There’s so much advice out there about how to manage your time. Most of it is good and practical, but just reading a few hints has never really helped me. Like others, I’m really too busy to take the time to really learn how to manage my time effectively. Like most other I’ve worked with, I need help and structure if I’m going to sit down and critically evaluate how I relate time and tasks.
Teams need this period of focus, too. Who hasn’t sat through endless meetings or had to wait for other team members or been distracted by interesting tasks irrelevant to the group’s goals? Normal office activities often interfere with our own work. Salary.com found the top five work-related distracting activities were:
Know your time management strengths
My co-workers would acknowledge that I am almost always on time and seldom procrastinate on tasks others need me to finish. Maybe you’re good at prioritizing or setting aside quiet time to work. Teams work better when they know when and where they can rely upon a member’s strengths.
Know your time management weaknesses
Even more important is knowing where you might need help in managing your time or what your time values are. There are so many things that can cause us to misuse time. You might have trouble determining which task items you really need to tackle first. If a few people on a team have this problem, then the team leader will need to specify a hierarchy of tasks. If most members are good at this, then a quick discussion during a meeting might be more effective.
Often, I’ll read through time management advice like “do first things first” and just nod my head and go on to the next bullet. What I have trouble with is figuring out how to determine which of my tasks is a first thing. I’m not sure how to assign a value to each task.
If you were my manager or fellow team member you might not notice that I have this problem because whenever you ask me to do something special, it’s done right away. It might take you a long time to notice that my routine or long-term tasks aren’t completed. You might not spot the real problem and assume that I’m having trouble managing interruptions because you see a lot of activity around my work area. But if we all know I have this struggle, someone can check in with me about the routine details before assigning me an additional task. That will be much more successful than trying to relocate my desk.
Several of us might assume that because you have the highest ranking job title, you should lead the meetings. Only later will we realize that producing an agenda is an onerous task for you. We might elect whomever misses the first meeting to act as secretary, eventually wasting time trying decipher ponderous meeting notes, instead of finding out who can most succinctly and clearly communicate in print.
We all have areas where we easily move forward and areas where we do not. A team’s success can depend on quickly noticing areas of potential problems and responding appropriately.
If you use a tool like Time Mastery Profile, you’ll identify your strengths and weaknesses, which you can share with others. More importantly, you’re guided towards creating action plans to improve your attitude, set goals, improve analyzing, improve meetings, better handle written communications, or whatever you discover you need to work on. There’s a reason why the Time Mastery Profile is over 30 pages; time management is a complex set of skills to be learned and practiced.
Part of setting up an action plan is deciding whom you’ll ask to help you and what you’ll ask them to do. It’s hard to make significant changes in our lives without the support of others. Teams can support and challenge each other. This is much easier to do when there are action plans that have been shared.
Imagine hearing a co-worker interject this comment after hearing you talk with someone about meeting soon. “She wants to meet at 2? I thought you were setting aside this afternoon to do planning.” This would feel intrusive, right? But not if you’ve asked that person for help protecting your scheduled time or to help affirming planning as a valuable step in managing your overall time.
If you’re leading an employee development session on time management, I recommend getting management support for conducting one time management review for participants within one week and another within six weeks. Managers should commit to supporting their team’s learning and ask for evaluation of their own skill development. Existing teams can do an audit of their time-management priorities. Individuals can meet with their supervisors and review a few of their action plan items.
One training session isn’t enough for real behavioral change without additional support. What ways have you encouraged individuals or groups to make the investment it takes really improve their management of time?