Effective Time Management Skills For Today’s Managers – Life Lessons


Effective Time Management

Effectively managing your time will enable you to work more efficiently and do more to further the bottom-line objectives of your company. As a manager, the use of your time is critical in order to carry out your many duties and responsibilities. This Origami Warrior Life Lessons – Basic Management Skill article on Time Management will enable you to become a more effective manager for yourself, and for your organization. You will learn how to better manage your time, which will help you achieve your overall goals.

What Should You Expect We will not be able to explore every facet and component of time management. Rather, we will focus on the major principles of effective time management including planning and organizational skills, that apply to most situations. We will use only as much “theory” as needed to gain basic understanding of time management issues. Primarily, we will discuss what you can do to better manage your time. 

Learning Objectives

Upon completion, you will be able to:

1)    Understand the role that planning plays in time management.

2)    Understand how organizational skills can help you better manage your time.

3)    State how effective delegation, communication, and training can save you time in the long run.

4)    Implement specific techniques for better handling accumulating paperwork, crisis, and “overwhelming” projects.

Format

This information is designed to do more than just give you information on time management. Rather, it is set up to teach you skills which you can apply in your day to day job. This will be accomplished by the use of exercises that require your involvement. Active participation will enable you to learn “what to do and how to do it” better than passively sitting back and being an observer. Keep this in mind as we proceed.

Managing Your Time

Planning

All time management begins with planning. Planning means thinking about what you want and how you are going to accomplish it; determining in advance what is to be done; and preparing for the future by making decisions now.

Defining Your Work Load

In order to plan your time; you must evaluate your work load. Although not a difficult task, it takes time to reflect upon your duties and responsibilities. Make time for this. It will save you time in the long run. Begin all new projects, responsibilities, or tasks with a planning session. Ask yourself:

o    What tasks need to be done.

o    When should they be completed.

o    Besides myself, who else will need to be involved, can this be delegated, if so to whom, etc.

o    How much time will each project require.

o    What part of my duties and responsibilities are fixed and routine.

o    What intermediate steps need to be completed.

Not only should new work begin with a planning session, but all on-going work needs to be reviewed, evaluated, and re-planned. Schedule planning time every day. Plan your day the first thing in the morning, as soon as you arrive at work or the previous day the last thing you do at work before leaving for home. When defining your work load, be aware of four points:

First, is the task really your responsibility? Don’t fall into the trap of taking on others responsibilities. You may be able to route the task or project to those who are more responsible for it in the first place, thereby freeing up time for those tasks and projects you are definitely held responsible for. At the very least, you may be able to share the project with others, thereby splitting the work load in half. Channel projects to others who have responsibility for them by being appropriately assertive and using clear and concise communication. At times, compromise and negotiation may be needed to result in a collaborative effort on a project. Remember, your responsibilities come first and require the majority of your time.

Secondly, when defining your work load, ask whether you have “bitten off more than you can chew”. It is entirely possible that you have a larger work load than any person can realistically handle in the available time. Push yourself hard, but if the quality of your work begins to decline in order for you to take on an additional quantity of work, then an unhealthy habit may be forming. The success of any company is built upon quality services, quality products, and quality management action. Do not ever allow this standard to decline as a shortcut to getting another task completed. It is your responsibility to communicate to your immediate supervisor if you assess that you have taken on more than any “mere mortal can handle”. Planning includes knowing your limits, as well as problem solving, brainstorming, and communicating when those limits have been exceeded.  Be the first to ask for help, a true sign of strength not weakness.

Thirdly, be realistic when estimating the time it will take you to complete each of your responsibilities or projects. Effective planning is built upon reality. Underestimating the time required to do a task may result in disrupting other people’s time schedule when you are not able to deliver as you had estimated. Consequently, it will be a poor reflection upon you. Similarly, overestimating the time it will take you to complete a project is poor practice. Although it may appear to make you look more efficient, it can also disrupt others who are not ready to receive your report or completed task at the unexpected earlier time. As a result, your prematurely completed work may “sit around” until others are ready for it. Proper planning requires accurate and realistic time estimates.

