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What Does SMART Stand For?

Goals are a great way to keep a group of people motivated and focused on a specific outcome. Without having a goal in mind, it is easy to get lost in the day to day bustle of life and never really make any progress. Managers should set goals for their teams to ensure that they are working in the same direction and that all members have a clear vision of the desired outcomes of the project.

Setting goals for a team is not necessarily as easy as it seems. You need to set goals that are in line with the abilities of your team members, and within the scope of the project and the business. Goals that don’t make sense or are unrealistic will become more of a point of frustration than motivation. Having the skill to set proper goals for a team of employees is one of the hallmarks of a good manager.

In learning to set goals as a manager, try using the SMART system to evaluate the goals you have set and adjust them as necessary. So, what does SMART stand for? SMART stands for –

  • S – Specific
  • M – Measurable
  • A – Attainable
  • R – Realistic
  • T – Timely

Let’s take a closer look at each of these points and see why they are all vital to successful goal setting in a management environment.

Specific

One of the most common mistakes that is made when goal setting is being too broad in scope. Consider the example of a team of sales people in a department store. A bad goal would be to ‘Sell as much product as possible this month’. While that is obviously the idea of having a store, it isn’t specific enough to keep the team focus and motivated. A much better goal would be ‘Sell 25% more product than this month last year’. That goal gives the team a specific number to look at and will help keep them on track for success.

Measurable

Just as with the example above, measurable goals are better than ambiguous ones. If we were to continue that scenario, the manager could lay out a specific dollar amount of sales that is needed on a daily basis to achieve success at the end of the month. It is easy to measure total dollars of sales each day, so the team would have no trouble following along with how they are doing and could make adjustments along the way if the numbers are falling short.

Attainable

Another of the common pitfalls that catch managers when setting goals is aiming too high. For instance, saying that our goal is to ‘increase sales 300% over the same month last year’ is probably an unattainable goal. Rather than motivating the team, a goal like this will discourage them right from the start. The manager needs to be able to assess the current state of the business environment and settle on a goal that straddles the line between optimistic and impossible.

Realistic

This goes along with the previous point regarding goals being attainable. Realistic goals will be believable to the team members as they set about their work. For the manager to have and keep credibility with the team, he or she must set realistic goals on a consistent basis. The employees will quickly tune out the manager’s goal setting if they are always being told to reach for plateaus that are not going to be achieved no matter what effort is put into the project.

Timely

Having goals that are too long in scope is a common mistake that ends with the team losing track of the goal altogether. A proper goal will be long enough so as to have time to play out, but not so long that it is forgotten about. In the sales example above, a month seems to be an appropriate amount of time. If that were changed to six months, for example, the team would very likely stop caring about the goal at some point and it would just fade away.

Goals can be a valuable motivating and focusing tool when implemented in the proper manner. A good manager will use the SMART system to craft goals that the team can grab on to and really strive to conquer. By making sure that all five points in this system are covered within any goal that is set, the manager will be well on the way to a successful team endeavor.

SMART Goals Template
This template will enable you to test the goals you have been set or have given yourself against the five criteria of the SMART method.
PDF & Doc

Goal Setting eBook
This eBook explains how to use the theory of goal setting to set practical targets for you and your team members.
ISBN 978-1-62620-980-0 (32 Pages) PDF, Kindle & ePub

Key Points

  • SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Bound.
  • One of the most common mistakes that is made when goal setting is being too broad in scope.
  • Just as with the example above, measurable goals are better than ambiguous ones.
  • Goals should be as specific as possible, even if this means breaking them down.
  • If a goal is not measurable, it is not possible to know whether a team is making progress toward successful completion.
  • Another of the common pitfalls that catch managers when setting goals is aiming too high.
  • A goal needs to be achievable, but at the same time it must not be too easy.
  • A goal that supports or is in alignment with other goals would be considered a relevant goal.
  • Having goals that are too long in scope is a common mistake that ends with the team losing track of the goal altogether.
  • A time-bound goal is intended to establish a sense of urgency.

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Daily Planning for Success

Much of the time spent reacting to crises reflects an inability to plan. Taking ten minutes at the end of the day to plan what you want to achieve the following day is the cornerstone of effective daily planning. More typically they seek inspiration in their diaries or seek refuge in routine tasks like reading their email, and wait for the first meeting or interruption to set them on a path for the rest of the day.

This lack of planning doesn’t only apply to day-to-day activities. Few people have a monthly plan, long-term goals or a vision for the future. However planning nearly always tops the list when managers are asked what they need to make more time for.

People frequently refer to the sheer volume of interruptions that they suffer when trying to justify their lack of achievement. With an interruption occurring, on average, every 7 minutes, managers have to do their work between distractions. Whilst each interruption may not seem to take up much time, they can typically account for 25% of a working day and make it very difficult to address tasks that require concentrated effort.

The effect of allowing interruptions to continually distract you is likely to undermine your efforts to plan your working day. One solution is to batch up the interruptions that you can’t avoid and to set aside time slots during your working day when you can break off and address them. For example, you could set aside 20 minutes before lunch and half an hour before the end of each working day to address all the interruptions that have occurred in each half of the day.

Prioritizing Tasks

The urgency/importance grid is as an effective way of categorizing and prioritizing tasks. It describes three different types of task A, B and C.

Type A tasks are those that are both important and urgent.
Type B tasks are those that are either important or urgent, but not both.
Type C tasks are those that are neither important nor urgent.

When it comes to scheduling tasks into your working day, the following guidelines should be borne in mind.

A-tasks. Try to complete a few of these urgent and important tasks each day.
B-tasks. These are likely to represent the majority of your work and should take up most of your day.
C-tasks. These low-priority tasks should be fitted into your schedule, as time allows.

A typical working day will include a mixture of all three types of task. It is good practice to address different types of task at various times of the day – rather than working through all the A-tasks, followed by the B-tasks, then the C-tasks. This will enable you to have periods of the day when you are concentrating intensely, followed by periods where you can address less demanding tasks.

Nearly everybody is subject to performance fluctuations throughout the working day. At certain times you will feel particularly energetic and alert, whilst at others you feel tired. If you can tune-in to your own daily cycles then you will be able to plan the optimum times at which to tackle the different types of task.

Whilst there are some quite dramatic individual variations, the majority of people feel most energetic and alert during the middle to late morning period and again in the middle to late afternoon. Conversely, most people suffer troughs soon after lunch, and again towards the end of the day.

Using a Planner

A planner, or scheduler, is a centralized inventory of your known future commitments and your unfinished work. It should be organized systematically and held in one folder, or on a computer, so that authorized staff can see your future commitments. This enables teams to work more effectively together when scheduling or delegating work.

You need to control access to your planner carefully. Only trusted colleagues should have access to it; otherwise you may find yourself working around the needs of others, rather than the needs of your job.

Don’t be afraid to reschedule planned tasks for those with a higher priority, as and when these arise.

It is also important not to appear to have spare time in your schedule when you don’t. In particular, make sure that your schedule includes sufficient time for traveling between appointments and a contingency for overruns, where this is likely. Also include all batched activities like making outbound phone calls and any regular commitments such as monthly meetings.

Your planner should also have a section for major “projects” where you can maintain project control and tracking sheets. A “notes” section will allow you to store your various scrap notes. Cross out these notes as you transfer them to other areas of your planner such as your “to do” list.

It should also have an ideas section to store your creative ideas as they occur to you. You can then keep them until you find an appropriate use or implementation time for them.

An “outstanding” section is useful for one-off tasks that are not urgent but can be fitted into your working day as time allows. You will be able to look at this section whenever you have any spare time.

