Thursday, April 5, 2012

Time Management, a Waste of Time?

Time is probably the only thing in life we all have in equal amount. And still I hear almost every day somebody calling out: "I didn't have time for that!". What happened? Did you lose a few hours all of a sudden? Where did they go? It is not a matter of not having time to do things, it is a matter of giving priority to doing other things. And that is the moment where good time management becomes important.
There are dozens - maybe hundreds - of time management systems out there. Some you can find online, others are handed to you in a training course and there are many software programs on the market to help you out. Some are straight forward and others are so complicated that they take more time than they save.
Time management systems don't work miracles. If you have a workload that takes 10 hours a day to get done, you can organize it in whatever way you want to but in the end it still takes you 10 hours.
All systems agree on one thing; you have to prioritize. And that is the first pitfall. Who says that you prioritize the right things? I can almost hear you think now: "If you don't know your priorities, you don't know your job." That may be the case, but then I know all of a sudden many people who don't know their job. And so do you.
Let me give you an example. Sales managers have, in general, two main tasks or responsibilities; Leading/coaching their sales force and doing administrative work like keeping track of closed deals, margins, turn-over etc. Every sensible person will agree with me that a sales manager's first and foremost priority should be leading and coaching his team. In daily practice however, most sales managers spend more time doing administrative tasks than what they are actually paid for: leading their team.
The reason is that the pile of paperwork is measurable. It is easy to see that you are 'behind'. Being 'behind' in coaching is not visible. It is usually the team itself that gets the blame, not the manager. The workload of most managers is too high and they set the wrong priorities. No time management system will cure that. A good sales training probably will. They need to be able to 'sell' to their boss that they have too much to do and not enough time to do it in.
Most systems are based on a few assumptions:
You do have a good grasp of what your actual priorities are (or should be) in your job;
You are able to make some drastic choices;
You have the possibility to delegate some of your tasks to other persons;
You have the discipline to actually follow your system.
If you - for whatever reason - do not fit into this 'profile', you will probably never be able to set up a working time management system. But, for the sake of this post, let's assume that you do fit in, there is one simple system I can recommend: The Eisenhower Method. You can find a graphical representation f this method all over the internet.
In essence it asks you to appoint one of four possible priorities to your tasks:
Priority 1 tasks are tasks that are both urgent and important. This is usually 'putting out fires'. If you have to spend a lot of time on these tasks, you have a problem. You are reactive and lack planning.
Priority 2 tasks are tasks that are important but not urgent. This is where you ideally spend most of your day on. Give these tasks a starting date and an end date. This will structure your planning and makes you pro-active
Priority 3 tasks are tasks that are urgent but not important. These tasks are not necessarily tasks you have to do personally. If possible, delegate them. If you cannot delegate, consider moving them to priority 4.
Priority 4 tasks are tasks that are neither urgent nor important. These are your time wasters. Just drop them. They add no value to your work whatsoever.
This system is simple, doesn't cost a lot of time and gives you insight in how you spend your day.
Time management - in whatever shape form or system - is important if you want to get done more in the same time, or the same in less time. Don't spend too much time on a time management system, that is rather counter productive. Discipline is key. If you don't have the discipline to do what you have to do, you have another problem: procrastination. And no system will solve that.
One last tip: Do the things you don't like doing first thing in the morning. It will make the rest of your day so much more fun.
Have a good time!

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