9.2 Time saving and time planning
One approach to saving time is to identify the main wasters of time in your working life – and eliminate them. Some major time-wasters are:
- giving a higher priority to new email than is necessary
- accepting all telephone interruptions
- encouraging people to discuss their problems with you
- encouraging visitors
- holding meetings which are unnecessary, badly planned or badly conducted, or all of these
- reading slowly (much time spent reading documents)
- writing slowly (much time spent drafting)
- delaying starting important and urgent work, or procrastination (indecision)
- unnecessary or inefficient travelling.
To identify time-wasters such as these, try keeping a log of your time – even if only for a few days. This can help you to identify where time is being wasted. At 15-minute intervals throughout a working week, note the main tasks on which you have been working. You can save time in keeping your log by preparing a pro forma sheet with columns headed with your most likely activities. Then you can insert ticks and an occasional comment. At the end of the recording period you should analyse the entries in the columns. This will reveal the proportions of time that you are spending on each aspect of your work, and it should highlight time-wasters and jobs that could be shed.
To manage effectively you need some time every day when you can give your undivided attention to your key tasks. Interruptions to this time will damage your concentration and your ability to think clearly. You could identify an hour each day when you are simply not ‘available’. If you want to keep face-to-face conversations short, don’t sit down. When you want to end a face-to-face discussion when you are sitting, sum up and stand up. Make appointments with visitors to talk to them at a more appropriate time. Better still, if the visitor is located nearby, visit them; that way you retain control over the length of your visit. Colleagues will soon start to respect your time and privacy. It becomes a status symbol – and like all status symbols it should be visible but not ostentatious.
Meetings are one of the most notorious wasters of time. If they are your meetings, first decide if they are necessary. If they are, then plan them carefully. Set an agenda, set a time limit, and keep discussion strictly to the point.
If you are a slow reader, you can learn how to skim read. If you draft slowly, try a different method. For example, voice-recognition software can speed up your ‘writing’ because it enables you to speak your ideas rather than putting them down on paper. Time spent socialising and on visits may be important to build networks and good relationships. If it is one of your key activities, do it. If not, limit it. Procrastination is possibly the worst ‘thief’ of time for many managers. Difficult or disliked decisions and tasks are delayed in the hope, rather than the expectation, that they will resolve themselves or that new information will come to hand which will make things clearer. First, identify if there really is a difficulty with the decision or task – you could get help or advice. Second, try breaking a task into smaller, more easily achieved steps. Third, try allocating a time to the unwelcome task, preferably followed by something enjoyable, for example: ‘I will do this task between 10.30 am and 12.30 pm before lunch with Peter tomorrow’. But generally, procrastination is a habit and requires self-discipline to overcome it.
Travel is a serious waster of time if there are alternative ways of accomplishing a goal. There is little point in working evenings and weekends so that you can spend your days on the train or the motorway. However, when travel is essential, a long journey by train or plane or other form of public transport can provide uninterrupted time for you to discuss an important matter with a colleague, or to read or think. Technology can allow people to carry on with many normal activities while travelling. It can also be used to avoid unnecessary travel.
Like your other scarce and expensive resources, your time needs to be planned and budgeted to make effective use of it. Time planning is itself time-consuming and routine. But, like many routines, it can help to reduce pressure by reducing the uncertainty in your day, and thus lower the stress associated with uncertainty and lack of control.
Activity 3 Stresses and actions
This activity is designed to identify one main pressure or stress in your work as a manager and what you could do about it. Consider all the sources of pressure and stress covered in sections 6 to 9. Identify just one that currently affects you most, and one action that you can take to reduce it. Say how you could carry out this action. When you are deciding on what action you will take, remember the demands and constraints that will restrict the choices you have. If you find that you have identified a pressure or stress about which you can do nothing, or not easily, then select one that you have more influence or control over. (You might discuss with your line manager the major pressure you can do nothing about.)
The major stress factor in my work:
What I will do about it:
How I will do this:
It is likely that your responses to the activity focussed on the last two readings, and possibly the last one of all. The kinds of pressures set out in Section 6 are easier to recognise than to deal with. Time management issues, covered in Section 9, are often easier to deal with.
If you were now to review your course activities you would see that you have created a profile of your job:
the roles you perform ()
the demands of the job and the constraints that limit your choices over how you carry out your task, when and how (Activity 2)
one important aspect of your job that creates most pressure or stress (this activity).
At the same time, you have planned an action that you can carry out to improve your effectiveness.