You need to have sections for each planning period so that at the end of each period you can plan for the next. Have a yearly planner for scheduling things such as staff holidays, long-term projects and objectives. You could use 15 months instead of 12 to help carry you over to the next year.

Use a monthly planner for scheduling things like meetings, invitations, reservations, collecting information and for medium-term projects and goals.

Use a weekly planner for scheduling major tasks, appointments, bookings, and short-term goals.

Use a daily planner for scheduling in activities from your to do list, regular activities as well as to note your daily goals.

The master planner should also contain a section for contacts, detailing: names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses.

A large directory can be divided into groups of contacts. For example: customers, contractors and suppliers. Individuals that you have a lot of contact with should have their own file so that you can keep track of ongoing communications with them.

Keeping Priorities at the Forefront

Your “To do” list should contain all the tasks you need to get through. These activities will come from your contact log, your projects and your monthly, weekly and daily period planners.

The most effective way of organizing your tasks is under relevant headings, rather than to add to the list haphazardly. For example if the list has headings like: Telephone, Speak to, Complete, Write to, and Order, and items are added to the appropriate column as they crop up, this enables you to batch similar tasks without having to sort through the whole list each time.

Grouping your tasks usually means that you can perform them more efficiently. If you are making a series of outgoing calls in a block then you cant be interrupted by incoming calls. Similarly, if you are writing several letters or emails you will be in the right frame of mind and will have the appropriate software open on your PC.

You should re-prioritize tasks regularly and cross off completed tasks. At the end of each day carry forward uncompleted tasks to your “To do” list for the following day. A useful rule with lists is not to carry forward not-started items more than two or three times.

If you are putting off a task this could be either because:
The item is non urgent in which case it does not belong on your short-term to do list, or the item is causing you to procrastinate in which case you should either discard it or do it now.

The majority of people feel most energetic and alert during the middle to late morning period and again in the middle to late afternoon. Try to work out your own personal daily cycle and schedule the tasks you have to address accordingly.

Use a yearly planner for scheduling things such as staff holidays, long-term projects and objectives. A monthly planner can be used for scheduling things like meetings, invitations and reservations, whilst a daily planner is ideal for scheduling in activities from your to do list as well as to note your daily goals.

As a busy manager you need to squeeze more out of your working day. Our Productivity Skills eBooks can help you to make the most of your time as well as making sure that you get the best out of your team. Download these free eBooks, checklists and templates for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Key Points

  • Much of the time spent reacting to crises reflects an inability to plan.
  • Few people have long-term goals or a vision for the future.
  • Interruptions can make it difficult to address tasks that require concentrated effort.
  • Develop a personal strategy for minimizing the disruptive effect of interruptions.
  • A planner is a centralized inventory of your commitments and unfinished work.
  • Only allow trusted colleagues to have access to your planner.
  • Don’t allow your planner to show spare time that you don’t have.
  • Grouping tasks enables you to perform them more efficiently.
  • Re-prioritize tasks regularly and cross-off those you’ve completed.
  • Tasks that you continually put off should be actioned or re-classified.

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Time Management Skills Examples

The following time management skills examples should help you become more efficient. The one touch approach to incoming paperwork involves sorting, classifying and taking the appropriate action immediately. You should take the time to set up a well thought out filing system as this will save you time every single working day. You should also have a well-organized system of directories and folders on your PC for filing information. Use clear and unambiguous names for your files and folders.

If you are serious about improving your time management strategies then you can download free eBooks, checklists and templates from our website. These contain many useful time management skills examples and can be used on your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

The One-Touch Approach to Incoming Paperwork

Many people feel overwhelmed by the amount of paperwork they receive. If you don’t have a system for coping with it, you run the risk of missing something important.

When you pick up a piece of paperwork you should aim to classify and action it immediately. You will need to set up a system for this, which should involve categorizing the material and taking the appropriate action. For example:

  1. Mark those items that relate to your key goals and priorities
    Schedule time for dealing with them and add them to your to do list.
  2. File items that need to be kept for reference
    Skim these and add a “throw away” date on the front page before filing them.
  3. Forward items that require the attention of colleagues
    Add any necessary annotation and pass these on immediately.
  4. Throw away items that have no relevance to your goals
    Avoid the temptation of keeping items that will only generate clutter and require more of your attention in the future.

If you think that this approach sounds rather drastic, then you could try marking each item of paperwork with a small cross each time you handle it. You may be surprised at how many crosses accumulate before the item is eventually either: read properly, filed properly, passed on or thrown away.

Design Your Workspace for Efficiency

You should organize the objects in your workspace to suit your own way of working. Only file close at hand those items that you refer to regularly, and keep a separate filing cabinet for items that are referred to rarely.

You should take the time to set up a well thought out filing system suitable for your own way of working. Once you have developed an efficient filing system it will save you time every single working day.

How you classify the information that you need to file will depend on your job, but the important thing is that the information is categorized in an unambiguous way and that the files themselves are clearly labelled and organized in a logical way.

Try to keep your desk as clear as possible. This is particularly important if you receive a lot of visitors who will form an impression of your efficiency, based to some extent, on your workspace. It will be very difficult to convince a well-organized outsider that your untidy workspace is the product of a well-organized mind.

Organize your workspace to suit your own way of working.
Files should be clearly labeled and organized in a logical way. A tidy workspace gives visitors a favorable impression.

Managing Electronic Documents

If you have access to a scanner, then scanning documents and filing them electronically can be a great time saver. Once you have scanned a document, check the electronic copy for quality and completeness and throw the original away.

You should have a well-organized system of directories and folders on your PC for filing information. Use clear and unambiguous directory and file names. It can be useful to add your own information to each document you file, including information such as: who sent it to you, when you received it, which project or piece of work it concerns and a delete by date.

If, at a later date, you can’t remember the name of the document or where you filed it, you can use the Windows built in search functions and search for keywords like the sender and the project.

If you have ever deleted a document that you later found you needed, you’ll know that trying to recover the information can be a great time waster. The best solution is to set up a parallel directory structure on another disk drive. You can then periodically search for delete by dates and move these files into this “backup” directory. This will prevent your main directories from filling up with old files, but means that you can still recover them if needed.

If you set up your document directory structure under a master directory, this makes backing up your files very simple, as you can copy the master directory onto a central server or a laptop with only one copy instruction.

If you are serious about improving your time management strategies then download these free eBooks, checklists and templates for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone. These eBooks contain many useful time management skills examples that you can action today.

Successful Delegation eBook
This eBook explains the ten rules of successful delegation that will motivate and empower your team.

Managing Interruptions eBook
This eBook explains how to protect yourself from interruptions and still maintain a good relationship with your colleagues.

Productivity Tools eBook
This eBook explains how to choose the best productivity tools and describes how to use them to get more work done.

Key Points

  • Mark those items that relate to your key goals and priorities.
  • File items that need to be kept for reference.
  • Forward items that require the attention of colleagues.
  • Throw away those items that have no relevance to your goals.
  • Scanning documents and filing them electronically can be a great time saver.
  • Maintain a well-organized system of directories and folders.
  • Create a parallel directory structure, preferably on a separate disk drive.

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Workload Management Strategies

At some time or another almost everyone feels as though they have more work than they can cope with. However, not all stress is bad, and it is often cited as a key factor in helping people respond to crises, adapt to change and excel when a peak performance is required; for example, in an interview or presentation. When coping with stress at work, the important thing is not to let your workload grow to the point where you are completely overloaded.

