As I always used to say in the introduction to my workshop on the subject, time management is a misnomer because you simply can’t manage time. I don’t know who comes to mind for you when you think of high achievers; perhaps someone like Richard Branson, Donald Trump or Steve Jobs. But whoever it is, you can be absolutely sure they get exactly the same amount of time as you.
You simply cannot have any more time so don’t be taken in by those time management courses that claim to be able to give you an extra one hour per day. It’s nonsense. You just get 24 hours per day, every day; the same as high achievers and low achievers the world over. So time management is not really about managing time at all; it is about managing yourself – it is self management.
When you come to think of what you can do to get more done, there really are only four things:
1. You can Work More Efficiently
2. You can Transform the Situation
3. You can Delegate or Refer Tasks
4. You can Say ‘No’
One way or another every single technique for the so-called management of your time falls into one of the above four categories. Let’s take a look at each one:
Working More Efficiently
This is the traditional territory for this subject i.e. getting more done with the same resources or getting the same done with fewer resources or, if you are being super-efficient, getting more done with less resources. That’s what we mean by efficiency and there are many ways you can attempt to become more efficient.
- Setting Performance Goals
- Prioritising Your Work
- Using Travel Time Productively
- Getting Yourself Properly Organised
- Handling Interruptions Effectively
- Staying Motivated
As I said, this is the traditional territory, but there is a lot more to effective time management than learning how to pedal faster. Let’s face it, there’s only so fast that you can pedal!
Transforming the Situation
Resolving to change the situation you find yourself in, for the better, is something that very few people actually ever try to do. It involves exercising your capacity to lead. Leadership is not a job; it’s a role and good leadership can come from anywhere within the organisation (including you) if you allow yourself to think about what you are actually doing, why you are doing it that way and how you could do it better.
Generally, we are inclined to think of this kind of thinking as the responsibility of those in management positions within our places of work. But in many situations, the people who are best placed to answer these questions are not the people engaged in management roles; the best people to figure out how to do things better are those who are actually engaged in the work itself – whatever it happens to be.
Delegating and/or Referring
Of course, you may or may not be in a role that affords you the opportunity to delegate tasks. But everyone has the ability to refer tasks. The difference is that delegation implies that you have the organisational authority whereas referring a task does not. Anyone can properly refer a task to anyone else if a common understanding of roles and responsibilities exists and, if you are the manager or team leader, it is your job to ensure that a common understanding is developed within the group of people you manage.
The ability to say ‘no’ to a task is something that we all have but many people, in my experience, struggle with this idea. They think they simply cannot say ‘no’ when they are asked to do something but if you never say ‘no’ to any task, you have absolutely no need for time management at all. Time management is for people who cannot get everything done, not for people who can complete everything they are ever asked to do.
When you fail to complete a task because you do not have the time, you are already saying ‘no’. You may not be saying ‘no’ to the person in so many words, but you are saying ‘no’ to the task by not completing it. You have a limited amount of time and so your ability to discern the tasks that you should not even begin is absolutely key to you being able to complete those that really require your time and attention.
Sure, you need to develop and agree the right criteria for saying ‘no’ with those to whom you report. But I promise you that a strong focus on your goals and the roles and responsibilities of your job is what is needed. Anything that threatens to drag you away from those things is a ‘no’. If you disagree, your goals and your roles and responsibilities are not correctly set.
There is nothing more to effective time management than understanding and applying these simple principles. They are easy enough to understand, but many people struggle with them, often for reasons connected with personality. For example, some people find it very difficult to say ‘no’ to anything they are asked to do. Others struggle with maintaining focus on their most important goals. Some people struggle with the idea of delegating or referring; not trusting others to do the work correctly or to the same standard.
If you can jointly define your goals (the things that are most important for you to accomplish) with those to whom you report; if you can get a clear understanding of your own roles and responsibilities and those with whom you work and refer tasks when appropriate; if you can use your judgement to correctly prioritise your work; and if you can stay out of the things you should never start – you can improve your productivity dramatically. It is genuinely not overstating things to say that you too could become a high achiever.