Time Management

by Di McLanachan

Time consumers: within your control

If some of the ‘within your control’ items rated a high score when you did the Time consumers exercise, have a look below for pointers to help you bring into line some of the items that ought to be within your control.

  • Avoiding delegating: delegation is an essential management skill, though it’s one that technical experts promoted to management often find particularly difficult. See Delegating, within this topic, and, for a more in-depth study, the topic Delegation.
  • Negative/cynical attitude: perhaps this is just part of your charm and personality? If, however, it has developed since you have been in your current job role, this could indicate that you are a square peg in a round hole. Your thoughts, feelings and behaviour are all the result of your choices. If they don’t serve you, you can choose to change them for alternative thoughts, feelings and behaviours that will serve you better. Perhaps you need to ask yourself whether you are truly in the right job. It is not the purpose of this section to explore attitudes to any great extent; however, it is important to be aware that if you are holding a negative attitude towards your work, you will constantly be looking for distractions to avoid doing it. As a result, a backlog of work builds up and you feel even more resentful. This is not a healthy place to be!
  • Disorganised, looking for things, cluttered workspace, paper shuffling: these are all highly avoidable time-wasters. See Get your desk organised and How can I best schedule my work?.
  • Forgetful: at best, your conscious memory can handle just nine pieces of information at a time before it starts forgetting. If you are overloading your memory, it is far better to write things-to-do lists. See How can I best schedule my work? to discover how to get the best results from writing lists.
  • Failure to listen: hearing and listening are different. Listening is a skill, requiring more of your attention than hearing. The main block to listening is the voice inside your head – your internal dialogue. Once it starts up, it demands your attention and you end up listening internally rather than externally. You need to control this inner voice. When someone speaks to you, make eye contact with them and tune into their words. Silence your inner voice and listen without interrupting. If you interrupt, you have stopped listening to the other person and resumed listening to your inner voice. The best communicators are excellent listeners.
  • Indecisive: successful people are decisive. They don’t always get it right but they make a point of learning from their poor decisions and use that knowledge to make better quality decisions in the future. One simple technique for making decisions is to draw up a list of pros and cons. Divide a sheet of paper into two columns, heading one column with a plus sign and the other with a minus sign. Next, list all the possible consequences of your decision in whichever column is appropriate and notice which column ends up with the most entries. If it is the plus column, then the decision is a good one; however, if the minus column has more entries, look for an alternative decision and work through the exercise again. The act of working through this exercise on paper externalises the decision making process and makes it much easier to take a detached, rational view. It is important to practise making decisions; the more you do this, the more you expand your comfort zone, the more confident you become and the more you open yourself up to new opportunities.
  • Socialising; non-work activities: whether it’s because you’re under-employed or under-motivated, distracting other people from the job is inappropriate and unprofessional. Find alternative times and opportunities for this type of activity. The same applies to non-work activities. Make phone calls about the club or whatever during your lunch break, away from your desk, and either type up minutes at home, or stay late and do them outside working hours.
  • Tired, lethargic: if the feelings are occurring in your personal life too, seek medical advice. However, if you only feel this unhealthy way at work, then there is something about the nature of your job that is draining you. Is it the nature of your work, the physical environment, the people you work with, or perhaps the workload? Get as specific as possible and then explore your options with a view to taking action to address the situation.
  • Lack of self-discipline: how exactly does this manifest for you? Are you always starting new things before finishing existing tasks/projects? Do you get distracted easily and lose your focus? Once you’ve said you’ll do something, do you always carry that commitment through and do it? Successful people are skilled at self-discipline, maintaining focus and remaining passionately committed to the attainment of their goals. Like decisiveness, self-discipline is a ‘muscle’ that performs more effectively the more it is exercised. Using a things-to-do list in conjunction with allocated blocks of time in your diary can be a good technique for instilling a new self-discipline habit.
  • Unfinished tasks: this is probably due to lack of self-discipline, however it may also be part of your working style. See the page on Working styles to find out.
  • Procrastination: see How to stop procrastinating.
  • Lack of clear personal goals: if you lack clearly defined goals and objectives, it’s impossible to identify which tasks are important, which makes prioritising your workload a hit-and-miss affair. Goals provide focus and motivation. Research has consistently proved that money is not the prime motivator at work; other factors, such as recognition and feeling, are higher motivators. Why do you do your job? What would you most particularly want to be recognised and valued for? Now turn your answers into goals that are consistent with your job role, and you will gain a new sense of focus. For more information on goal creation, see Goal Setting.
  • Perfectionism: everyone wants to do a good job, but perfectionism is time consuming and may not even be appreciated in your workplace. If you find yourself constantly questing for perfection, you are probably a Type B. See Working styles for a more in-depth description.
  • Poor planning: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. A working style of spontaneously going with the flow does not allow for the unexpected. Remember – if something can go wrong, it probably will! If you are a Type A (see Working styles), you may well be a poor planner. When things get busy, poor planning may become your downfall; things will fall through the cracks and this may well result in a serious crisis. Time invested in planning – even just writing a daily things-to-do list – pays dividends when it comes to being productive and effective in the work place. Allow yourself thinking/brainstorming time for planning and, most essentially, write down all the tasks you identify, together with start and finish dates. Then, if and when things get frantic, you can just consult your plan and remain cool, calm and totally in control.
  • Lack of focus, easily distracted: this is very similar to lacking clear personal goals. Achievers are totally focused on the task at hand, with the clarity of a laser beam. They know what they’re doing, why they’re doing it and where they’re going. See Focusing techniques.
  • Attempting too much: this is very similar to ‘Excessive work allocation’ on the list of things allegedly outside your control. Type A people (see Working styles) tend to take on too much. If you tend to take on more work than you can cope with, see How do I prioritise my workload?. Perhaps you also need to hone your Delegation skills and start using Things-to-do lists.
  • Making phone calls: batch calls together. Every time you think of a call you need to make, jot it down on piece of paper, headed ‘Calls to make’. At an appropriate time (avoiding lunch times), work through them, one after another. If there are several points you need to raise in one call, make a note of them all and tick them off as you discuss them. Nothing is worse than spending 15 minutes on a phone call, hanging up and then remembering something else you needed to discuss. When you ring back, the person you need to speak to has now gone to a meeting and won’t be returning for a couple of hours. Never allow yourself to be left on hold for more than 30 seconds. Ask when is a better time to call, hang up and call again later. For more advice on telephone efficiency, see Telephone Skills.
  • Dealing with emails: as with phone calls, it pays to allocate a specific time to emailing activities. For more tips, see Email efficiency.