The most common sources of work-related stress include:

1. Continuous and tight deadlines.
2. Dealing with crises on a daily basis.
3. An excessive workload.
4. Role ambiguity and conflict.
5. Constant negative feedback.
6. Inadequately trained support staff.

If you are overloaded then you need some workload management strategies to remedy the situation.

This will be easier if you have the facts to back up your case and are confident that you are working as effectively as possible by using an appropriate workload management strategy.

The most common sources of work-related stress include: continuous and tight deadlines, an excessive workload, role ambiguity and conflict and the need to deal with crises on a daily basis.

If you are overloaded then you must take steps to remedy the situation. This will be easier if you have the facts to back up your case and are confident that you are working as effectively as possible by using an appropriate time management strategy.

Avoid Taking On Too Much

A significant contributor to workplace stress and overload is the inability to say no, which results in people taking on far more work than they can realistically manage. It is a natural response to want to accommodate requests made by others. We don’t want to disappoint them, let them down, give the impression that we can’t be bothered or are too lazy to help.

Sometimes tasks may sound so enticing that we are tempted to take them on and worry about finding the time for them later, this is especially true for work that is some time in the future. However, it is important to think realistically about your workload. Ask yourself: “are you likely to have any more spare time in the future than you have at the moment?”

One of the major factors in developing the ability to say no is to realize that if you take on things that you subsequently haven’t got time to do well, then you will be letting everybody down. A job done badly will reflect poorly on you, your colleague and perhaps the whole organization.

It is very easy to agree to take on more responsibility, to be seen as a keen and competent employee. It is much more difficult to admit that overload is a problem and then to take action to remedy the situation. If you feel that you are becoming overloaded then you may decide to try to negotiate a reduction in your workload.

How to Negotiate Your Workload

If you have never questioned the demands of your manager or organization before then this may be rather daunting. The most effective tactic may be to restrict your negotiations to a specific task or project that you identify as causing you the worst problem.

Here are some important guidelines to consider when considering workload management strategies:

  1. Specify your objectives precisely
    For example, if you felt deluged by low-level customer enquiries, you might suggest: “delegating the handling of first line customer enquiries to the receptionists”. This approach provides a framework for the negotiation and prevents the risk of your request being mistaken for a general complaint.
  2. Prepare your evidence
    If you can produce a time log detailing the amount of time that a particular task has taken you and can show the associated cost, this will often make for a more convincing case.
  3. Prepare counter arguments to the likely objections
    The best way to prepare counter arguments is to look at the situation from your manager’s perspective. Seeing things from your manager’s viewpoint should help you to devise a solution that they will find acceptable.
  4. Decide in advance what compromise you would accept
    If both you and your manager are going to be happy with the outcome over the long-term, then there may need to be some form of compromise. Decide in advance what issues you are likely to need to give ground on.
  5. Become More Task-Orientated
    Some people are primarily task-orientated, whilst others are primarily people-orientated. Task orientated people often find it easier to say no, as they tend to evaluate requests against task related criteria.

They will ask themselves whether or not they are capable of and willing to perform the requested task. This enables them to make a more objective decision in response to a request.

People-orientated individuals are more likely to ask questions relating to their relationship with other people and their desire not to disappoint them. If you feel that you would like to become more effective at saying no, then try prompting yourself to think more carefully about the task involved each time you are requested to take something on.

Ask yourself questions like:

1. Can you tackle this task?
2. Are you clear about precisely what it entails?
3. Have you got the time to take it on?
4. Can you do the job well?
5. Is there someone else better equipped to do it?
6. What happens if you need to disengage from the task due to other commitments?

If your responses lead you to believe that you’d be unwise to take it on, then it is in nobody’s interest for you to agree to it. Try to clarify your reasons and explain these in a clear and concise way when declining the request.

  1. Be Prepared to Say ‘No’
    In most circumstances you have every right to decline a request. However, if you let yourself worry or dwell on past occasions where you have declined a request then you are more likely to accept future requests, regardless of their importance.
  2. Consider Your Response
    Try to predict circumstances in which you are likely to be asked to take on extra commitments and prepare some form of response. When requests arrive unexpectedly, ask for time to think about the request before responding.
  3. Don’t Apologize
    Don’t fall into the trap of being over-apologetic. Say what you want to say in a clear and concise way but don’t sound like you are making excuses. If people get the idea that they can talk you round, then they may persist until they are successful. The other drawback with adopting an apologetic approach is that the requester may feel that your reasons for declining are tenuous, and doubt the reasons you have given.
  4. Think Ahead
    It is a natural assumption that it is easier to book the time of a busy person well in advance, and it is all too easy to accommodate such requests. However, are you likely to be any less busy in 6 months time than you are in three weeks time? If your future commitments are uncertain then be very careful about agreeing to things even if they seem to be a long way off.

Saying ‘No’ to Your Boss

There are three common reasons why saying no to your boss is a different proposition to declining requests from colleagues or clients:

Firstly, it may appear as though you are refusing to do the normal activities of your job.
Secondly, you may worry about giving the impression of not being as keen as your peers.
Finally, your boss may just overrule your objections and make you do it anyway.

Generally speaking there are only two valid reasons for declining work that is passed down. Firstly; that your existing work will suffer and secondly that the work is beyond your level of competence. This means that any workload management strategies you use must be based on one of these reasons.

It is important to construct a good case to support your argument, you should put your points clearly and concisely and don’t come up with too many objections. This invites your boss to use the weakest to undermine your whole case, without giving you the opportunity to counter with your stronger points.

Another useful approach can be to devise a plan for how the task could be tackled, without taking the full responsibility upon yourself. You might even turn a request from your boss into an opportunity to offload some routine work, thereby freeing yourself to address the current request properly. It can assist you greatly to get the boss on-side by sowing the germ of an idea and letting them come up with the plan, before endorsing it as a great way to proceed.

If you feel that you are becoming overloaded then you may decide to try to negotiate a reduction in your workload. It is helpful to specify your objectives precisely, prepare your evidence and counter arguments and anticipate the need to compromise.

One of the biggest problems many of us face is knowing how to say ‘no’ to some of the many requests we receive. Task-orientated people tend to make objective, task-related, decisions whereas people-orientated individuals tend to make subjective decisions based on relationships.

Stress and Workload Management

Everyone has their unique level of over-commitment that leads to stress at work. Knowing when you are approaching this level and taking positive steps to keep control are key to maintaining your performance and productivity. You need to be aware of your stress symptoms.

You may recognize that you become more irritable, indecisive or lack confidence. You could have persistent physical signs, such as, more frequent migraines, indigestion, pains etc.

Your workload negotiations will fall into two main camps, those with your direct boss and those with colleagues. You may employ the same tactics for either group, but you need to be aware of the higher risks you encounter when negotiating with your manager and be more conscious of the environment your negotiations take place in.

Who ever you are negotiating with you must ensure that you don’t feel obliged to accept such tasks or projects unless it brings some benefit to you. The ways to identify and handle such negotiations are described in our free eBook on this topic.

workload

Focus on the benefits to You
When undertaking such negotiations you must make sure that whatever the outcome you benefit from that decision. It is essential that you approach the underlying reason for such discussions from your own viewpoint.

You need to appear sympathetic to request but present your case from a position of strength. This may be returning a past favor, working the request so that there is a mutual benefit to accepting the task or gaining a promise of future help.

You may also choose to accept the task to your workload because it provides a unique opportunity for you to acquire a skill, expand your knowledge base or improve your visibility within the organization.

