Tuesday, December 19, 2006


What is Personal Time Management?

Personal Time Management is about controlling the use of your most valuable (and undervalued) resource.

Consider these two questions:
* What would happen if you spent company money with as few safeguards as you spend company time? And,
* When was the last time you scheduled a review of your time allocation?

Poor time management is often a symptom of over confidence: techniques, which used to work with small projects and workloads, are simply reused with large ones. But inefficiencies, which were insignificant in the small role, are ludicrous in the large. You cannot drive a motorbike like a bicycle, nor can you manage a supermarket-chain like a market stall. The demands, the problems and the payoffs for increased efficiency are all larger as your responsibility grows; you must learn to apply proper techniques or be bettered by those who do. Possibly, the reason Time Management is poorly practiced is that it so seldom forms a measured part of appraisal and performance review; what many fail to foresee, however, is how intimately it is connected to aspects, which do.

Personal Time Management has many facets. Most managers recognize a few, but few recognize them all. There is the simple concept of keeping a well-ordered diary and the related idea of planned activity. But beyond these, it is a tool for the systematic ordering of your influence on events; it underpins many other managerial skills such as Effective Delegation and Project Planning.

Personal Time Management is a set of tools which allow you to:

# Eliminate wastage

# Be prepared for meetings

# Refuse excessive workloads

# Monitor project progress Allocate resource (time) appropriate to a task's importance

# Ensure that long term projects are not neglected

# Plan each day efficiently

# Plan each week effectively

# And to do so simply with a little self-discipline.

Since Personal Time Management is a management process just like any other, it must be planned, monitored and regularly reviewed. In the following sections, we will examine the basic methods and functions of Personal Time Management. Since true understanding depends upon experience, you will be asked to take part by looking at aspects of your own work. If you do not have time to this right now - ask yourself: why not?

Waste Disposal

We are not looking here to create new categories of work to enhance efficiency (that comes later) but simply to eliminate wastage in your current practice. The average Engineer earns about 1000 Rupees per day: about 120.33 rupees per hour, say 1.5 every 5 minutes; for how many 5 minute sections of your activity would you have paid a pound? The first step is a critical appraisal of how you spend your time and to question some of your habits. In your time log, identify periods of time, which might have been better used.

There are various sources of waste. The most common are social: telephone calls, friends dropping by, and conversations around the coffee machine. It would be foolish to eliminate all non-work related activity (we all need a break) but if it's a choice between chatting to Harry in the afternoon and meeting the next pay-related deadline ... Your time log will show you if this is a problem and you might like to do something about it before your boss does.

Another common source of waste stems from delaying work, which is unpleasant by finding distractions, which are less important or unproductive. Check your log to see if any tasks are being delayed simply because they are dull or difficult.

Time is often wasted in changing between activities. For this reason it is useful to group similar tasks together thus avoiding the start-up delay of each. The time log will show you where these savings can be made. You may want then to initiate a routine, which deals with these on a fixed but regular basis.

Doing Subordinate's Work

Assigning secretarial duties to secretaries can make large gains: they regularly catch the next post; they type a lot faster than you. Your subordinate should be told about the missing section and told how (and why) to slant it. If you have a task which could be done by a subordinate, use the next occasion to start training him/her to do it instead of doing it yourself - you will need to spend some time monitoring the task thereafter, but far less that in doing it yourself.

Doing the work of others

A major impact upon your work can be the tendency to help others with theirs. Now, in the spirit of an open and harmonious work environment it is obviously desirable that you should be willing to help out - but check your work log and decide how much time you spend on your own work and how much you spend on others'. For instance, if you spend a morning checking the grammar and spelling in the training material related to you last project, then that is waste.

The remaining problem is your manager. Consider what periods in your work log were used to perform tasks that your manager either repeated or simply negated by ignoring it or redefining the task, too late. Making your manager efficient is a very difficult task, but where it impinges upon your work and performance you must take the bull by the horns (or whatever) and confront the issue.

Managing your manager may seem a long way from Time Management but no one impacts upon your use of time more than your immediate superior. If a task is ill defined - seek clarification (is that a one page summary or a ten page report?). If seemingly random alterations are asked in your deliverables, ask for the reasons and next time clarify these and similar points at the beginning. If the manager is difficult, try writing a small specification for each task before beginning it and have it agreed. While you cannot tactfully hold your manager to this contract if he/she has a change of mind, it will at least cause him/her to consider the issues early on, before you waste your time on false assumptions.

External Appointments

The next stage of Personal Time Management is to start taking control of your time. The first problem is appointments. Start with a simple appointments diary. In this book you will have (or at least should have) a complete list of all your known appointments for the foreseeable future. If you have omitted your regular ones (since you remember them anyway) add them now.

Your appointments constitute your interaction with other people; they are the agreed interface between your activities and those of others; they are determined by external obligation. They often fill the diary. Now, be ruthless and eliminate the unnecessary. There may be committees where you cannot productively contribute or where a subordinate might be (better) able to participate. There may be long lunches, which could be better run as short conference calls. There may be interviews, which last, three times as long as necessary because they are scheduled for a whole hour. Eliminate the wastage starting today.

The single most important type of activity is those, which will save you, time: allocate time to save time; a stitch in time saves days. And most importantly of all, always allocate time-to-time management: at least five minutes each and every day.

For each appointment left in the diary, consider what actions you might take to ensure that no time is wasted: plan to avoid work by being prepared. Consider what actions need to be done before AND what actions must be done to follow-up. Even if the latter is unclear before the event, you must still allocate time to review the outcome and to plan the resulting action. Simply mark in your diary the block of time necessary to do this and, when the time comes, do it.

An impossible deadline affects not only your success but also that of others. Suppose a product is scheduled for release too soon because you agree to deliver too early. Marketing and Sales will prepare customers to expect the product showing why they really need it - but it will not arrive. The customers will be dissatisfied or even lost; the competition will have advanced warning, and all because you agreed to do the impossible.

You can avoid this type of problem. By practicing time management, you will always have a clear understanding of how you spend your time and what time is unallocated. If a new task is thrust upon you, you can estimate whether it is practical. The project planning tells you how much time is needed and the time management tells you how much time is available.

There are four ways to deal with impossible deadlines:

# Get the deadline extended Scream for more resources

# Get the Deliverable redefined to something practical

# State the position clearly so that your boss (and his/her boss) have fair warning

If this simple approach seems unrealistic, consider the alternative. If you have an imposed, but unobtainable, deadline and you accept it; then the outcome is your assured failure. Of course, there is a fifth option: move to a company with realistic schedules.

Finally, for each activity you should estimate how much time it is worth and allocate only that amount. This critical appraisal may even suggest a different approach or method so that the time matches the task's importance. Beware of perfection, it takes too long - allocate time for "fitness for purpose", then stop.

Monitoring Staff

Your Personal Time Management also effects other people, particularly your subordinates. Planning projects means not only allocating your time but also the distribution of tasks; and this should be done in the same planned, monitored and reviewed manner as your own scheduling.

Any delegated task should be specified with an (agreed) end date. As a Manager, you are responsible for ensuring that the tasks allocated to your subordinates are completed successfully.

Concluding Remarks.

Personal Time Management is a systematic application of common sense strategies. It requires little effort, yet it promotes efficient work practices by highlighting wastage and it leads to effective use of time by focusing it on your chosen activities. Personal Time Management does not solve your problems; it reveals them, and provides a structure to implement and monitor solutions. It enables you to take control of your own time - how you use it is then up to you.


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