Realities of Time Management

Most discussions and courses about time management focus on exercises to develop priorities—listing the tasks at hand in logical order of importance, and then doing those tasks without interruption. But the crux of time management is more about learning to CONTROL your time, instead of letting it control you. The more important focus should be about defining limits on one’s time, minimizing wasted time, and then making the best use of newly-created time.

The fact is that most of us simply don’t have control of all our time. Our energies are constantly zapped trying to keep from being pre-empted by the ongoing barrage of new issues and problems which hit the desk. And even for those who evidence reasonable success in balancing time commitments & conflicts, many develop stress-induced physical or emotional ailments, while others experience devastating career “burnout.”

When consulting with clients in this area, we begin by emphasizing certain fundamental principles relating to time control, including the following:

EFFICIENCY VERSUS EFFECTIVENESS. While efficiency relates to doing a job right, and hopefully the first time through, effectiveness involves doing the right thing right, with a perspective of “why do it at all, if it isn’t worth doing?” Ridiculously obvious in hindsight, we too often find Managers more concerned with doing something correctly, than with whether it is anything they should be doing at all. A lengthy technical meeting which tells no more than delivery of a few well developed graphs exemplifies this process.

THE 80:20 RULE. Business studies conducted over decades continuously support a strange conclusion that 80% of whatever results from 20% of whatever, and vice versa. What this means is that, in most businesses, 80% of revenues typically come from 20% of the customer base; 80% of office aggravation comes from 20% of employees; 20% of thinking time results in 80% of good ideas; and so forth. A current United Nations report shows that over 80% of the worlds goods and services are consumed by 20% of its population. The important concept is that perhaps 80% of what we choose to deal with (i.e. allocate time to) may only have a 20% benefit in the scheme of things –therefore, query: what is the likely payoff of my next step? what task should my next priority be?

IMPORTANCE VERSUS URGENCY. Even after one develops a focus towards allocating time to the “right things” with the “highest payoff”, the greatest obstacle to controlling personal time is generally one’s inability (or unwillingness) to distinguish IMPORTANT matters from pre-emptive “urgencies.” The following table abbreviates a well-respected business model:

Window 1 represents crisis–the matter is important, urgent, and is happening at the pre-emption of most else; Window 2 is important but not urgent, and likely to be procrastinated (viz. next project scheduling, updating your will, starting a new diet); Window 3 is neither important or urgent–clearly a waste of time; Window 4 is about something pre-emptively urgent, but objectivewise unimportant. Window 4 is the fundamental obstacle to effectiveness, in that people tend to act more quickly and to spend more energy on matters which are recognized as “urgent”–irrespective of their defined importance.

Confuscious warned the ancients about confusing effort with results. However, time management is about using the right efforts to achieve results. The objective is simply to learn to control the time you have, instead of letting time control you.