limited views and not the complete picture.
In most cases, the previous responses reflect what people are looking for in a time management system. They also represent the benefits people will reap when they improve their time management skills. In other words, people consider time management as a solution for a specific set of problems. Therefore, in order to define time management, the solution, we need to understand the problem or problems.
What are the problems? What are the symptoms that indicate the presence of the underlying problems?
How can we recognize poor time management? It is easily recognized in others, for example, when tasks are not completed on time and when they arrive late to meetings and keep us waiting. It is easy to recognize in others the same negative traits that we may not recognize in ourselves!
Poor time management can be recognized in actions and in results. Sometimes, what is visible is merely the tip of the iceberg. In other cases, we may see neither the causes nor the results but there may be other signals to indicate poor time management. It is important to understand the actions, results, and signals that we watch for in others so that we may see them in our own behavior. Thus, when we recognize that we are behaving in a manner that indicates or leads to poor time management, we will be able to take steps to head off the negative results.
Is fever a symptom or the underlying problem? Is stress a symptom of the problem? Many of the issues a patient presents to a doctor are mere symptoms. Doctors do not merely treat symptoms. They probe to find and cure the underlying issues that present the symptoms. Likewise, many of the purported problems that we see in the time management arena are in fact symptoms.
Let's look at some of the signals that indicate poor time management, some of the underlying problems, and the results people with poor time management skills face.
What are the indicators of poor time management?
Arriving late to meetings and appointments
Missing appointments and meetings entirely
Double-booked time slots, that is, conflicting schedules
Often rescheduling appointments and meetings
Not meeting deadlines
Requesting deadline extensions
Constantly switching between activities
Critical tasks not even started
Forgotten tasks and chores
Poor quality due to hurriedly slapped together things at the last minute
Overflowing "In" tray
E-mail inbox full of unread messages
No spare time
What are the underlying problems?
Poor schedule management: Proper use of a scheduling system with appointments, meetings, and scheduled events marked on the same calendar will ensure that there are no conflicting expectations on your time.
Poor task list (to-do list) management: The fundamental purpose of time management is still to ensure that the current moment is being spent on the most appropriate activity. Making, pruning, and prioritizing a list of tasks is the best way to do so.
Poor planning: The old adage is that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
Poor organization: A place for everything and everything in its place, a time for every action and every action in its time.
Poor direction: Many people operate without proper goals and objectives to give direction to their actions, that is, they drift without a sense of purpose.
Poor preparation: Preparation ensures a smooth flow of actions.
Procrastination: Procrastination is a terrible thief of productivity.
Not working fast enough: This comes from inefficiency and the tendency to give in to distractions.
Poor time allocation: Every task takes finite time. If you do not allocate enough time for any task, you will be scrambling to get things done at the last moment.
Poor management and control: If the mandates from the management are contradictory and self-defeating, nothing can ever get done properly.
Not thinking things through: When ramifications of decisions and actions are not considered sufficiently, they create new problems.
Poor self-discipline: When everything else is in place, if tasks still do not get done in their time, the only one to blame is oneself. Dedication, diligence, and focus will help tasks get done.
What does poor time management lead to?
Poor anger management
A poor reputation, that is, people expect tardiness, schedule slippage, shoddy work, poor attitude, and so on
The problems may be stated in a different manner.
At work, corporations are trying to get more and more work done by fewer people and in less time. The easy target receiving all the blame for this phenomenon is "the economy", but this trend existed even during the great boom of the 90s. In good times as in bad times, many Machiavellian (that is, win at all costs) corporations do try to squeeze the most out of their employees. This may make economic sense in the short run, but in the long run, it burns employees out and makes them less productive.
On a personal level, people have too many things to do and not enough time to fit it all in. Modern conveniences and time-saving devices only seem to aggravate the situation. Just as a brand new kitchen cabinet gets filled in three days, time freed up by any new gadget is instantly snapped up by new chores and activities. The pressure just keeps mounting.
The outcome of all this pressure is that it has become the norm to work long hours. People are constantly chasing deadlines, are constantly under stress, and social life is painfully reduced.
Where does all the time go?
The result of this problem is not limited to reduced social life. Working insane hours leads to sleep deprivation, which in turn could lead to fatigue, irritability, and reduced life span.
When people are running from task to task, there is a tendency to merely play catch-up and be reactive. This leads to poor time management and disorganization. Poor time management and disorganization could compound the stressful frenzy already present: disorganization leads to loss of credibility, which in turn leads to loss of business or being passed over in promotion, and more stress. Stress could lead to ulcers, strokes, and heart attacks.
