Six Steps Toward Improving your Time and Task Management
If you are keen to review your current style of working – no matter what your work is – then be prepared to invest some of your precious time to do this. You can’t improve something that you don’t understand – and these six steps will help you understand how you are currently working. The starting point is to undertake a time log, ideally through four weeks, as this should include your regular commitments (daily, weekly and monthly time and task commitments).
Step 1: Identify the context within which you must manage your time – keep a time log for 4 weeks to see how you are managing your time now within your business, private and social environment.
Step 2: Identify your major concerns about the use of your time – review your time-log process and results, then you’ll be clear about your own priorities for early improvement.
Step 3: Identify yourself as a time manager – your time-log results will give you a reasonably clear picture of how – and how well – you are managing your time now
Step 4: Analyze the basic principle of the management of your time - ie set priorities and strategies that are:
· appropriate to your context
· acceptable to your style of working
· achievable within the resources you have, or have access to
Realize that improving your time management will also involve introducing change. The changes you plan must be compatible with this basic principle:
· identify what can be changed,
· choose the target for change, and
· then plan the process and procedure for change.
Select the starting place and time for your change carefully. It’s wise to start with a specific change – one that you can manage, which means that it is within your control.
Step 5: Establish your own action plan - an action plan clearly sets out:
- how often
- at what cost
- with what benefit
Step 6: Monitor, evaluate and reward your progress – the more specific your action plan, the easier it will be to monitor and evaluate progress. Rewarding your progress is extremely important, as you need to give as much positive feedback to yourself as possible. This step relates closely with step 4.
These are the rules!
The reality of time
- Everything you do, say, think or feel takes time! That’s the reality of time.
- We are used to budgeting our finances, but how good are we at budgeting our time?
The availability of time
- Every person has, and has access to, 24 hours in every day.
- No matter who we are or what we do, we all have access to the same amount of time every day.
Responsibility of time
- Each one of us is responsible for the use of our time, as much as we are for the time we use.
The effect of time
- We need to spend time learning about the effect of time on our attitudes and behaviour.
Productive use of time
- A productive person takes action, gets things done, follows through on ideas… plans, and then acts
- An unproductive person postpones things until they have proved they shouldn’t or can’t do them, until it’s too late… plans and then procrastinates
Implications of change
- Consider who and what is going to be influenced and affected by the possibilities you are considering for change?
- How are people going to feel, to react, to assume a position of response?
- How much money or time is going to be needed – whose money, whose time?
- What are the implications for others’ positions, responsibilities, sense of identity, public image?
- Are existing projects or action plans going to be undermined or devalued?
- Are relationships going to be adversely affected?
- Are you going to threaten your job security unwittingly?
Are you perhaps moving too far too fast – even for your own comfort?
Time Log Exercise
A Time-Log Exercise will be a great help in seeing how you are managing your time at present. Complete the time-log each evening over four weeks. Prepare a table with four columns and 34 rows, and type these headings across the first row:
1st column heading - Time schedule in ½ hour slots (each row will be allocated to half an hour)
2nd column heading - Anticipated task/s for each ½ hour (what I plan to do)
3rd column heading - Actual task/s during each ½ hour (what I actually did)
4th column heading - Comments (what can I learn from my daily review)
Spend 15 minutes at the end of each day listing the tasks/activities you wish or need to achieve the following day, starting at 7am and going through to 11pm. This will encompass personal as well as work tasks/activities. Plan the whole day, and include as much detail as you can – meal times, TV times, shopping after work, travel times as well as work tasks – 7 days each week.
- Each evening, complete the ‘actual’ column and then prepare the ‘anticipated’ column for the next day.
- In your review each evening, make notes in the ‘Comments’ column comparing the anticipated and actual columns: such comments should address why you were able or unable to work to your plan.
- If you complete the time-log daily for one month, you’ll probably capture most of your regular work commitments: however, even a 2-week time-log will give you a valuable analysis of how you are managing your time and tasks at present. You can then introduce appropriate strategies to maintain or improve your style of working.
Some of the questions you will need to ask yourself during or after carrying out this exercise:
a) Did you plan your day according to time or task? Did you go by the hours, or by the tasks to be completed within the day?
b) Did you list complete projects, or did you break these down to individual tasks from more than one project?
c) How did you handle interruptions – did you feel too embarrassed to defer the interruption until it suited you?
d) How about demands or priorities from your colleagues or supervisor – did you just move your times to suit, or did you explain what you were currently working on and try to negotiate completion of that task before going on to their direction or priority?
e) How about circumstances that just wiped out a task, or caused it to be irrelevant, leaving you with ‘spare’ time? Did you move on to the next task, or were you thrown by having unexpected spare time?
f) What criteria did you use in setting your ‘anticipated’ column. Work that simply had to be completed that day? Were you clearing a backlog? Did you take a theme?
g) Was there a balance between creative ‘innovative’ work such as planning or designing – and routine ‘maintenance’ work such as completing forms, cleaning equipment?
h) Was there a balance between pleasure and real effort?
i) What were the reasons for any changes you had to make to your plans –
- lack of interest?
- didn’t have the information or permission?
- the right people weren’t available when you needed them?
- you didn’t have the necessary energy and discipline to stick with it?