Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Time Management

Most of us are in a rush. We are always busy. We have to prepare a proposal for the day before yesterday, to give an answer to an open question for our boss, and we are three hours late, and to accomplish another mission within one day. We live in a "no time" reality. Once, we used to believe that this is a result of the bubble age, but the bubble exploded and yet we have no time. Still we experience requests ASAP; yet in every project, we work around the clock up-till the due date, and many times, even after.
Lee Iacocca, the former CEO of Chrysler Corporation, once said that the ability to concentrate and smartly take advantage of time- is everything.
Without being as smart or successful as Iacocca, I could not agree more. I feel, on a personal level, that time is a most precious resource, and in some cases, more important even than money.
Time is a misleading resource. On one hand, it is limited; there are only 24 hours every day. On the other hand, many times, those people who seem to be busier than others are, find the time to take additional responsibilities, much more than other, less busy people.

It is important to manage time as managers, twofold:
First, the knowledge work is characterized by handling many tasks and working in parallel. Even, if we are under the impression that we are handling one task, it usually includes many sub-tasks, and these do not tend to be processed one after the other. We, as managers, surely have more than a handful of tasks, whenever examined.
Secondly, we manage people, who have to know how to manage their time, by themselves. It has already be written, that knowledge workers manage their own routine. We, as their managers, have to give them the right tools to manage the time, and to find ways to assure they actually do so.

A few tips I can share, for managing time, based on my own experience:
  • To understand that feeling busy and being busy are not exactly the same thing. One of the reasons that some people tend to overload themselves with additional tasks, and do succeed in carrying them out, is based on them not living with the feeling that they have no time. Coping with the feeling of "no time", is sometimes more demanding that actually having no time.
  • Defining regular and steady hours, in which we read and handle Emails. Reading every Email, as it arrives, disturbs and interferes our concentration. It harms, both the source task being produced and the Email now arrived.
  • Define in advance (and teach the employees to do the same), for every task that is meant to take longer than an hour, the time we are willing to invest in performing it. We tend, many times, to invest more, in order to achieve the highest quality level we can. In many cases it is not worthwhile the effort. In other words, we put more than the organization, or the customer, wants us to. As in other situations, dear Pareto, plays a significant role (20:80) in advising us where to stop. However, it is not good enough only to plan efforts. We must assure we do what we praise. We must assure we do not only plan, but also finish tasks within the frame time defined. Defining time is already a first step in helping us managing our time better. Our will to fulfill is the second step. Performance is the third.
  • Work on tasks and complete them, as soon as they arrive (after finishing the previous ones we already started). I usually say that starting earlier does not mean I spend more time on a task. Vice versa. When the issue is fresh, it is easier and faster for us to work on it and complete it. We also save time of managing all open tasks, if we keep a clean table.
  • Assure ourselves, that we leave time for handling, not only the urgent, but thee important as well. Handling the urgent wears us out. Handling important tasks is sometimes more important, both for the organization and both for us as individuals.
  • Define frame times in the calendar for working on tasks that we do not find any other time for completing. If we are strict with ourselves and do not cancel these self meetings, time after time, we can clean-up the table, from time to time, and restart managing better our time, every time we think things go out of control.

In addition, one last tip: See that your people take vacations. For us, as an organization, it is cheaper that they work and we pay them for these days. For their sake, see that they really take vacations. That will give them the strength to go on. That also, is part of time management.

Some wise person (unknown) once said: "Two facts about time management: a) you cannot control the time you are born or the time in which you die. b) all points between the two, are negotiable."
Probably we can control most. Let us take advantage and indeed do.



paul said...


Great point about "feeling" vs. "Being" busy.

The truth is that the stress from "feeling" typically eliminates the possibility of "being" productively busy.

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