If you decide to accept a task part of your decision making process must assess the impact this additional task will have on your existing deadlines. Finally clearly define your terms of acceptance and the other person’s expectations.

Identify the root cause
You may find that you spend a significant amount of your time in these negotiations. If this is the case then you must identify their source. The diagram above shows the most common root causes and you will have to take time to assess and prioritize your outstanding tasks and why they remain on your list of things to do. Our free templatePrioritizing your tasks’ will help you to conduct this exercise.

In each case you will need to ask your self why these causes keep reappearing and what you can do to eradicate them. If you cannot do this then how you intend to make the cause more manageable.

1) Is someone within the organization sitting on information causing unnecessary delay?
2) Is there a problem with the organization’s processes that needs to be fixed?
3) Why do certain problems keep on reoccurring?
4) Is there confusion over whose role it is to perform a task?
5) Are there sufficient resources to perform the task as required?

By researching such queries you may find that other people or divisions within the organization do not realize that they are doing, or not doing something that is having unforeseen consequences elsewhere. Now you have the information you need to prepare your case for against accepting the task.

Key Points

  • The feeling of being overloaded is increasingly common in today’s workplace.
  • Prolonged exposure to stress can lead to anxiety, exhaustion and burn-out.
  • One of the main contributors to stress and overload is an inability to say ‘no’.
  • It is important to think realistically about your workload.
  • Be careful of trying to accommodate too many demands on your time.
  • If you are not confident of doing a job well, then it may be best to decline it.
  • Task-orientated people tend to make objective, task-related, decisions.
  • People-orientated individuals tend to make subjective decisions based on relationships.
  • Your existing work will suffer or the work is beyond your level of competence.
  • Make your points clearly and concisely and don’t come up with too many objections.
  • Use the opportunity to offload some routine work, making time for the current request.

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Reduce Interruptions and Stay Focused at Work

Interruptions during the working day not only take up your time, they also have a secondary impact – in that they cost valuable minutes as you get back into what you were doing before the interruption. Some workplace interruptions may be unavoidable, but many are not and you shouldn’t feel guilty about reducing your exposure to interruptions as the result will be an increase in your overall efficiency.

Various strategies can help reduce the time lost to interruptions. If you have secretarial services, you could put a more effective screening system in place so that more messages are taken. This could also be used to inform callers of what time you are available, enabling you to protect yourself from distractions at times you set aside for concentrated work. When planning a regime like this aim to be as generous with your time as is realistic, or you may find a queue outside your door ahead of each of your ‘available’ slots.

Handling Unscheduled Meetings

In order to maintain a good working relationship with your colleagues it is important that you do have time for them. However, having time doesn’t necessarily mean at the moment they walk into your workspace.

The key to handling interruptions is to develop the ability to weigh up precisely what the request represents as a demand on your time and, if necessary, to arrange a future appointment rather than tackling it on the spot. Remember, you are responsible for your own schedule.

If you suffer from a lot of unscheduled visits from colleagues, you need to develop a clear but polite way of communicating when you are too busy to be interrupted.

If you have already completed a time log then you may be aware of the common interruptions that can bring your work to a temporary halt. You should be aware of: the type of interruption, who or what caused it and how much time it took up.

Once you have this information, try to see if there are any patterns emerging:

  1. How much time did you spend dealing with interruptions that week?
  2. What proportion of them were important?
  3. What proportion of them were unavoidable?
  4. What were the main causes?
  5. Do they conform to a recognizable pattern?

Once you have a clear idea of what causes the interruptions you can begin to develop tactics to control them.

If the telephone is a major source of interruptions then try using your voicemail to screen calls or ask colleagues to handle queries when you are busy, on the understanding that you will reciprocate.

If the length of the calls is a problem you should try setting a limit to the amount of time you are prepared to spend on any phone call. Start by saying something like “Sorry, but I’ve only got five minutes . . .”

People who are very sociable may distract others with inappropriate socializing. This can be disruptive and is complicated by the fact that sociable people tend to take criticism personally.

If you are interrupted at your workspace then using body language can make it clear that you expect the interruption to be as brief as possible. For example, by turning your head but not your whole body towards a visitor, your arm and shoulder will form a natural barrier, which will discourage a lengthy conversation.

You could also avoid asking unexpected visitors to sit down, get to your feet and remain standing until they have gone. Give an indication of how long you expect a meeting to last and make it clear that you must get on with other tasks at this time.

Specific Tactics

There are some specific tactics that should help you to focus more effectively on concentrated periods of work:

  1. Closed Door
    Apart from those times when you want to encourage others to step into your office, try keeping your door closed. It won’t stop anybody who has an important request but it will reduce the number of non-important or purely social interruptions.
  2. Signs
    Try making three signs, the first saying ‘Available’ the second ‘Busy’ and the third ‘Please Don’t Disturb’.
  3. Making Visits
    If you have colleagues who tend to be very talkative, then arrange to visit their workspace, rather than have them coming to you. This makes it much easier for you to end the meeting without facing the difficult task of getting them to leave.
  4. Schedule Meetings
    If talkative colleagues are coming to you for a meeting, schedule this ahead of another commitment or a fixed break, so that there is a compelling reason for getting on with the business at hand.
  5. Polite Closing Statements
    Add some polite winding up statements to your repertoire, try to include references to work and time constraints. For example saying, “Sorry George, I’ve got to crack on, as this report has to be finished by lunch-time” is much better than saying “I’ve got work to do”.

Let your colleagues know that you are trying to manage your time more effectively, and inform them of some of your chosen tactics. This won’t stop all interruptions, but at least they are likely to understand why you are less responsive to them.

Whatever approach you adopt to dealing with interruptions, it is important to be consistent. If you frequently change your response to interruptions it will give others the impression that you can be persuaded to change your mind and this will undermine your attempts to gain control of your time.

Some workplace interruptions may be unavoidable, but if you suffer from a lot of unscheduled visits from colleagues, you need to develop a clear but polite way of communicating when you are too busy to be interrupted. These four simple interruption screens could help you perform more efficiently. Your effectiveness and success depends on your ability to apply and implement such screens that enable you to be productive without alienating your customers, team members or colleagues. 

The main purpose of the interruption screen is to give you the opportunity to assess the level of urgency of each interruption and then allow you to prioritize it within your workload.

  1. Plan how your use your resources. If you are the only person in your team who has the ability or authority to answer key questions related to a particular project or task, then you need to cut down the number of such instances. The most effective way to achieve this is to delegate the authority to someone else. That person needs to be someone you trust, that is able to handle the responsibility and is equipped with sufficient knowledge to make informed decisions.
  2. Create policies and procedures that answer common questions. The time you invest in defining and producing such documentation will effectively remove you from the hot seat as the only person who can provide answers. You no longer have to keep on repeating yourself. All you need to do is ensure that every one in your team knows that the policies exist and that they are readily available to who ever needs them.
  3. Anticipate and Review the unexpected. A key part of any manager’s role is to offer support and guidance to their team when unforeseen problems or issues arise. This means that at some point in the day you will be interrupted because your knowledge and experience are required to maintain the productivity of your team.  Anticipate by setting the expectation that when you are interrupted you expected that individual to come to you with all the facts. This way you a void multiple interruptions as facts are gathered and you can make an Informed decision. Once the issue has been resolved ensure that the lessons’ learnt are identified and recorded so that procedures can be updated.
  4. Plan the best way for you to handle known intrusions. Emails, tweets, LinkedIn, phone calls, text and meetings are just some of these known intrusions that occur all day every day. You cant ignore them, but you can plan you work schedule so that you deal with them in a way that retains your productivity.

