( Personal Time Management for
Busy Managers Continued..... )
The remaining problem is your manager. Consider
what periods in your work log were used to perform tasks that your manager
either repeated or simply negated by ignoring it or redefining the task, too
late. Making your manager efficient is a very difficult task, but where it
impinges upon your work and performance you must take the bull by the horns (or
whatever) and confront the issue.
Managing your manager may seem a long way from
Time Management but no one impacts upon your use of time more than your
immediate superior. If a task is ill defined - seek clarification (is that a one
page summary or a ten page report?). If seemingly random alterations are asked
in your deliverables, ask for the reasons and next time clarify these and
similar points at the beginning. If the manager is difficult, try writing a
small specification for each task before beginning it and have it agreed. While
you can not tactfully hold your manager to this contract if he/she has a
change of mind, it will at least cause him/her to consider the issues early on,
before you waste your time on false assumptions.
The next stage of Personal Time Management is
to start taking control of your time. The first problem is appointments. Start
with a simple appointments diary. In this book you will have (or at least should
have) a complete list of all your known appointments for the forseeable future.
If you have omitted your regular ones (since you remember them anyway) add them
Your appointments constitute your interaction
with other people; they are the agreed interface between your activities and
those of others; they are determined by external obligation. They often fill the
diary. Now, be ruthless and eliminate the unnecessary. There may be committees
where you can not productively contribute or where a subordinate might be
(better) able to participate. There may be long lunches which could be better
run as short conference calls. There may be interviews which last three times as
long as necessary because they are scheduled for a whole hour. Eliminate the
wastage starting today.
The next stage is to add to your diary lists of
other, personal activity which will enhance your use of the available time.
Consider: what is the most important type of activity to add to your diary? No:-
stop reading for a moment and really, consider.
The single most important type of activity is
those which will save you time: allocate time to save time, a stitch in time
saves days. And most importantly of all, always allocate time to time
management: at least five minutes each and every day.
For each appointment left in the diary,
consider what actions you might take to ensure that no time is wasted: plan to
avoid work by being prepared. Thus, if you are going to a meeting where you will
be asked to comment on some report, allocate time to read it so avoiding delays
in the meeting and increasing your chances of making the right decision the
first time. Consider what actions need to be done before AND what actions must
be done to follow-up. Even if the latter is unclear before the event, you must
still allocate time to review the outcome and to plan the resulting action.
Simply mark in your diary the block of time necessary to do this and, when the
time comes, do it.
The most daunting external appointments are
deadlines: often, the handover of deliverables. Do you leave the work too late?
Is there commonly a final panic towards the end? Are the last few hectic hours
often marred by errors? If so, use Personal Time Management.
The basic idea is that your management of
personal deadlines should be achieved with exactly the same techniques you would
use in a large project:
- check the specification - are you sure that
you agree on what is to be delivered
- break the task down into small sections so
that you can estimate the time needed for each, and monitor progress
- schedule reviews of your progress (e.g.
after each sub-task) so that you can respond quickly to difficulties
Like most management ideas, this is common
sense. Some people, however, refute it because in practise they find that it
merely shows the lack of time for a project which must be done anyway. This
is simply daft! If simple project planning and time management show that the
task can not be done, then it will not be done - but by knowing at the
start, you have a chance to do something about it.
An impossible deadline affects not only
your success but also that of others. Suppose a product is scheduled for
release too soon because you agree to deliver too early. Marketing and Sales
will prepare customers to expect the product showing why they really need it
- but it will not arrive. The customers will be dissatisfied or even lost,
the competition will have advanced warning, and all because you agreed to do
You can avoid this type of problem. By
practising time management, you will always have a clear understanding of
how you spend your time and what time is unallocated. If a new task is
thrust upon you, you can estimate whether it is practical. The project
planning tells you how much time is needed and the time management tells you
how much time is available.
