Dealing with time
The following three success factors summarise the basics of effective time management:
- Setting priorities
- Being able to say no
- Being able to delegate
Those who still find it difficult to set priorities can create a matrix in which they assign priorities to all tasks per time unit (e.g., the next day, the next week or the next project). It should be noted that tasks can be prioritised according to a content-related performance reference (importance) and a time-related reference (urgency). Tasks can then be dealt with as follows:
- High urgency and high importance: complete immediately and by yourself,
- high urgency and low importance: delegate,
- low urgency and high importance: use the resubmission system and re-sort,
- low urgency and low importance: take task off the list.
Saying no is not only allowed, but a sign of sovereignty and demanded of project managers. It is important to be friendly and firm. A short explanation such as "Unfortunately, I don't have time for this right now because I have to work on task X" should suffice. It is best to suggest an alternative date or a colleague who can step in to competently handle the task to the person who wanted to give you the additional task.
Delegating tasks benefits you in many ways:
- You have more time for the tasks that no one else can do.
- Delegation is a driver for employee motivation and skills development
- The productivity of the organisational unit (e.g., team, department) is increased
- Fewer absences due to overwork of high performers
- In case of absence of high performers and knowledge carriers, colleagues can easily take over the tasks because they have already been trained.
To identify which tasks can be delegated, simply add two columns to the priority matrix.
- explain the task in detail to your employees,
- make the purpose and objective clear
- ask questions to make sure they understand
- set a deadline jointly with your staff
- check progress and give feedback at agreed times
- make it clear to employees that they must submit status or immediate reports in the case of extraordinary events,
- leave room for people's own ideas and ways of working (it's not the style that matters, it's the result that has to fit), and
- inform the other employees to whom you have assigned which task.
More tips for better time management
Are more than ten percent of all activities (column A) unnecessary? Then you should delegate more tasks and set priorities. Is the time spent on more than ten percent of the activities (column B) too high? Look for the causes and try to reduce the time spent in the appropriate places. Is the performance of more than ten percent of the activities (column C) inappropriate? If so, you should revise your planning and (self-)organisation. If the timing is inappropriate for more than ten percent of the activities (column D), you should change your work schedule.
- A = Write down activities, tasks and appointments
- L = estimate length (duration) of activities
- P = Plan buffer time
- E = Establish decisions about priorities, cutbacks and delegation options
- N = Note down the level of success (transfer unfinished tasks to the plan for the next day)
Collect all the tasks you want to do in one place. An analogue or digital to-do list is suitable for this. Then realistically estimate how much time you need for each task. To compensate for unforeseen events or delays, plan enough buffer time between tasks. Next, prioritise your tasks and decide which tasks you want to do first. At the end of the day, check that you have completed all the planned tasks and consider whether the estimated time was realistic and what improvements you can make in the future.
The ALPEN method can help you to plan and complete tasks systematically in order to use time more efficiently and reduce stress.
Time management tips
- Think first, then act (aim: you don't have to "row back")
- Set priorities
- Take time to stay productive
- Be punctual to keep track of appointments
- Keep a calendar with a schedule
- Organise your desk and keep it tidy to avoid searching for information
- Start the day early
- Work through tasks in small steps instead of constantly seeing the huge pile of tasks in front of you
- Avoid over-researching before making decisions
- Set a time limit on tasks
- Plan the next working day the night before
- Allow 40 % time buffer per day for unforeseen and spontaneous activities
- Eliminate interruptions (e.g., close door, switch off phone)
- Use checklists for routine tasks (e.g., preparing a presentation)
As Lucius Annaeus Seneca once said, “It's not that we have little time, but more that we waste a good deal of it.” Consider for yourself whether he was right.