There are six areas of problems that good time management can solve:
Schedule-related, that is, making and keeping appointments
Productivity-related, that is, completing tasks as expected
Competence-related, that is, professionalism in execution
Quality-related, that is, attention to detail
Health-related, that is, reduced stress and sufficient rest
Life-related, that is, work/life balance
What does this mean? This means that people who manage their time well:
Complete all tasks
Give excellent quality
Have their "In" trays and e-mail inboxes well in control
Have clear goals and work towards them
Time management is a set of skills that instills priority, punctuality, performance, and productivity. Time management is a key element to success in life. This is the motivation to develop time management skills. Before learning any new skill, it is important to ask, "What's in it for me (WIIFM)?" This is the WIIFM factor for learning time management—it is a key element to success in life. In fact, Lee Iacocca, the automobile magnate, said, "The ability to concentrate and to use your time well is everything if you want to succeed in business—or almost anywhere else for that matter."
What is time management? In order to answer this, let's move a step further. What is time? A physicist may respond that time is the fourth dimension and get technical about it, but that is not relevant in the context of time management.
Benjamin Franklin said, "Remember that time is money" in his article Advice to a Young Tradesman. He was right—up to a point. Think of time as money if it helps you understand its value. However, time is more than money. Money lost can be recovered, regained, earned again, begged, borrowed, or stolen. Time lost is gone forever.
Some people think twice about spending money on important things, and waste hours on trivial matters without a second thought. Isn't the time wasted worth as much as the money spent or saved?
What is the true value of time?
A person's earnings are measured in time. People get paid a certain amount every year, month, week, day, or hour. Is this what your time is worth?
Investments earn interest and dividends in time. Return on investment and interest paid on loans are measured in terms of "time value of money." Is this what your time is worth?
There is a natural tendency to value your time according to what you earn in that time. This is what your time is worth to someone else, the person who is paying your wages. What is your time worth to you?
Time is the essence of life. Every moment is priceless.
These, too, were Benjamin Franklin's words:
"Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of."
Charles Darwin said, "A man who dares waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life."
Make a note
Time is the medium within which events and activities occur. Time management, therefore, is the control of events and activities in your life.
Obviously, not all events can be controlled. For example, you have no control over the weather, and, consequently, you have no control over activities that depend upon the weather. You do, however, have options. You have control over what you choose to do and how you choose to do it.
Let me expand this point a little more. If what you plan to do depends upon the weather, you must also make contingency plans. For example, if you wish to create a lawn party, you could create a backup plan to either set a rain date or be prepared to move the party indoors if the weather turns against you. Your choice puts some control within your hands.
Time management thus comes down to a choice. In fact, it is a continuous series of choices. The first choice is what events and activities you permit into your life. The second choice is how you tackle these events and activities.
Let's explore further the previous definition of time management. At the highest level, there are three key words to inspect: activities, events, and control.
I use the term "activity" to denote something that requires action or something that is done. The subject is "active." Thus, activities include tasks, chores, duties, and routines. I use the term "event" to denote something that happens. The subject is a participant in or is affected by events. Thus, events include meetings, appointments, and group activities. For the purpose of this chapter, I will use the two terms interchangeably. The rest of this chapter is focused on the concept of controlling both activities and events, the concept of event control.
Peter Drucker, the noted management guru of the 20th century, famously said, "If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it." We will be discussing time management metrics later in this book. For the present, let's look at identifying what we need to measure in order to control activities. The operating word here is "control." If you do not control the events in your life, the events in your life will control you.
The alternative to controlling events in your life is to be blown in any direction the winds of fate take you.
As mentioned before, you control the activities in your life by choice. The first choice is to decide what events and activities you permit into your life.
To what extent do you control the events you permit into your life? And how do you exercise the control? In other words, let's consider what events to control and how to control them.
There are several kinds of events:
Events that are totally out of your control: These include the weather, the stock market, the economy, and so on. These also include situations that depend largely on the decisions and actions of those whom you cannot influence.
Complex events: There are events wherein there are too many individual things that happen. You do not have the brainpower to consider them, let alone control them.
Events wherein your intervention would have negative consequences: For example, just because you can control something does not mean that you should control it. For example, you need not exercise control over how your children behave every moment of the day. Only by letting children be children can you allow them to grow into wonderful beings.
Therefore, the first step is to identify different classes of events and decide how you will deal with them. In other words, if you can control certain events, decide whether it is worth doing so. If you cannot control certain events, decide whether it is worth the frustration of fretting about them or better to accept them and respond appropriately. For example, even if you cannot do anything about the weather, you can keep track of the forecasts and dress appropriately, carry an umbrella when needed, or lock down in anticipation of a severe storm.
How does one identify different classes of events? Every individual is subject to a different mix of events and event classes. The following section describes a process of identifying event classes and the time spent in each class of events.
There are 24 hours in a day. While what you do with these 24 hours on a particular day cannot be predicted to any accuracy, the average use of your time can be extrapolated from past experience.