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Lastly, proper planning also includes the planning of lunch, breaks, and personal events. It has long been recognized that total, sustained, and intense focus on high pressure tasks and responsibilities can lead to stress and deterioration of one’s working capacity. It is your responsibility to plan appropriate action to prevent yourself from becoming “burnt-out”. It is legitimate to plan a lunch. Breaks can be interspersed within long periods of intense concentration. Planning for these events are carried out with the same legitimacy and in the same manner as other important duties and responsibilities.

Time Management Worksheet 1

Defining Your Work Load

Choose an objective on your current Performance Appraisal Review form. With it in mind, answer the following questions.  

1. Briefly, what project, activity, or program are you currently doing to help you attain the objective? 

2. What is the deadline for completing the project, activity, or program? 

3. Roughly estimate how many uninterrupted work hours it will take you to achieve the project, activity, or program. How long with interruptions? 

4. List the names of people you will need to involve or meet with in order to successfully complete the project, activity, or program. 

5. Will completing the project, activity, or program require you to perform fixed and routine duties on a weekly or daily basis. What are these duties? 

Objectives and Goals

Planning should naturally result in goals or objectives. A goal or objective is simply a task we desire to accomplish. Goals direct our behavior. They help us follow a straight-line path to our ultimate objective. They prevent us from being like leaves being blown helplessly in the wind. Goals play a major role in helping us decide how to manage our time. All actions that help us accomplish our goals warrants our time. All actions that do not help us achieve our goals, are a waste of our time.

Many of your objectives or long term goals are identified by the Objective Setting and Performance Appraisal Review System. Often, these objectives are too broad in scope to strive for “all at once”. Objectives or long term goals need to be broken down into intermediate goals. Intermediate goals need to be broken down into goals that can be attained in one week. Finally, you can set a goal for each day of the week that, when completed, will result in the achievement of the weekly goal. It is the completion of many very small goals on a daily basis that result in the completion of a performance appraisal review objective.

Planning and setting goals result in more efficient time management when several conditions are met. These rules of goal setting will automatically force you to make better use of your time.

o        Set goals once a day: either first thing in the morning or for the following day, last thing before going home.     Set the goals one day at a time, keeping in mind what you want to accomplish by the end of the week

o        Daily goals should be specific. What, where, when, and with whom should be included.

o        Daily goals should be attainable. Make it reasonable and realistic. There should be a very good chance of accomplishing it.

o        If involving others, the goal should be mutually developed. This does not need to be complicated. For example, state “…then we agree that at the conclusion of this meeting, we will have made decisions on the following four issues”.    

o        Good goals should be measurable. Although you  may not always want to record the progress you made toward your goal; the point is, if you wanted to – you could.

o                The best use of your time each day is in accomplishing your daily goals set that morning (or the previous evening).    

Time Management Worksheet 2

Developing Monthly and Daily Goals

Using the same objective that you used for Worksheet 1, develop goals for meeting the objective by answering the following questions.

1.         “Break-down” the objective into its major parts. 

2.     Take one major part of the objective identified in Question 1, and “break it down” further by listing three tasks that must be accomplished in order to achieve the major part of the objective.

    Task 1:

    Task 2:

    Task 3: 

3.    Write a goal to correspond to each identified task listed in Question 2 above, using the format presented.

Goal I:

I need to (what):________________________________________________________________________________ 

By (date):______________________________________________________________________________

I may need to involve (who):________________________________________________________________________________ 

Is this goal attainable?____________________________________________________________________________

I may need to divide this goal into the following sub-goals:

_____________________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Progress toward attaining this goal can be measured by:    

_____________________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Goal 2:

I need to (what):________________________________________________________________________________

By (date):______________________________________________________________________________

I may need to involve (who):________________________________________________________________________________ 

Is this goal attainable:_____________________________________________________________________________ 

I may need to divide this goal into the following sub-goals:

_____________________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________________

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Progress toward attaining this goal can be measured by:

_____________________________________________________________________________________

Goal 3:

I need to (what):________________________________________________________________________________

By (date):______________________________________________________________________________ may need to involve (who):_________________________________________________________________________________ 

Is this goal attainable:______________________________________________________________________________ 

I may need to divide this goal into the following sub-goals:

______________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________

______________________________________________________________________________________

Progress toward attaining this goal can be measured by:

______________________________________________________________________________________

Time Management Worksheet 3

Reasons Why Plans Often Fail

Think of a major objective, in which you were involved, that did not “come off” as planned. Briefly jot down the plan to reach the objective. 