Don’t be a slave to the technology set aside an allocated time slot where you are protected from distractions and interruptions. You know your organization and role best so whether you decide to set your mobile to silent, let calls go to voicemail, or put a notify message on your email is a personal choice that suits your circumstance. You need to find what works best for you and then create a plan that keeps on track.

The key to successfully implementing such behaviors is your ability to correctly identify the biggest source of your interruptions. Use this free time management checklist which is part of our free online library of management resources to help you identify and manage them.

If you are serious about improving your time management strategies then download these free eBooks, checklists and templates for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Successful Delegation eBook
This eBook explains the ten rules of successful delegation that will motivate and empower your team.

Managing Interruptions eBook
This eBook explains how to protect yourself from interruptions and still maintain a good relationship with your colleagues.

Productivity Tools eBook
This eBook explains how to choose the best productivity tools and describes how to use them to get more work done.

As a busy manager you need to squeeze more out of your working day. Our Productivity Skills eBooks can help you to make the most of your time as well as making sure that you get the best out of your team. Download these free eBooks, checklists and templates for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Key Points

  • Interruptions cost valuable time as you get back into what you were doing.
  • Reducing interruptions and staying focused will increase your overall efficiency.
  • Divide your day into times when you are, and are not, available.
  • Maintain a good working relationship by making time for your colleagues.
  • Arrange future appointments rather than breaking your concentration.
  • Develop a clear but polite way of communicating that you are busy.
  • How much time did you spend dealing with interruptions?
  • What proportion was important or unavoidable?
  • What were the main causes, and do they conform to a recognizable pattern?
  • Use voicemail to screen calls or ask colleagues to handle queries.
  • Set a limit to the time you are prepared to spend on any call.
  • Body language can make it clear that you expect the interruption to be as brief as possible.
  • Avoid asking unexpected visitors to sit down, remain standing throughout the meeting.

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Adopting a Rational Approach to Decision Making

Decision making is an important aspect of time management. For example, when planning your day, you will need to be decisive and not procrastinate over each and every activity. Having decided what is important, you then need to progress these tasks quickly and efficiently, and adopting a rational approach to decision making will be a key factor in your ability to do this.

The following decision making technique can prove useful

1) Define and clarify the issue.
2) Does it need to be dealt with?
3) Gather all the facts and understand their causes.
4) Think about or brainstorm possible options and solutions.
5) Consider and compare the pros and cons of each option.
6) Select the best option.
7) Explain your decision to those involved and affected.
8) Follow up to ensure proper and effective implementation.

If you want to improve your decision making, you will need to identify the types of job you put off and the reasons and excuses you give yourself. Many people admit to putting off jobs because: they find the job daunting or unpleasant or they hope that the job will somehow go away or they just don’t know where to start. They may justify this procrastination by finding routine tasks to do instead. Alternatively, they may wait until the pressure is really on before starting to take appropriate action.

Putting off jobs we dislike doing is a common trait. Unfortunately, most jobs that are put off don’t go away – they remain waiting to be done, and they tend to stay at the back of our minds, often causing feelings of guilt and acting as a distraction.

Putting off jobs has another disadvantage in that it tends to lead to an ever increasing number of jobs that remain outstanding. This growing list becomes increasingly daunting and it then becomes more and more difficult to make a start on any of them.

Whilst the batching of activities by type, is generally an effective time management strategy, unpleasant tasks is the one category for which this doesn’t hold true. They are far better tackled as soon as possible, as this is the most effective and efficient approach to unpleasant jobs.

Remember the maxim, “the only way to do something is to do it.”

Overcoming procrastination involves first coming to terms with the fact that you have a real problem, which will require you to change how you feel about certain types of job. There follows a variety of ways of overcoming procrastination:

Do the worst job first
Doing the worst job first, involves making the worst task the one thing that you commit to completing that day, irrespective of other considerations. This prevents a task from becoming an ongoing source of anxiety, which can make you less productive until it is completed.

Break daunting tasks down into smaller ones
This can be the only way to tackle long-term tasks where the end seems to be out of sight. Breaking a task into smaller chunks will allow you to achieve some small successes, which should give you the motivation necessary to see the job through. Making a series of smaller commitments is much easier than making a single large one. Ideally each sub-task should have its own deadline.

This gives you a series of short-term targets to aim for and enables you to correct any slippage as it occurs, rather than struggling to make up all of the accumulated lost time at the end of the project.

Make a public commitment to do the job
Making a public commitment can be done in a number of ways, you could make your intentions public by circulating copies to your co-workers. Alternatively, you could display your schedule discreetly at your workstation, where it will be visible to others.

Plan the evening before
Planning the following day’s activities, the night before is effective because it avoids this potential distraction at the start of the day. By identifying a task to get on with first thing in the morning, you will create the opportunity to achieve something positive at the start of the day which will give you the incentive to continue in the same way.

There are valid reasons for deferring decisions. For example, if not all of the pertinent information is available. However, when all relevant information has been assembled, hesitation only wastes time and opportunity.

Various techniques can help you to make decisions. For example, a list of pros and cons against each option often helps to clarify the best course of action. Best is a good word here you should make a conscious effort to accept that your role necessitates you making decisions and that you are not always going to make the right one.

Managers should learn to play the percentage game, this means accepting that a certain proportion of decisions will turn out to have been incorrect; perhaps 10 or 20%.

However, as an effective manager the vast majority will turn out to have been the right decisions and therefore the fear of making the wrong choice should not hold you back.

There are a variety of techniques that can contribute to more effective decision-making. Breaking a decision into smaller components enables the decision to be arrived at incrementally.

Listing the pros and cons associated with each option results in a balance sheet, which compares the alternatives objectively. Alternatively, an incentive can be created by the promise of a reward once the decision has been made.

Our Thinking Skills eBooks will help you to become more creative and innovative whether you need to make more time for creative thinking, some general inspiration or specific tips and techniques. Download these free eBooks, checklists and templates for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Key Points

  • Decision making is an important aspect of time management.
  • Identify the types of job you put off and why this happens.
  • People who procrastinate may seek refuge in routine tasks.
  • Putting off jobs we dislike doing is a common trait.
  • This leads to an ever-increasing number of jobs that remain outstanding.
  • Unpleasant tasks are best tackled as soon as possible.
  • Avoid procrastination once you have all the relevant information.
  • A list of pros and cons often helps to clarify the best course of action.
  • Accept that a proportion of your decisions will turn out to have been incorrect.

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Using a Daily Time Log

It is very common for people to attribute certain kinds of results to themselves, usually their successes, and certain kinds of results to other people, usually their failures.

This often leads people to be unclear about the relationship between cause and effect, which is particularly important when it comes to time management. For example, whilst there are occasions when other people are responsible for our time loss, we may find it difficult to admit that we could have done more to minimize the effect.

This can manifest itself in the language we use to analyze time loss and the consequent avoidance of our own responsibility. For example:

    “Where has the time gone?” can be rephrased as “How did I use the time?”
    “It was such a waste of time …” can be rephrased as “I wasted so much time”
    “The time flew past …” can be rephrased as “I failed to keep a track of the time”
    “He took up too much of my time …” can be rephrased as “I let him take up too much of my time”

You should always make a conscious effort when analyzing lost time and begin to take appropriate responsibility for it.

If you want to learn to manage your time better, the first step is to document how you are currently spending it. Surprisingly, most of us do not have an accurate picture of how we spend our time. We may think that we know how long we spend on each task, but these impressions usually turn out to be inaccurate when compared to a detailed time log.

