Managing Time


Managing time in organisations is difficult because time flows at the same rate for everyone and cannot be ‘managed’ like other resources. When people talk about managing time, they really mean managing themselves and therefore choosing to use time in the most appropriate way.

Our ability to use time well depends on the culture or unwritten rules of the organisation ‘How we do things around here? The personal preferences and habits of the individuals or groups in the organisation are important. So are the skills and knowledge of those people of ‘time management techniques’, for example meeting management.

The bulk of this note describes how these factors operate and suggests a way forward if you wish to make improvements. Poor time management is costly.

The costs of poor time management

Organisations that are poor time managers are in permanent crisis. The urgent drives out everything else and there is no time to think and set up procedures for handling predictable problems. This increases the crises as these problems arrive.

Time is spent on doing and not on longer-range work like thinking and coordinating. Systems grow and outlive their usefulness because everyone is too busy to ask why they need them. This causes much overlapping and wasted effort.

It is often hard to get people to meet and even harder to be reflective and try to learn together. Quality and customer service fall because the system cannot handle long-range problems.

The benefits of effective time management

The organisation concentrates on the important things. People work together in an open way and stop wasting each other’s time. They examine everything and eliminate useless work. They set up helpful systems but review them regularly. People agree on the necessity of working as a team to avoid wasted effort. They tackle long term issues as they arise. More time is spent thinking, less on reacting.

As a result, there is less stress and more effectiveness. The emphasis is on doing the right work appropriately.

The effects of organisational culture on time management

The culture of an organisation is an extremely powerful determinant of people’s behaviour. We all respond to what others expect of us and then get accepted and feel good. Unfortunately, organisations rarely plan their cultures to fit their needs. Cultures always lag behind. This is particularly true in periods of rapid change such as the present.

You can imagine the culture to be a message played into the ears of the organisation’s members all the time by some invisible tape recorder.

Some typical ones are:-“Do everything well”, “Don’t take risks”, “Don’t rock the boat”, “Do it yourself”, “The customers time is always more important than anything else”, “The system says…. and you must follow it”, “Always do what the boss says without question”, “Client contact is what it is all about” “We have all the time in the world, no need to rush” and “Only money-making work is important”.

Although these injunctions make sense part of the time and have, indeed, been associated with the organisations’ success, they are rigid. There will be circumstances when they are not helpful guides and lead to much wasted time and effort. Organisations need a flexible culture where people are aware of what they should do and respond appropriately.

The effects of personal preferences and habits

Managing time is about managing priorities. This is best done thoughtfully. If not, people often do the things they find satisfying, or which get them recognition, or are quick and easy. They particularly will do these things that are culturally ‘correct’. None of these unconscious priority setting systems are necessarily rational and beneficial to the individual, group or organisation.

These habits become frozen over time if you do not discuss how work is done. Such discussions can be very helpful indeed in a team. They help the team develop and pass on effective practices. Discussion is a potent way to change attitudes.

Ten effective time management habits

  1. When people bring problems ask, “What do you think you should do?”
  2. Ask for what is wanted and the time/effort to be expended when being given a task
  3. Give tasks with clear objectives and quality standards
  4. Ask people for a short time-limited contribution at meetings while others just listen.
  5. Set time limits on casual meetings.
  6. Control time spent on the phone. Stop when you achieve your objective.
  7. Have a thought-out personal priority system.
  8. Find out the value of your output in your customer’s eyes, then focus your effort on the most valuable work.
  9. Give feedback to your suppliers so they provide what you want in the form you want it.
  10. Always ask yourself “What is the best use of my time right now?”. Act on the answer.

What does your organisation score out of ten?

No organisation is perfect but improvement is always possible if you discuss the way you use time in the organisation. Then it is a matter of taking, and holding to, individual decisions.

Time management techniques.

Improved techniques can be valuable but as part of a general process of culture change and individual decision. People usually know what they need to do to be effective time (self) managers it is more difficult to do it.

Some basic techniques can be helpful.

  • Write down clear short term and long term goals.
  • Work out your priority system and change it if required
  • Make a daily “To Do” list and set priorities on items
  • Precede any report with a brief summary, a statement of objectives and recommendations.
  • Summarise regularly on the phone to keep calls short.
  • Discuss how long jobs or meetings will require.
  • Learn how to chair a meeting effectively.
  • Ask for feedback. However good you are at anything, it is always possible to improve.

If you would like help using this idea, or have any comments or questions please contact me. Thanks, Nick