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Place a check by the main reasons why the plan failed.

1.    ______Feasibility of the specific details of the plan was not assessed at every level.             

2.    ______Plan was “unrealistic”.                                       

3.    ______Objectives for the plan were not clear or specific.                            

4.    ______Key people were not involved before the plan was finalized.                        

5.   ______ Assumptions were made, but not checked out, about critical elements of the plan, availability of           essential supplies, items needed and when to be delivered, manpower, etc.                      

6.    ______Plan was idealistic; too “tight”; too little room or margin for error or “trouble-shooting”.        

7.    ______Plan created a high degree of friction and resistance in people which was either not anticipated          or not explored by consulting them-so they failed to give essential cooperation required for  successful         implementation of the plan.                                    

8.    ______Planning was started only after problem was acute and “a crisis”.

9.    ______You thought planning takes too much time – Let’s have action!                       

10.  ______Parameters within which planning was done was not fully understood (such as budget limitation,      availability of key people, etc).                                        

11.    _____Objectives and plan details were not communicated properly to all who were to be involved in              the planning as well as the implementation.                                    

12. ______Planners failed to familiarize themselves with the situation within which planning had to be done.        

13. ______Failure to get all pertinent facts necessary for success of the plan.                   

14. ______Failure to consider alternative plans and options.                                

15. ______Failure to plan for the training of people to implement a plan.                        

16. ______Failure to plan for the delegation of parts of the plan.                            

17. ______Failure to anticipate trouble and establish mechanisms for “re-planning” and/or contingency plans.       No mechanisms for monitoring or controls.                               

18. ______Failure to allocate sufficient time to “get the job done right”.                   

Organization

Planning is not complete without organization. Proper organization insures that plans are carried out, goals are attained, and your time is used most efficiently. Two factors of organization that must be considered are prioritizing and scheduling.

Prioritizing

Prioritizing simply means ranking a list of items according to their importance. The most important item becomes the highest priority and automatically becomes the first item to be worked on. The second priority is second in importance and becomes the next item to be focused on after the first priority is completed.

One good way to think of priorities is in association to poker chips. As you recall from poker, three colors of chips are frequently employed. Blue chips are usually worth a lot of money each, and are, therefore, the most important. With blue chips, the stakes are high, a loss of a blue chip is a failure; achieving one is success.

Red chips are not as important as blue chips but cannot be ignored. You need to be concerned with them, but only after attending to your blue chips. The loss or gain of one red chip does not bring failure or success but the loss or gain of many red chips can add up to failure or success.

Lastly, there is a white chip. The white chip is not nearly as important as the blue or red chips. Failing to achieve white chips does not worry you. Sometimes, in fact, you will need to purposely sacrifice white chips in order to achieve a blue or red chip.

In terms of priorities, all blue chip goals are top priority; all red chip goals are medium in priority and all white chip goals are low in priority. You can have several goals as one color chip. The point you must realize is that not all of your goals are blue chip goals. In fact, many of your goals are only red or even white chip goals.

All of your objectives on the Objective Setting – Performance Appraisal form are blue chip. Your weekly and even daily goals are just the many elements that go into accomplishing these larger objectives. On any given week, you will have some blue chip, red chip, and white chip goals. Every day when you plan your goals, some of the daily things you want to accomplish will have blue chip status. others will have red chip status; and many will have white chip status.

When you make your daily goals in your daily planning session, prioritize them. Always prioritize goals when you develop them: prioritize on a daily basis. A red chip goal on Wednesday which hasn’t been accomplished can easily become a blue chip item on Thursday.

Use your judgement when determining if your daily goals are blue, red, or white chip. Consider the following:

o    the importance of the project.

o    deadlines.

o    how important your immediate supervisor considers this project (very important).

o    accessibility of other people or equipment.

o    the sequence of one part of the project to other parts of the project.