It is useful to carry out an objective review of how you currently spend your time by keeping a daily time log which details which tasks you did, when and for how long. This time log shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes a day to complete and you will probably need a further 20 minutes or so at the end of the week to analyze the results.

How long you need to keep the log for will depend on the nature of your work. If you work on a monthly cycle, then keep the log for a couple of months. If you work on a weekly cycle, then two or three weeks should provide an accurate picture.

Formatting Your Daily Time Log

Draw up a log that reflects the way in which you work, dividing your day into representative blocks of time – for example 15 minute or half-hour divisions. Complete the log in real time, as remembering what you did several hours earlier can be very difficult.

At the end of each day, conduct a simple analysis of the activities you have performed under four simple headings: Priorities, Delegation, Time Wasters and finally Operations and Management.

Priorities are those activities which represent genuine priorities for that working period. This should include only those activities that make a significant contribution to what you are trying to achieve. Be disciplined in only identifying real priorities, they are by definition the few rather than the many tasks.

Delegation indicates those tasks that you could or should have given to someone else to complete, including priority activities where appropriate. On consideration you may identify priority tasks that you could have delegated a significant part of, even if you needed to tackle part of the work personally.

Time Wasters include the things that distracted you from your main objectives, such as interruptions, as well as those activities which, on reflection, you should have said no to. Time wasters are often insidious and yet when totaled up will often represent a significant part of the working day. Again, be disciplined when identifying time wasters – they are an essential component in regaining control over your working day.

You may find the Operations and Management category to be slightly more difficult to classify. Here use two letters: an O for operations and an M for management. Operating tasks encompass the technical or professional part of your job as well as the routine work much of which could be delegated. Management tasks relate to achieving results through other people and include activities such as planning, delegating work and reviewing results.

Analyzing Your Daily Time Log

As you look at your time log at the end of each day, it may draw your attention to some activities that you wish to record in more detail.

For example, if you have identified that much of the time you spend on the telephone was non-essential; then you should analyze this area in more detail. Keep records of whether the call was incoming or outgoing, who it was from or to, and estimate how much of the time spent was actually productive.

If you feel that you are spending too much time in meetings or in conversation then record details like whether attendance at the meeting was mandatory and whether the conversation was the result of an interruption.
When you are happy with your classification of the day’s activities, add up the number of time divisions you spent on each of the categories and factor it over the total divisions in the day. Draw a bar chart with appropriate columns and add each entry from the log into the appropriate column.

This analysis should provide you with two important pieces of information. Firstly, are you investing enough of your time in areas that are essential to achieving your goals? Secondly, in which areas, that are not essential to your goals, are you spending significant time?

You may also find it helpful to write a short critique of the day in response to asking yourself questions like:

1. What kind of day was it: effective or just busy?
2. What was good or disappointing about the way your time was spent?
3. How typical was it of a working day?
4. What is the data telling you, how could you use your time better?

Keeping a log over a working week is always revealing, sometimes reassuring but, more frequently, disturbing. When you perform this exercise you are likely to be surprised by how little time you actually spend on your real priorities.

It may also highlight how many of the activities you perform could be delegated to others. Finally, don’t be surprised if your log shows that a significant part of your working day is lost to distractions. Typically around 20% of time is identified as being lost in this way.

Your Work Diary

A permanent record of where your time has been committed is your working diary. Depending on your job you may keep this yourself or it may be delegated to secretarial staff.

Look at your diary over the preceding three month period and see how your time was spent – are there recognizable patterns with regard to meetings, visits, presentations, travel and professional training?

See if you can identify the tasks that take up the majority of your time, do you need to reduce these commitments or find more time for them?

Look at your diary and ask yourself how you can start to gain more control over your working day.

When designing a daily time log, make sure that it reflects the way in which you work, dividing your day into representative blocks of time. Try to complete the log in real time, as recalling what you did several hours earlier can be very difficult.

It is useful to maintain a log of the activities you have performed under four simple headings: Priorities, Delegation, Time Wasters and finally Operations and Management.

If you are serious about improving your time management strategies then download these free eBooks, checklists and templates for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Goal Setting eBook
This eBook explains how to use the theory of goal setting to set practical targets for you and your team members.

Successful Delegation eBook
This eBook explains the ten rules of successful delegation that will motivate and empower your team.

Managing Interruptions eBook
This eBook explains how to protect yourself from interruptions and still maintain a good relationship with your colleagues.

Overcoming Procrastination eBook
This eBook explains how to overcome the obstacles that prevent you from starting difficult high-priority tasks.

Negotiating Workload Limits eBook
This eBook explains how to negotiate your workload to a manageable level and avoid becoming snowed under.

Productivity Tools eBook
This eBook explains how to choose the best productivity tools and describes how to use them to get more work done.

Key Points

  • You will find it useful to document how you are currently spending your time.
  • Record the details of which tasks you did, when and for how long.
  • The nature of your work will determine how long you need to record this log.
  • Look at your diary over the preceding three month period.
  • Can you identify the tasks that take up the majority of your time?
  • How can you gain more control over your working day?

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How to Delegate Responsibility in the Workplace

Many managers find themselves getting bogged down in routine operational tasks, which leave them no time for the vital managerial functions like long term planning and business development.

Delegation involves giving someone else the responsibility to perform a task that is actually part of your own job. Delegation is not as straightforward as it might first appear. It always carries with it an element of risk, since you are assigning to someone else work for which you retain the ultimate responsibility.

One of the most important reasons for delegation is that it will develop the skills of the people who work for you. People in your team will become more involved in helping to achieve the organizations objectives and goals.

Increased responsibility is an important factor in improving morale and job satisfaction. It is noticeable that managers who delegate successfully usually experience lower absenteeism and staff turnover.

It is often hard to accept that we need the help that delegation can deliver, and there are several possible reasons for this, as highlighted below:

Asking for help indicates a lack of ability
People may feel that any sign of weakness reduces their standing in the eyes of others, and themselves. This may hold them back from asking for help. In reality it is a sign of weakness to hide behind a pretext of coping and a sign of strength to recognize personal limitations.

Nobody else can be trusted to do the job properly
Thinking of oneself as indispensable can be a large boost to the ego. Unfortunately, it is rarely justified. Think in a little more detail about just what it is that nobody else can do as well as you, you will almost certainly discover that whilst your skills may be very valuable to the organization, they are almost certainly not indispensable. If, in some cases delegating means that certain tasks aren’t done as well as you would do them, then this may represent a training opportunity.

Someone else will do a better job and take the credit
This indicates an individual who is jealous of the achievements of their subordinates. What does this say about their attitude to those who have to work for them, surely managers should be proud of the achievements of their staff. People who recognize this attitude as a personal trait should think carefully, as their problems may be more deep-seated than an inability to delegate.

Nobody else can actually help
This is a sign of poor leadership. If there is nobody there to help us when we need it, then it likely that we have done little to nurture and develop the skills of those beneath us.

Feel guilty about the act of delegating work
If you feel guilty about the very act of delegating, when the staff to whom you are delegating are not overloaded, then you should be more realistic. Your job is not to overload yourself but to manage your workload effectively and efficiently and that includes delegating, as and when required.

Be reluctant to relinquish any part of the work
If you enjoy your work so much that you are unwilling to let any of it go, then bear in mind that others are likely to enjoy taking on part of it. Are you keeping things for yourself that really ought to be shared with others?

These are all spurious reasons and most managers who are reluctant to delegate feel that way because delegation reduces their direct control and relies on other people to perform effectively.

