Time Management — Key to Success
Self Evaluation of our Time Management
Project deadlines, conference calls with client, review meetings with your team, parent-teachers’ meeting at your kid’s school, grocery shopping…so much to do and only 24 hours?
The need to multi-task, day in and day out, can be quite stressful. The key is not to work harder but to work smarter.
In the corporate space, a proven time management strategy plays a major role in the success of an individual and a company. Help yourself and your teams plan, prioritize and diligently execute these strategies.
In the business world of today, time is increasingly at a premium. We spend time coming to work, then filling up the workday before commuting home again and facing whatever time issues are posed when trying to fulfill our duties outside of the office. There is a principle known as the Pareto Principle, also called the 80:20 Rule. It says that of all the results that we produce in a day, 80 % of those are generated with 20 % of our efforts. The leftover 80 percent of our efforts only produce 20 percent of our results.
This brings us to an an interesting question when it comes to time management; how can we take the 80 percent of our efforts that are currently only producing 20 percent to become more effective with that time?
What would we be able to do if we were as effective with that time as we are with the 20 percent of our time that produced 80 percent of our results? Chances are we will never get to 100 percent productivity — we are humans, after all. One will always be encountered by distractions and time wasters that tempt us away from being our most productive. However, if you use time management techniques, you will be able to have more control over your time and produce more results with the time that you do have at your disposal.
Here’s an exercise to try which can give you a brief idea of whether or not time management might be an issue for you. First, on a sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle. On the left-hand side, list at least five things that are the most important to you. Start with the most important, and continue the list in order. List people, things, ideas, activities — whatever it is that is very important to you and to your personal happiness. For example, a list might look like this:
Ø Religious Activities
Now, on the other side, list down all the things that you spend your time on, starting with what you spend most of your time on and continuing on down to what you spend the least time on. This list might look like this:
Ø Helping kids with homework
Ø Religious Activities
You’ve probably figured out the point of the exercise by now. Most of us don’t have the luxury of spending the majority of our time on the things that are most important to us. For every item that we are not spending what we would consider being enough time on, we will experience some form of dissatisfaction over that fact. When things are very important to us and we are not able to dedicate any time to those things at all, unhappiness is often the result.
Time management empowers you to have a greater sense of control over your life — both at the workplace and at home. When you feel as if you are in control of your time, you feel empowered and confident. Then when something arises that you were not prepared for, you’re more likely to be able to deal with it productively rather than getting stopped by it.
Daily Activity Log
To gauge where your time management issues might be is to keep track of how you spend your time at work. In order to get an accurate picture, you will need to choose a period of time, preferably a week that is representative of your average workload. For example, if you have a peak in activity at the end of the month, you would want to pick a week that crosses into that time frame but is not entirely in that time frame so that the ‘normal’ days balance out the heavier workload days. You wouldn’t want to pick the week of winter holidays unless you are specifically interested in identifying how you use your time during that period of the year.
Next, assign a number to each item you list that indicates the priority level of that item in comparison with everything else that you had to do that day. Give a 1 to items that were low priority, a 2 to items that were medium priority, and a 3 to items that were highest in priority.
A sample daily activity log:
There are a few guidelines to follow in order to get the most value out of this activity. These include:
· Use one sheet per day.
· Be accurate. Instead of saying ‘worked on project,’ put down exactly what you did to work on the project. Did you meet with others? Research benchmark information? Be as specific as you can be.
· Be honest. This is only for you, no one else is going to see it. So be honest about your day and how you spend your time. That’s the only way you will be able to identify areas that you can improve.
· Observe the prioritization of your tasks. Not everything can be a 3 and hopefully, not everything is a 1, though you could find one day having all of the same level of priority in activities.
At the end of the day, review the information you wrote down and use it to identify the results you achieved that day. From our example in Figure 1, checking your voicemail might have resulted in confirming an appointment. Checking and responding to email might have resulted in resolving a problem.
