Why Time Management Doesn’t Actually Exist And How to Diagnose the Real Issues
How to Regain Focus and Prioritise Effectively
Do you often find yourself with a seemingly endless to-do list but don’t know where to start?
In our last article, we looked at why time management doesn’t actually exist, the dangers of overworking (a common result of poor ‘time management’), and bad habits that often make us feel like we don’t have enough time.
In today’s article, we’ll look at the 3 key areas of effective time management, how to prioritise and use your time wisely, how to manage your energy not your time, and how to take your time management skills to the next level with free, funded, and private learning.
You Can’t Control Time, So What Should You Focus On?
As we spoke about in our last article, you can’t control time. So instead of trying to manage your time, there are 3 key areas you should focus on to get more out of our time:
- Other people
- Your work processes
The first thing to think about is yourself; getting the most from your time is all about self-management rather than time management.
Self-management and Unrealistic Expectations
How do you see yourself? What’s important to you? What do you stand for? How do you want others to see you?
We often put pressure on ourselves to say ‘yes’ to unrealistic requests because we like to be seen as a go-to, helpful person and we don’t want to let others down; this isn’t helped by the fact that many organisations have a ‘culture of helpfulness’ where employees are expected to always fit in others’ requests on top of their existing workload and ‘help out’ even if it puts them at risk of burnout/overworking.
Leaders and managers also often work long hours, sometimes working ridiculously early or unbelievably late at night. This sets the tone for the rest of the team; employees tend to ‘follow the leader’ and will likely think that the same is expected of them, making them more likely to take on too much work and risk their work/life balance.
Whilst this works short-term to get a lot of work done, in the long run it sets unrealistic expectations; if you over perform once, others will expect that level of performance from you all of the time.
This leads to us constantly running at full capacity, making us less effective.
Stephen Covey: Remember to Sharpen Your Axe
In his book ‘7 Habits of Highly Effective People’, Stephen Covey uses a fantastic analogy that proves the value of taking the time to sharpen our skills:
- There is a competition between two people to see who can cut down more trees in a forest in a given time
- They are both given the same axe and are placed near enough to each other so that they can see what each other are doing
- Person A keeps chopping relentlessly for the entire time with no breaks; they have no doubt that they’re going to win
- Person B takes their time, stopping every now and then for a few minutes
- Person A notices this and feels even more confident that they’re going to win
- Time’s up and the results are in - much to everyone’s surprise, Person B won!
- Person A can’t believe it and asks how it’s possible
- It turns out that when Person A thought Person B was stopping for a rest, they were actually stopping to sharpen their axe
Moral of the story: taking the time to better ourselves, our skills, and our resources makes us more effective in the long run. If we’re working at 100% all of the time, we are going to get tired and be unable to perform to our full potential, like the axe in Covey’s analogy.
Manage Your Energy Not Your Time
With this, another crucial thing to think about is our energy - how do we maximise our productivity and use our energy wisely?
When we have an upcoming deadline or a short term goal, most of us get a short burst of energy that helps us achieve whatever it is that we’re aiming to do. For example; over performing for the first few weeks of a new job, or working extra hard in the gym in January with a ‘new year, new me’ mindset.
But when that initial burst of energy fizzes out, we’re often left feeling exhausted and unmotivated.
Instead of relying on short, sharp energy bursts, learning how to manage our energy consistently can help us achieve sustainable, long term, high performance.
2. Other People
Another key area to think about is how other people impact your time.
Almost all of us have received a meeting invite at some point and thought ‘do I really need to be there?’
However, people often feel like it’s rude to decline the invite so instead of just saying ‘no’, we can ask the organiser what their expectations are of us in the meeting. Do they expect us to contribute something? Or did they just not want to leave us out?
If they just didn’t want to leave you out or thought you’d find it interesting, instead of declining you can ask them to send you the minutes afterwards - this way you’re not missing out, you aren’t at risk of offending them, and you can catch up when you have time.
Whilst it’s easier said than done, setting clear boundaries is vital to avoid becoming overwhelmed and snowed under by endless requests and unrealistic expectations.
When a colleague or manager asks you to do something that you know you can’t do in the given timescale, there are several ways you could reply to set clear boundaries in a respectful way:
- You can tell them that you can do it but not right now and propose a more realistic deadline
- If they need the task complete by the original deadline they gave, suggest that they could delegate it to someone else
- If the request is coming from your manager and they can’t/don’t want to delegate the task, you can ask what they’d like you to move in order to fit the task in
Having a visual, online diary that you can share with colleagues is extremely helpful as it shows them what you currently have on your plate - this reduces the worry of them thinking you’re just being unhelpful or don’t want to do the task.