They believe that the risks of delegation outweigh the potential rewards. There is no doubt that delegation does increase the risk of a task not being done properly. The answer is to control that risk, not to refuse to delegate.

To reduce the risk a manager should select the tasks to be delegated carefully and select the right people to do them. You should be very careful when delegating tasks that have already been delegated – to you. The person delegating the task has already reduced their direct control and may be very reluctant to reduce it further.

When delegating, tasks that should be considered first include: routine tasks where progress is measurable, tasks that can be planned clearly well in advance and tasks that one of your team has expressed a genuine interest in taking on.

Don’t delegate only unpleasant tasks. In order to bring out the best in your subordinates you should offer them a mix of tasks. Conversely, don’t keep all the unpleasant tasks for yourself. It is important not to hold back all the jobs that you personally dislike, considering it unfair to give these to others.

Make sure that you set aside sufficient time to actually specify delegated tasks and go through them with the relevant members of staff. Ensure that tasks are not delegated at the last minute, each member of staff have their own responsibilities into which they must find the time for the delegated work. Work delegated at the last minute may not be done properly, if at all.

Upward delegation is concerned with ensuring that you don’t waste time on tasks and activities that should be referred to people higher up in the organization. If you need to refer work upwards make sure that you supply your own thoughts and recommendations. This action should save time and demonstrates that you have given the work due consideration before forwarding it.

On some occasions work is likely to land on your desk that is clearly the responsibility of some other section or individual. Here the most efficient action is also to forward the work.

This requires that you have a good understanding of who is responsible for doing what, within your area of the organization. If these duties are not clear you may need to seek clarification.

When passing work sideways remember that a friendly note will make it far more palatable, especially where everyone is dealing with an already high workload and this will also help to ensure that it doesn’t come straight back.

Delegation creates the time needed for vital managerial functions like long term planning and business development. It is also an important factor in improving staff morale and job satisfaction.

Certain characteristics make some tasks suitable for delegation, for example: routine tasks where progress is measurable, tasks that can be planned clearly well in advance and tasks that a team member has expressed an interest in taking on.

If you are serious about improving your time management skills then download these free eBooks, checklists and templates for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Goal Setting eBook
This eBook explains how to use the theory of goal setting to set practical targets for you and your team members.

Successful Delegation eBook
This eBook explains the ten rules of successful delegation that will motivate and empower your team.

Managing Interruptions eBook
This eBook explains how to protect yourself from interruptions and still maintain a good relationship with your colleagues.

Overcoming Procrastination eBook
This eBook explains how to overcome the obstacles that prevent you from starting difficult high-priority tasks.

Negotiating Workload Limits eBook
This eBook explains how to negotiate your workload to a manageable level and avoid becoming snowed under.

Productivity Tools eBook
This eBook explains how to choose the best productivity tools and describes how to use them to get more work done.

Key Points

  • Many managers find themselves bogged down in routine tasks.
  • You are assigning work for which you remain ultimately responsible.
  • Increased responsibility is an important factor in improving morale and job satisfaction.
  • Be careful when delegating tasks which have been delegated to you.
  • Certain characteristics make some tasks suitable for delegation.
  • Delegate a mixture of tasks to ensure fairness to you and your staff.
  • Specify tasks properly and don’t hand them over at the last minute.
  • When passing work upwards, add your own thoughts and recommendations.
  • Forward work that could be done more efficiently elsewhere.
  • When passing work sideways a friendly note is always appreciated.

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Time Management Worksheets and Templates

Working effectively is all about getting things done, but it is also about planning for the future. It is very easy to fall into the trap of doing things right, at the expense of doing the right things. Effective time management involves learning to focus on the right things whilst letting go of some of the less important tasks. Whilst time management forwards many proven techniques, you will need to develop a strategy that suits your own needs.

Whilst addressing your own personal time management strategy is important, it is equally important to consider changing aspects of the organizations culture to maximize the benefits of time management. This is because the organizational structures within which we work can lead to significant time loss.

Individuals and departments may jealously guard tasks for which they are poorly qualified whilst more capable teams and individuals carry on with mundane and routine activities. This fails to stretch the personnel involved and may also lead to de-motivation, sickness and high staff turnover.

It is important to identify problem areas within these structures, so that wherever necessary change can be brought about.

The way in which work is divided into tasks and how these tasks are allocated is one of the defining characteristics of any organization. At this highest level, time wasting factors may be built into the system. For example, the distribution of tasks may be uneven or unfair, with important tasks having far too little attention and resources attributed to them.

Task management may also be adversely affected by poor communication between individuals and the chain of command may be obscure or non-existent. Some tasks may interfere with the execution of others, some may be carried out in the wrong order or may duplicate or overlap with each other. These factors can contribute to a huge time wasting overhead, and represent the sort of fundamental efficiency problem that can threaten the very existence of the organization. These organizational problems are compounded if the individuals within the organization have no mechanism by which they can make suggestions for improving efficiency and effectiveness. Together these factors can lead to substantial time-loss, frustration and stress.

Managing time is all about choosing which tasks to do and in which order. You may not have the luxury of choosing what work you will do, and the majority of tasks may be allocated to you from higher up in the organization. However, you still have to make decisions about what to do and when. You will have colleagues and subordinates who are there to assist, and you will have to make decisions about how best to use these resources.

Here are some common misconceptions about time management:

  1. Efficiency and effectiveness are the same
    Being efficient means doing things quickly and properly, but efficiency in itself is not good time management. To get results, you have to be effective, which means knowing what your priorities are and doing the right things at the right time to achieve your objectives. Efficiency is doing things right, Effectiveness is doing the right things and good time management will enable you to do the right things – right.
  2. To do a job properly, do it yourself
    The ability and willingness to delegate is central to good time management. Conversely, inability or unwillingness to delegate is one of the primary causes of poor performance in business. If you spend time doing tasks that are not central to your objectives, you cannot focus on the things that will make a difference to your results.
  3. There’s only one right way to do a job
    It is always worth spending some time thinking about how a particularly time-consuming task could be done more efficiently. Don’t allow yourself to get into a rut. Ask yourself questions like: What is the required outcome of doing this task?
  4. Time management is a waste of time
    A good time manager spends some time each day thinking and planning. These activities are vital to long-term success in business, and whilst doing them does not make you look busy, it will pay big dividends in your effectiveness. Once you have properly planned and scheduled your tasks for the day, you will be far less troubled by the pressure of time.
  5. A good time manager lacks creativity
    Good time management techniques are there to be used when and how you choose. They are designed to remove unwanted crisis management and last minute panic from your working day and to allow more time for creativity.

Setting Realistic Goals

If you are going to make a consistent and sustained effort to manage your time more effectively, you need to see that your own efforts are rewarded. Before trying to change your behavior, you need to set realistic goals that, when achieved, make you feel that the effort has been worthwhile. Having clear objectives is vitally important, this could be stated as: “I will manage this aspect of my time to achieve that result.”

You will need:
1. A clear understanding of the tactics you intend to use.
2. The determination to apply them consistently.
3. A clear measure of the effectiveness of each tactic.

It is not enough to achieve some results from your time management effort. You must be able to recognize in detail what these results are and to obtain some tangible reward for the effort involved. If you don’t, you are unlikely to be able to keep up your good intentions for any length of time.

For most people the most effective approach to time management is to begin with a limited range of time management tactics, to apply these and to gain positive results, before extending this into an overall strategy.