Chatting with Sue probably didn’t have any results unless it was work related. If you don’t see any results that came from an activity, mark that activity with an asterisk (*). At the end of the week, those starred activities will represent possible areas for improving your use of time.
Now, notice how you spent your time in relationship to your priorities. Ideally, you spent the most amount of time on the items with the highest priority and the least amount of time on items with the lowest priority. If you see that this is not the case and it’s a pattern over time, you have identified one possible area for improvement already.
Depending on how comfortable you feel about it, consider sharing the results of your activity log with your supervisor. It can be a great way to start a conversation about the priorities that he or she wants you to focus on versus where your time is actually going.
Goal setting is can be considered as a powerful tool that can be used to motivate and challenge employees or yourself. Knowing that you have achieved a goal gives you a sense of accomplishment and gives you a way to keep track of what you have completed in the work place. Goal setting can be used in every type of workplace and with every level of employee, making it a flexible and very useful tool to learn.
However, there is a right way and a wrong way to set goals. Well set goals are clear and you can objectively determine whether or not the goal has been achieved or not. Poorly set goals are not clear and you can’t necessarily tell what it will look like until the goal has been achieved. This results into frustration and lack of effectiveness. We’ll look at several guidelines for setting goals, which you can take back to the workplace and start using right away.
Locke and Latham’s Goal Setting Theory
Dr. Edwin Locke published his theory on goal setting in 1968 in an article called “Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives.” His theory was that employees were motivated by having a goal to work towards and that reaching that goal improved work performance overall. He showed that people work better when their goals are specific and challenging rather than vague and easy. For example, telling someone to ‘improve customer service’ is not specific. You might know what it means, but will the employee interpret it the same way? Instead, the goal should be clear, such as ‘reduce customer complaints by 50% over a five month period.’
In 1990, Locke and Dr. Gary Latham published “A Theory of Goal Setting and Task Performance” in which they identified five principles that were important in setting goals that will motivate others.
These principles are:
5. Task complexity
We’ll now look at each of these principles individually.
A clear goal is one that can be measured and leaves no space for misunderstanding. Goals should be very explicit regarding what behavior is intended and will be rewarded.
Look at the goals listed as they’ll help you understand how to be clearer when setting goals. Continue to ask yourself , ‘What will it look like if the goal is completed?’ The answer to the question will help you identify clear goals.
Determine what would give you a greater sense of accomplishment: achieving an easy goal or achieving one that was difficult? We are motivated by the reward that we believe we will receive for completing tasks. So, if we know that a goal is a challenge and is also perceived as such by those who assigned it to us, we will more likely to be motivated to achieve it.
Of course, there is a balance to be struck with this principle. A goal should be challenging, but must still be achievable- A definite YES. If I don’t believe that a goal can be met then I might not even be motivated to make an attempt. I will dread the goal rather than being motivated by it. Another important thing here is that you should also be sure that you have identified rewards that are appropriate for the achievement of challenging goals versus normal expectations. By rewarding the achievement of difficult goals, you encourage not just the achieving employee, but other also who witnessed the reward that was given for the achievement.
In order for goals to be effective, they need to be agreed upon. The goal should be in line with the general, established expectations that you have had for the person in the past. The employee and employer must both be committed to using the resources needed to complete a goal and should also agree on what the rewards will be upon achievement.
This doesn’t by any means advocates that you have to get an employee’s agreement to every goal that you set for them before setting it. But it does help to get general agreement if the employee is involved in setting the goals. Allow them to participate in the conversation about what is needed in order to complete the goal, how much time it will take, and any other ways that you can let them participate in decision making about their performance.
You could also ask employees to create their own goals for themselves and then discuss them as a team. You might not be aware that someone wants to improve their skills in a certain area or learn more about specific processes.
Letting them take on something that they want to learn and feel challenged by will provide them more motivation to do the needed work to achieve their other goals as well.
