Time management is an issue for everyone — it is a common observation that there are not enough hours in the day. In business, however, the effectiveness or otherwise of time management can make the difference between success and failure, or profit and loss. It is so crucial that many companies even hire consultants to help in improving productivity, so that a whole consulting industry has grown up round this topic.
A specific area of business in which use of time is particularly crucial is project management and project scheduling. Completing a project on schedule is usually the major deciding factor as to whether the project stays within budget, so effective time management is one of the most essential attributes of a good project manager. Not surprisingly, therefore, a large body of consultancy and training is devoted to the specialized area of project management.
Can We Really Manage Time?
The basis of time management planning is that everyone has the same amount of time, but some people get far more done than others in the same time period — so, strictly speaking, we cannot manage time, we can only manage our own use of it. Most of the problems of inefficiency and lack of productivity result from time wasting, repetitive tasks, poor scheduling and lack of organization, so that people can feel they have worked hard all day and yet achieved very little.
Time management in a business can be improved on two levels — first by analysing business systems and workplace structures, to identify areas where poor use of time and human resources hampers productivity on the organizational level. At the same time, work needs to be done with individual staff members to ensure they manage their own time more effectively.
Before trying to put in place any systems or methodologies, it is essential to start with identifying and eliminating the factors that cause wasted time, or time robbers as they are sometimes called. These time wasters often appear quite trivial, so they are taken for granted and can be difficult to spot. However, their cumulative effect is phenomenal, and they will cancel out the effectiveness of any time management techniques.
One of the main factors in wasted time is poor work habits — untidy desks, filing systems not kept in order, appointments not written down. Along with this goes interruptions — not only from colleagues and subordinates, but from telephone calls and e-mails. Staff need strategies to deal with these, including scheduling specific times to deal with e-mails. Other major time wasters include work overload and procrastination, which often go together. An employee who is panicking about having too much to do often doesn’t know where to start, and ends up doing nothing — or reading e-mails.
Time Management Strategies
To help with prioritizing, a consultant will often suggest starting with creating task lists, and learning to manage them. A well-known system for task lists is Alan Lakein’s ABC prioritization. Everything on the list is prioritized as A, B or C, and a time schedule is assigned to each category — for instance, A is to be done in a day, B in a week, C in a month. Whether or not this specific method is followed, prioritizing tasks, scheduling and sticking to the schedule are essential.
Getting Things Done
One of the most popular and well-used time management methodologies is Getting Things Done, or GTD for short. The central concept is that instead of having all your tasks and projects spinning round in your mind, you move them out of your mind into a system, which you write down and update weekly. This allows you to use your mental energy in actually doing tasks, instead of trying to remember them, and you use your weekly update to drive your priorities. Users find it a big plus that it allows you to group together similar tasks, such as outstanding phone calls, which you can do when you have a bit of time. The idea is that you can quickly spot the next task to be done on each front and keep all your projects going, while your mind stays clear, to relax and be creative.
Time management training can be especially beneficial for owners of small businesses, who regularly find themselves trying to do many different things at once. There are many different techniques and systems, and different ones work for different people, but whichever you use, it can take many years to become a really proficient time manager. However, there is no need to be discouraged. Even small changes over a year can really add up, and you can look back and see how your productivity has gone up, your stress level has gone down, and your business performance has improved all round.
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