The 80-20 Rule

The Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto discovered that within any system the tendency is for some elements to yield much higher returns than others. Usually, around 20% of the elements will be high yielders and the remaining 80% will be low yielders. What is even more interesting is that the 20% of high yielders tend to produce around 80% of the yield and the 80% of low yielders produce the remaining 20%.

Whilst Pareto’s research was concerned with economics and found, for example, that 20% of an organizations customers are responsible for 80% of its profits, the 80/20 principle has been found to apply to a wide variety of areas.

In terms of time management and productivity it implies that 20% of the time that you spend on something will produce 80% of your final output, while the remaining 80% of your time will only produce 20% of it.

Obviously, there is nothing fixed about this 80/20 ratio, it is only a guide to what tends to happen if we don’t take any action to work more effectively.

Perfectionism Can be Too Expensive

Perfectionism is a common aspiration in the lives of many professional people, but its cost can be prohibitively high. The search for perfection can result in more time being spent in analysis, criticism and editing than was ever spent in producing the work originally. Perfectionism may lead people to resist taking on tasks that in reality are quite straightforward. Their own inability to address a task, without continually reassessing it against a perfect ideal may make even simple activities too daunting to take on.

Once you are aware of the Pareto principle you can use it as a guide to help you become more realistic about how much time is needed for a particular task. If you are guilty of extreme perfectionism or procrastination then you may find that less than 20% of your time produces 80% of the final output.

Ask yourself: “Is the extra hour you were going to spend editing your report likely to result in only one or two marginal improvements, and couldn’t this time be spent more productively on something else?”

Most people already show many of the attributes needed for effective time management. These include: determination, objectivity, decisiveness and clarity of thinking. It is also important to consider aspects of the organizations culture in order to maximize the benefits of time management.

The most effective approach to time management is to begin with a limited range of time management tactics, and to apply these and to gain positive results, before extending this into an overall strategy.

If you are serious about improving your time management skills then download these free time management worksheets, templates, and eBooks for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Goal Setting eBook
This eBook explains how to use the theory of goal setting to set practical targets for you and your team members.

Successful Delegation eBook
This eBook explains the ten rules of successful delegation that will motivate and empower your team.

Managing Interruptions eBook
This eBook explains how to protect yourself from interruptions and still maintain a good relationship with your colleagues.

Overcoming Procrastination eBook
This eBook explains how to overcome the obstacles that prevent you from starting difficult high-priority tasks.

Negotiating Workload Limits eBook
This eBook explains how to negotiate your workload to a manageable level and avoid becoming snowed under.

Productivity Tools eBook
This eBook explains how to choose the best productivity tools and describes how to use them to get more work done.

Key Points

  • Time should be seen as the most valuable of all resources.
  • Beware of doing things right at the expense of doing the right things.
  • You will need to develop a strategy that suits your own needs.
  • The organizational culture can be as important as your personal strategy.
  • Existing organizational structures can lead to significant time losses.
  • Organizations are characterized by how they define and allocate tasks.
  • Inefficient task management can lead to huge time losses.
  • Staff should be able to make suggestions for improving efficiency and effectiveness.
  • To persevere with time management, you will need to see your efforts rewarded.
  • Within any system some elements will yield much higher returns than others.
  • 20% of your effort is likely to produce 80% of your final output.
  • The cost of seeking perfection can be prohibitively high.
  • Perfectionism may lead people to resist taking on even simple tasks.
  • Use the 80/20 rule to ensure that you maximize your effectiveness.

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Successful Delegation Worksheet

Once you have identified someone that you think the task could be delegated to, you should establish whether or not their present workload would allow them to take it on. If so, you will need to specify the delegated task and agree the level of support that will be required. These tips are taken from our eBook ‘Successful Delegation‘ which you can download for you PC, Mac, laptop, Kindle or eReader.

You can also download our ‘Successful Delegation Worksheet‘ to help you. When delegating:

Make the objectives clear
Managers often express their instructions in vague terms like handle, coordinate and liaise. For example, “Id like you to handle our relationship with them from now on”. This leaves too much room for misinterpretation and the criteria for a successful outcome have not been specified.

In a recent survey, over 60% of staff claimed to be unclear about what was expected from them or how their performance was to be measured. When delegating, it is important, where possible, to specify the objectives clearly against measurable criteria.

Allow them to do the job their way
This includes the specific outcome that is required and the standard that is expected. People need to decide how to use the authority that has been delegated to them. Having stated the objective, your team member should be allowed to perform tasks in a way that suits their own personality and way of working.

Encourage them to take ownership of the task
If the team member encounters any problems, you will need to suggest some solutions and leave it to them to choose which to implement. You should always leave the choice and authority with the team member, if you take control back, it could make them feel resentful or inadequate.

Agree what level of support will be needed
You will need to be clear about what resources, in terms of your own time, will be needed. This means that you can plan your own involvement and will not sub-consciously view their requests for help and advice as an inconvenience.

There are two common reasons why people reject responsibility for a task they have been delegated. Firstly, they may feel that they have been given a task that should not be their responsibility. Secondly they may believe that their manager is interfering in the details of the task, and not allowing them to use their initiative.

Managers need to overcome both of these obstacles, by selling the benefit of doing the task and leaving the team member room to show initiative regarding how the task is to be done.

Monitoring Delegated Tasks

The responsibility for the delegated task is still ultimately yours and you will need to find unobtrusive ways of monitoring progress. It is important that you are not seen to be interfering or directing the delegated work.

It is in the nature of most people to over-report the progress that they are making and to underestimate how much time and effort is required to finish a job. This is because people are often naturally optimistic and feel that they will be able to make up lost time.

Feedback is a major factor in motivation and should be given periodically, while the work is carried out. Effective feedback is more than just letting people know that something has gone wrong. It also empowers people because it enables them to build on their successes and lets them know that their efforts are appreciated. This should improve their performance and enable them to keep their problems and concerns in perspective.

You need to say what you really think in the most objective terms possible. If you show you recognize and value their efforts, people are far more likely to act on any suggestions that you make.

Giving Feedback

Constructive feedback should also be as specific as possible, stating which aspects of the task were completed well or badly and, if possible, feedback should be given while there is still time to act on it.

Most people are prepared to take on responsibility in exchange for recognition. It is important that people are thanked for their efforts and that those efforts are recognized, for example, in performance reviews. Recognition need not always be formal; it can take the form of names mentioned in memos or departmental meetings.

Because you are still accountable for the tasks you delegate, you need to find out whether the agreed objectives have been met, to the agreed standard, within budget and on time.

If you feel that there were any shortfalls in performance you should ask:

  • Was the objective adequately specified?
    If there were significant omissions or unnecessary detail in certain areas, then this may be because the objective was not stated in sufficient detail.
  • Was the team member given enough support?
    Did you schedule sufficient time to support the team member? Did you brief the team member on the importance of seeking advice as and when they needed it? You should remember that some people are reluctant to ask for help because they feel that this shows a lack of ability.
  • Was the team member given sufficient time?
    There is a learning curve associated with every new activity and you should allow extra time to accommodate this.
  • Did the team member have the necessary skills?
    It may be that you misjudged the existing abilities of the team member and this may point to a training requirement.

These questions should together answer whether or not your expectations were realistic. Evaluating the outcome of delegation in this way will enable you to make better judgments in the future.

Key Points

  • When delegating work you should provide: a clear brief as to what the job entails, guidance about when they should refer back to you, opportunities for them to use their initiative and support, as and when required.
  • You should be aware that progress tends to be over-reported and that you retain the ultimate responsibility for task delivery.
  • As well as giving ongoing feedback you should evaluate the outcome and apply any lessons learned when delegating work in the future.

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