There are four ways to deal with impossible
- Get the deadline extended
- Scream for more resources
- Get the Deliverable redefined to something
- State the position clearly so that your boss
(and his/her boss) have fair warning
If this simple approach seems unrealistic,
consider the alternative. If you have an imposed, but unobtainable, deadline
and you accept it; then the outcome is your assured failure. Of
course, there is a fifth option: move to a company with realistic schedules.
One defence tactic is to present your
superior with a current list of your obligations indicating what impact the
new task will have on these, and ask him/her to assign the priorities:
"I can't do them all, which should I slip?". Another tactic is to
keep a data base of your time estimates and the actual time taken by each
task. This will quickly develop into a source of valuable data and increase
the accuracy of your planning predictions.
There is no reason why you should respond
only to externally imposed deadlines. The slightly shoddy product which you
hand-over after the last minute rush (and normally have returned for
correction the following week) could easily have been polished if only an
extra day had been available - so move your personal deadline forward and
allow yourself the luxury of leisured review before the product is shipped.
Taking this a step further, the same sort
of review might be applied to the product at each stage of its development
so that errors and rework time are reduced. Thus by allocating time to
quality review, you save time in rework; and this is all part of project
planning supported and monitored by your time management.
Finally, for each activity you should
estimate how much time it is worth and allocate only that amount. This
critical appraisal may even suggest a different approach or method so that
the time matches the task's importance. Beware of perfection, it takes too
long - allocate time for "fitness for purpose", then stop.
Your Personal Time Management also effects
other people, particularly your subordinates. Planning projects means not
only allocating your time but also the distribution of tasks; and this
should be done in the same planned, monitored and reviewed manner as your
Any delegated task should be specified with
an (agreed) end date. As a Manager, you are responsible for ensuring that
the tasks allocated to your subordinates are completed successfully. Thus
you should ensure that each task is concluded with a deliverable (for
instance, a memo to confirm completion) - you make an entry in your diary to
check that this has arrived. Thus, if you agree the task for Tuesday,
Wednesday should have an entry in your diary to check the deliverable. This
simple device allows you to monitor progress and to initiate action as
Long term Objectives
There are many long term objectives which
the good Manager must achieve, particularly with regard to the development,
support and motivation of his/her work-team. Long term objectives have the
problem of being important but not urgent; they do not have deadlines, they
are distant and remote. For this reason, it is all too easy to ignore them
in favour of the urgent and immediate. Clearly a balance must be struck.
The beauty of Time Management is that the
balance can be decided objectively (without influence from immediate
deadlines) and self-imposed through the use of the diary. Simply, a manager
might decide that one hour a week should be devoted to personnel issues and
would then allocate a regular block of time to that activity. Of course if
the factory is on fire, or World War III is declared, the manager may have
to re-allocate this time in a particular week - but barring such crises,
this time should then become sacrosanct and always applied to the same,
Similarly, time may be allocated to staff
development and training. So if one afternoon a month is deemed to be a
suitable allocation, then simply designate the second Thursday (say) of each
month and delegate the choice of speakers. The actual time spent in managing
this sort of long term objective is small, but without that deliberate
planning it will not be achieved.
Once you have implemented Personal Time
Management, it is worth using some of that control to augment your own
career. Some quiet weekend, you should sketch out your own long term
objectives and plan a route to them. As you would any long term objective,
allocate time to the necessary sub-tasks and monitor your progress. If you
do not plan where you want to go, you are unlikely to get there.
Personal Time Management is a systematic
application of common sense strategies. It requires little effort, yet it
promotes efficient work practices by highlighting wastage and it leads to
effective use of time by focusing it on your chosen activities. Personal
Time Management does not solve your problems; it reveals them, and provides
a structure to implement and monitor solutions. It enables you to take
control of your own time - how you use it is then up to you.
M Blair is a Senior Lecturer in VLSI Design at the Department of Electrical
Engineering, The University of Edinburgh. His book Starting
to Manage: the essential skills is published by Chartwell-Bratt (UK) and the
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (USA). He welcomes feedback
either by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or by any other method found here
( Courtesy: http://www.ee.ed.ac.uk/~gerard/Management/art2.html)