Goal setting is not going to be effective if there is no feedback. What if the person is halfway to completing the goal but they have a concern? What if you suspect that the person is going about the process of completing the goal in the wrong way? Feedback is a chance to correct or clarify before the goal has been reached.
Ideally, feedback is a type of progress reporting. It gives the supervisor the chance to clarify expectations and to adjust the level of difficulty of the goal if it seems to be too hard or too easy. For the employee, it offers a chance to make sure they are meeting their supervisor’s expectations and to get recognition for what they have achieved up to this point. When the goal has been reached, you may also conduct a formal feedback session so that you can discuss what went well and what could be used as improvement in the future.
5- Task Complexity
The final principle in Locke and Latham’s goal setting theory is related to the level of complexity of the assigned task. When a role is complex or highly technical, the person in that role is often already highly motivated or else they wouldn’t have reached that level in their organization. However, even the most motivated person can become discouraged if the complexity of the task and the time it would take to complete it wasn’t fully agreed upon. Projects can have the tendency to reveal themselves as being more difficult after they have begun, so both the employee and supervisor need to be in communication about how complex a task has become.
In complex or technical work environments, it’s important to make sure that the employee has enough time to reach the defined goal. Unreasonable time expectations will drive a person to overwhelm themselves with work and become less effective owing to the increase in stress levels. You may also have to take into account the time necessary to allow for a learning curve or to ramp up their existing skills.
6- S.M.A.R.T. Goals
In goal setting, there is one approach that has stood the test of time. Although, there have been variations to what the acronym stands for over time, the main definition of a SMART goal is one that is:
When a goal is specific, then you have clearly identified what it is that you expect to be accomplished. If you can’t determine specifically what you want to achieve, then how can you expect yourself or a subordinate to be able to achieve it? A specific goal will answer the questions:
· Who? Who is taking action or is affected?
· What? What is the result I want to achieve?
· Where? Is there a specific location?
· When? When do I want to complete this goal?
· Which? Are there restraints or requirements that have to be met?
· Why? Why is this important? What specifically is the benefit of achieving this goal?
Each goal that you set should be measurable so that you have a means of checking “ how it all went”.
Before you start working, you need to be certain that the goal is truly attainable. How would our plan for reaching the goal have changed? Given our existing resources and the workload that we have to maintain while reaching for the goal, would that even have been possible? If a goal is not achievable given the constraints , you either need to work towards removing those restraints or lowering the scope of the goal so that it becomes attainable.
If a goal is to be realistic, it must be something that you are willing and able to work towards. Though this doesn’t mean that all your goals have to be low and simple. It just means that you have done a thorough analysis of the job at hand and you have come to the conclusion that the goal is definitely realistic.
Some questions you could ask yourself during this analysis include:
> Do I have the resources (financial, personnel, equipment, etc.) to reach the goal?
> Do I have the support of others in the department and the organization?
> What knowledge or expertise am I lacking that I will need to locate or learn?
> Have I reviewed my existing workload with my supervisor to prioritize this goal with existing goals?
In some version of SMART goals, the R actually stands for ‘relevant.’ In this case, you are comparing the goal to the overall mission of the company and to your personal goals, objectives, and roles. Is the goal something that you should actually be completing or is it better suited for someone else with a different skill-set ?
Will it improve your overall skills and ability to do your job? If not, why are you continuing ?
The final component of the SMART goals strategy is ‘timely.’ Without adding a time restriction to your goals, you don’t have the necessary motivation to get going ASAP. Adding a realistic time boundary lends a sense of urgency to your goal and will help to keep you focused. Since company’s change regularly, so can goals. Making sure your goal is set with a time limit also ensures that you complete the goal while it is still relevant to what you are doing on the job.
Mindtools.com. Various articles on time management.
Slade, Chrissie. Managing Interruptions. http://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/Slade5.html
Topachievement.com. Creating S.M.A.R.T. Goals. http://www.topachievement.com/smart.html