In the world of finance, there is the concept of a budget. Every individual has a different apportioning of his or her salary depending on the gross amount, tax bracket, rent/mortgage, cost of living in a particular neighborhood, number of earners in the household, number of mouths to feed, and so on. Let's say that a representative gross salary allocation looks like this:
Rent or mortgage
This is extremely simplified in order to illustrate the concept. It does not, for instance, address savings or tithing. Nevertheless, the point is that an allocation or apportioning of income according to individual preferences exists. A further point is that unless you determine where your money is going, you will not have any control over your expenses. Therefore, the starting point is to keep track of your expense categories for a few months in order to understand your spending pattern. I call this post-ante division of the money pie.
After you have captured this monthly information for a few months, you can then decide that you are spending too much in on category and not enough in another. You may not have too much control over what you spend in some categories such as taxes or rent or mortgage unless you take significant steps such as tax strategies or downsizing your residence. You will much more control over categories such as entertainment, savings, and discretionary expenses. You can then create a new allocation/apportioning table that you feel is more suitable for your temperament. I call this ex-ante division of the money pie.
The term ex-ante refers to doing something in advance, and post-ante refers to doing something afterwards.
Let's apply the same concept to time. It is useful to know where your time went (that is, ex-post) in order to estimate where your time will go (that is, ex-ante). A representative post-ante division of time may look like this:
Again, as with the money example, you can capture this information over several days and analyze the data to determine how you will change the allocation. For example, you may decide to reduce your sleep time and spend some time in working out. You may decide to be efficient in personal grooming and reduce the corresponding allocation. You may find a new route or public transportation option in order to reduce the commute time. As you can understand, you can manipulate this allocation table in a multitude of ways after you know where your time is going. The first step is to understand where your time is going right now.
Your first assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to keep an honest time log for 10 days. Keep track of everything you do. Classify each activity so as to only track aggregates, that is, roll up the time spent to the categories. Therefore, you will not need to know that you spent 25 minutes on a train and 30 minutes in a bus if you know that you spent 55 minutes commuting.
Actually, to make things more interesting, predict what you expect the results to be. Create a table or pie chart with categories and estimated time usage in each category. Do this before the first day's activity log.
This exercise is one of the most difficult things to do because it requires you to be totally honest with yourself. Please do not sweep dust under a rug and pretend that all is well. If necessary, take steps to ensure that no one else can see your log if doing so gives you a certain level of comfort.
Brutal honesty is the only way to know yourself best.
The second part of the exercise is to analyze the time log. After you have kept a time log for about 10 days, create a representative table with the 10-day average for each category. Compare this with the prediction you made before you began to log your activities. What are the differences? What are the surprises? Are you pleasantly surprised or horrified?
You will be astonished by some of the ineffective things you do right now. I certainly was when I first went through this exercise!
I still go through this exercise periodically to make sure that I am not slipping into old bad habits. I also take the opportunity to review changes in my routine due to changing demands on my time. For example, when my older son obtained his driving license and I got him a car, I did not need to shuttle him between his activities anymore. This freed up some of my time and allowed me to take on more activities.
The third part of the exercise is to create a new time budget. Now that you know where your time is being spent, bring some of the areas under control. Eliminate some of the categories and reduce the time allotted to some of the others. Peter Drucker said, "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all." You can also increase the time allocation for the better categories. For example, spend more time on improving yourself.
Finally, after you have created the new time allocation chart, follow this chart rigorously for at least 21 days. There is scientific evidence to show that the human body takes at least 21 days to adapt to a new routine and make it the norm. Therefore, force the new routine until it becomes the habit. Then you will not have to consciously work on it anymore.
If you are conducting the preceding exercise in a training session, to encourage participation, ask the trainees to present their views on time management, list the problems that they face due to poor time management, and list the benefits of good time management. Throw out definitions of time and time management and invite their comments. Take a contrarian position, that is, benefits of poor time management, and have them argue with you. Keep track of the responses and comments. The same discussion may be repeated at the end of the workshop to see whether there is any change in position as a result of the workshop.
Illustrate the concepts with stories of successful people. Show how proper time management was the key element that vaulted their heroes to the top of their careers. Take examples from different industries and cultures.
Time management is a solution to a set of problems related to priority, punctuality, performance, and productivity.
Poor time management leads to dealing poorly with scheduled events such as meetings, appointments and deadlines, build-up of incomplete tasks, poor reputation, over work, sleep deprivation, stress, poor relationships, and poor health. Poor time management sets one up for failure.
Effective time management results in a well-organized life, time for personal activities, relaxation, and quality time with friends and family, good, and excellent health. Effective time management sets one up for success.
Time is the medium within which events occur. Time management is, therefore, control over events and activities in your life.
Event control includes identifying, classifying, and budgeting time for activities. This begins with an event log to determine the demands made on your time.
Keep a time log to note where your time is being spent. Use the time log to identify inefficiencies and ineffective use of time. Reallocate your time to reduce wastage. Follow the new schedule diligently for at least three weeks before it becomes the new habit, the new norm, and the new pattern of behavior and time usage.