Dealing with Stakeholders’ Poor ‘Time Management’
Even if you have your time management ‘down to a T’, other people’s lack of planning or poor time management can impact upon your time.
This can be a difficult situation to handle especially if it’s a client or prospective customer who you don’t want to say ‘no’ to. For example, they may ask you to create a detailed, custom proposal, but they need it in just two days’ time as they have a meeting with their board of Directors that week.
Having a SLA (Service Level Agreement) in place can help combat this as it states how much notice they need to give you for requests. This helps prevent last minute tasks from coming up.
3. Your Work Processes
The third and final area to think about is your work processes. How do you structure your day? What does your working environment look like? Do you have dedicated quiet time? Do you have strong prioritisation skills?
Prioritisation is one of the most common skills that people struggle with in terms of effective time management and it’s not a surprise when we’re living in an ‘instant world’ where we’re expected to reply to emails instantly, always answer the phone, and say ‘yes’ to everything, leaving us with endless to-do lists.
A fantastic way to prioritise tasks is using the Time Priority Grid.
The Time Priority Grid: Value, Immediacy, and Effort
The Time Priority Grid is a framework that suggests what action (e.g. negotiate, do now, delegate) you should take for each task depending on its value, immediacy, and the effort required to complete it.
To find the value of a task, you need to think about how relevant it is to your role. What is your job? What are your responsibilities?
A great way to do this is to identify your Purpose and 5 Areas of Key Focus.
- Purpose: What is your job role and overarching purpose?
- Key Focus: What are the 5 key things that you need to do to fulfil that role?
An example of this from one of our trainers, Kerry Clarkson:
- Purpose: To design and deliver programmes that deliver the agreed benefits
- Key Focus 1: Design
- Key focus 2: Delivery
- Key focus 3: Client Consultation
- Key focus 4: Research
- Key focus 5: Administration
Once you have identified your Purpose and 5 Areas of Key Focus, write out everything you currently have on your plate that you need to do. Highlight or circle the ones that fit into your Purpose and 5 Areas of Key Focus. The tasks that you identify here are the ones that have Value.
Similarly to Eisenhower’s Urgent/Important matrix, we then need to think about the immediacy of each task.
How soon does the task need to be done? Is there a deadline? Can that deadline be pushed back?
Finally, how much effort will each task take? Is it a quick 5-minute task, or is it a long project? If it’s a long project, does it need to be broken down into subtasks?
Once you have identified the Value, Immediacy, and Effort of your tasks, you can put them into the Time Priority Grid like the example below:
Next, we need to identify what we need to do with each task: negotiate, do now, long term plan/delegate, defer, short term plan, allocate, leave to last, do not do.
You can use the grid below to see what you should do with each task depending on it’s value, immediacy, and effort.
How to Take Your ‘Time Management’ to the Next Level
Prioritisation is just one of the many aspects of effective ‘time management’.
If you’re looking to improve your time management skills to feel less overwhelmed, more in control, and to get more out of your time, we offer a variety of free, funded, and paid services that can help:
Free Course + Webinars
Our free bi-weekly webinars, delivered by one of our expert trainers, cover a wide range of topics, many of which can improve your ‘time management’. For example, some of the webinars we have coming up are:
- Encouraging Proactivity Through Delegation
Thursday 26th May @ 10.30am
- Setting Boundaries at Work without Damaging Relationships
Thursday 23rd June @ 10.30am
- Master Time Prioritisation with the Urgent/Important Matrix
Thursday 15th September @ 10.30am
We also have a free online 7-part time management course. Click here to sign up or visit https://ninedots.co.uk/courses/freetimemanagementcourse
The key to effectiveness, productivity, and thriving in your role is having the knowledge, skills, and behaviours to be able to do your role well.
With this, we offer 6 UK government-funded development programmes:
- Level 3 Team Leader Programme
- Level 5 Operational Manager Programme
- Level 4 Sales Executive Programme
- Level 3 Customer Service Specialist Programme
- Level 3 Human Resources Support Staff Programme
- Level 3 Business Administrator Programme
To speak to one of our training experts about any of these programmes, click here to request a call back at a time that suits you.
If you’re looking to improve time management across your whole team or organisation, we also offer private training courses, including:
- First Time Management
- Management Essentials
- Middle Management
- Customer Service
- Business Finance
- Microsoft Office
- Project Management
- Truly Effective Time Management
Until next time...