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Time Management : Does Training Work And Where Do We Start?

Aug 17, 2007
The term time management is somewhat of an anomaly because we can't actually manage time!

Telling delegates this at the beginning of a time management course can produce some frowning faces. We quickly move on to suggest that what we can do though is to manage ourselves in relation to time, we can control how we use time and we can control how we spend it.

Time Management courses are attended by many different types of people and, in a sense, that's another of the fun factors.

Learning about what other people do and how they manage their time is not only interesting, but also gives insight that is beneficial to all attendees.

Our company has welcomed all levels of organizational membership from clerical workers up to regional and top CEOs.

A critical issue in time management training is what can be taken away. We tell our delegates that we provide them with a toolbox of skills to enable them to become more productive, less stressed and happier at work.

However, research actually shows that many time management courses just don't hit the mark. Why?

Often they are not designed within the principles of human learning. There may be little thought given to preparing for the course, analyzing how time is spent before attending and to how learning from the course can be effectively transferred back to the workplace.

Make sure that you consider all of these issues before signing up for a course. Once you have signed up, if your facilitator does as we do and asks you to carry out some pre-course work, make sure that you do.

I recently ran an in-house course where not one of the attendees did the pre-course time log. Not only does this say something about the company and those attending, but it means that they lost at least 20% of the value of the course.

If we do not know where our time goes, how can we learn to control it??!!

Today's high paced offices are full of time-wasters. The phone is always ringing, bosses are always demanding meetings and there's always the drop-in visitor who asks for five minutes of your time only to leave you feeling overwhelmed an hour later.

We all face different time-wasters and at times, we are our own culprits! Human traits such as ego and pride see us accepting too much work, always picking up the 'phone and being unable to say "no".

On the other hand, a sense of pride in our abilities also leads us, at times, to accept too many challenges.

Economic and job pressures result in us spending more and more time at work but often not achieving any more than we would in a "regular" 8 hour day.

What's happening? These factors are leading us to procrastinate. There's so much to do that we feel overwhelmed. We make deals with ourselves such as have a coffee first then start, or do the easier task first. The problem is, that critical but oh so big project gets put back time and time again! This just adds to the stress and pressure.

In many industries, workers spend a lot of their time "fighting-fires". This is where everything is classified as urgent and important. Ideally, such people need to find a mechanism to transform and spend more time working on projects which are still important, but not urgent. Ultimately, that's where effective management of time comes in.

Planning and self-examination helps you know what you are capable of, when your most productive energy cycles are and what issues tend to bog you down.

Learning to overcome procrastination is critical, as is learning to trust your direct-reports and allowing yourself to delegate more work - remembering to delegate responsibility as well as the work itself!

Once you have mastered that, you need to go on to set smart* goals and learn how to plan your work and projects and build contingencies into these plans.

As you begin to experience more control over your time, your mind will start to free-up and you'll think more clearly and embrace more passion for your work. To do this effectively, you'll also need to clear up your workspace, keep things neat and tidy and ensure adequate light (preferably natural) and optimal temperatures in the office.

Then once you've spent time working on your own time management, you'll need to look to doing the same in others. Not just making sure they go on the same course as you, but also respecting their styles and preferences and not interrupting them during their most productive time periods.

So if we can learn to manage time effectively in the office, can we do the same if we have to travel a lot for work? Of course! The trick is learning to always have something with you that you can be working on.

So, for example after you've checked-in for your flight, you may have an hour or two to spare. Use this time for work that won't require high levels of concentration such as replying to emails or drawing up lose business plans.

When you are visiting a client and he makes you wait in the conference room for 5 minutes, you can be working on some new sales ideas or reading the latest industry news.

So, it's all about always having something that will ultimately need to be done ready to do in whatever situation you are in and in that case, when you are made to wait, you don't have to feel unhappy about it, rather in full control.

In summary, research shows us that time management (or managing ourselves in relation to time) does work as long as we are committed to this and start out well from step one.

Thinking that a one or two day course in time management will produce lasting results is erroneous. However, examining the current workplace, how time is spent and what changes can be made and being willing and able to make those changes as well as being committed to lasting time management success is what will produce consistent and long-term results.

Those who report mastery of their time not only report being happier and more productive in less time, but they also report increased financial success.

Like anything that produces a good return, an initial respectable investment is the key.

*SMART goals are those which are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bounded

Further reading: Does time management training work? An evaluation. Peter Green and Denise Skinner. International Journal of Training & Development, Volume 9, Issue 2, pages 124-139.
About the Author
Dr. Graham Tyler is a registered organizational psychologist and executive director of PsyAsia International, an HR training, consulting and assessment organization with offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, and clients globally.
Visit PsyAsia at http://www.psyasia.com.
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