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To get a feel for the importance of a project, ask yourself, “What would happen if I didn’t do it?” If the consequences are minor, the project is probably a white chip project. If the consequences affect the profitability of the company, it is a blue chip project.

Now that you have prioritized, there are two rules to follow to insure proper allocation of your time:

1.    Spend most of your time each day on a blue chip goal, some of your time on a red chip goal that support blue chip goals, and little, if any, of your time on a white chip goal.

2.    Always start your day working on a blue chip goal. Also devote much of your spare time or “in-between time” to work on a blue chip goal. When you return from lunch, work on a blue chip goal. If you have 10 minutes before a meeting, spend this time working on a blue chip goal. Always work on your blue chip goals first. Spending 10 minutes working on a blue chip goal is always preferable to totally completing one white chip goal.

Time Management Worksheet 4

Write “Blue”, “Red”, or “White” in the space provided depending on the item’s priority.

1. ______Meeting your number one performance appraisal objective.

2. ______Reading a trade magazine.

3. ______Completing a mostly finished report for you boss which is due tomorrow.

4. ______Completing a mostly finished report for your boss which is due in two weeks.

5. ______Responding to a dissatisfied customer.

6. ______Obtaining supplies for your desk.

7. ______Holding a meeting with your subordinartes to update them on recent events.

8. ______Working on a procedure that can directly increase the profitability of the company.

9. ______Making a phone call to get information you need for a project you are involved in.

10.______Filling out paperwork that is required but not due until next week.

Prioritize some of your monthly current activities under blue, red, or white chip status.  

Blue                                                                                                                       

________________________________ 

________________________________ 

________________________________    

________________________________

Red                                                                     

________________________________ 

________________________________

________________________________  

________________________________  

White                                                                   

________________________________ 

________________________________ 

________________________________  

________________________________   

Go back and priortize activities under each of the blue and red chip headings by numbering them from top blue chip priority to bottom blue chip priority, and top red chip priority to bottom red chip priority. Simply prioritize each of the lists.

Scheduling

Scheduling is a key component of being organized. Following are simple, yet proven techniques to help you manage your time better.

Use a Calendar

A calendar which shows the entire month at a glance is better than one which shows one day at a time. By seeing how all of your obligations are being arranged for an entire month, you can obtain a “bigger picture” of the time requirements you will need to reserve for these events. You will also be able to better plan for week to week by seeing what pressing needs you have later in the month.

Appointments, meetings, deadlines, and special events should all be marked on a calendar. In addition, reserve a couple hours each day to be devoted exclusively to your top blue chip goal. Try marking a “warning” on your calendar: for example, you might write: Warning, project _________________ should be one-half completed today.

Use a Daily “To Do” List

Many people write out a list of things they hope to accomplish. This is an established time management tool. The daily “to do” list should include the goals that you developed in your daily planning session. As mentioned under goal setting, make sure your daily goals are attainable, specific, etc. After completing the list, go back over the list and indicate which of your daily goals have blue chip, red chip, or white chip status.

If you already have been using a daily “to do” list, use it more effectively by remembering the following points:

o    Make only one list; trying to coordinate and act upon many lists at once can quickly become confusing.

o    Put a rough estimate of time needed to complete each item on your list. If the total time to complete all the items on your list is approaching eight hours, your list of daily goals is too long. Remember, make sure the goals you set for each day are realistically attainable.

o    Always start with your top priority and devote the most time to it.

o    Start a new “to do” List each day in your planning session. Don’t just keep adding to yesterday’s unaccomplished goals.

o    Do not load up the list so that every moment of your day is allocated. This is the biggest mistake people make in using a “to do” list. Most people know that they will be interrupted through out the day. Plan for it. “Pad” scheduled events by reserving more time. Allow time for handling unexpected crises. Remain flexible.

Spending 10 minutes on a blue chip project is better than totally completing one white chip item. Never spend time on less important items when you could be spending your time on more important events. Your emphasis should not be on how many items you cross off your “to do” list each day, rather, it should be on accomplishing high priority items( i.e. blue chips, then red chips, etc.)

Set priorities and set yourself free, you will get more done and it will be the most important things needing to be done.