Time management is the process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency or productivity. It is a juggling act of various demands of study, social life, employment, family, and personal interests and commitments with the finiteness of time. Using time effectively gives the person "choice" on spending/ managing activities at their own time and expediency.
It is a meta-activity with the goal to maximize the overall benefit of a set of other activities within the boundary condition of a limited amount of time, as time itself cannot be managed because it is fixed. Time management may be aided by a range of skills, tools, and techniques used to manage time when accomplishing specific tasks, projects, and goals complying with a due date. Initially, time management referred to just business or work activities, but eventually the term broadened to include personal activities as well. A time management system is a designed combination of processes, tools, techniques, and methods. Time management is usually a necessity in any project development as it determines the project completion time and scope.
The major themes arising from the literature on time management include the following:
- Creating an environment conducive to effectiveness
- Setting of priorities
- Carrying out activity around prioritization.
- The related process of reduction of time spent on non-priorities
- Incentives to modify behavior to ensure compliance with time-related deadlines.
Time management is related to different concepts such as:
- Project management: Time Management can be considered to be a project management subset and is more commonly known as project planning and project scheduling. Time Management has also been identified as one of the core functions identified in project management.
- Attention management: Attention Management relates to the management of cognitive resources, and in particular the time that humans allocate their mind (and organize the minds of their employees) to conduct some activities.
Organizational Time Management is the science of identifying, valuing and reducing wasted time within organizations. Organizational Time Management identifies, reports and financially values sustainable time, wasted time and productive time within an organization and develops the business case to convert wasted time into productive time through the funding of products, services, projects or initiatives at a positive return on investment.
Creating an effective environment
Some time-management literature stresses tasks related to the creation of an environment conducive to "real" effectiveness. These strategies include principles such as:
- "get organized" - the triage of paperwork and of tasks
- "protecting one's time" by insulation, isolation and delegation
- "achievement through goal-management and through goal-focus" - motivational emphasis
- "recovering from bad time-habits" - recovery from underlying psychological problems, e.g. procrastination
Writers on creating an environment for effectiveness refer to such matters as having a tidy office or home for unleashing creativity, and the need to protect "prime time". Literature also focuses on overcoming chronic psychological issues such as procrastination.
Excessive and chronic inability to manage time effectively may result from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Diagnostic criteria include a sense of underachievement, difficulty getting organized, trouble getting started, many projects going simultaneously and trouble with follow-through. Some authors focus on the prefrontal cortex which is the most recently evolved part of the brain. It controls the functions of attention-span, impulse-control, organization, learning from experience and self-monitoring, among others. Some authors argue that changing the way the prefrontal cortex works is possible and offer a solution.
Setting priorities and goals
Time management strategies are often associated with the recommendation to set personal goals. The literature stresses themes such as -
- "Work in Priority Order" - set goals and prioritize
- "Set gravitational goals" - that attract actions automatically
These goals are recorded and may be broken down into a project, an action plan, or a simple task list. For individual tasks or for goals, an importance rating may be established, deadlines may be set, and priorities assigned. This process results in a plan with a task list or a schedule or calendar of activities. Authors may recommend a daily, weekly, monthly or other planning periods associated with different scope of planning or review. This is done in various ways, as follows.
A technique that has been used in business management for a long time is the categorization of large data into groups. These groups are often marked A, B, and C—hence the name. Activities are ranked by these general criteria:
- A – Tasks that are perceived as being urgent and important,
- B – Tasks that are important but not urgent,
- C – Tasks that are unimportant. (whether urgent or not)
Each group is then rank-ordered by priority. To further refine the prioritization, some individuals choose to then force-rank all "B" items as either "A" or "C". ABC analysis can incorporate more than three groups.
ABC analysis is frequently combined with Pareto analysis.
This is the idea 80% of tasks can be completed in 20% of the disposable time. The remaining 20% of tasks will take up 80% of the time. This principle is used to sort tasks into two parts. According to this form of Pareto analysis it is recommended that tasks that fall into the first category be assigned a higher priority.
The 80-20-rule can also be applied to increase productivity: it is assumed that 80% of the productivity can be achieved by doing 20% of the tasks. Similarly, 80% of results can be attributed to 20% of activity. If productivity is the aim of time management, then these tasks should be prioritized higher.
It depends on the method adopted to complete the task. There is always a simpler and easier way to complete the task. If one uses a complex way, it will be time consuming. So, one should always try to find out alternative ways to complete each task.
The Eisenhower Method
The "Eisenhower Method" stems from a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower: "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."
Using the Eisenhower Decision Principle, tasks are evaluated using the criteria important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent, and then placed in according quadrants in an Eisenhower Matrix (also known as an "Eisenhower Box" or "Eisenhower Decision Matrix"). Tasks are then handled as follows:
- Important/Urgent quadrant are done immediately and personally e.g. crises, deadlines, problems.
- Important/Not Urgent quadrant get an end date and are done personally e.g. relationships, planning, recreation.
- Unimportant/Urgent quadrant are delegated e.g. interruptions, meetings, activities.
- Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrant are dropped e.g. time wasters, pleasant activities, trivia.
Domino Reaction method
This is the idea that there are actions that you invest in once and which produce over time in different channels. Writing a book is such an action, because it requires a one-time effort, and once you finish it, it continues serving you.
POSEC is an acronym for Prioritize by Organizing, Streamlining, Economizing and Contributing. The method dictates a template which emphasizes an average individual's immediate sense of emotional and monetary security. It suggests that by attending to one's personal responsibilities first, an individual is better positioned to shoulder collective responsibilities.
- Prioritize - Your time and define your life by goals.
- Organize - Things you have to accomplish regularly to be successful (family and finances).
- Streamline - Things you may not like to do, but must do (work and chores).
- Economize - Things you should do or may even like to do, but they're not pressingly urgent (pastimes and socializing).
- Contribute - By paying attention to the few remaining things that make a difference (social obligations).
Implementation of goals
A task list (also to-do list or things-to-do) is a list of tasks to be completed, such as chores or steps toward completing a project. It is an inventory tool which serves as an alternative or supplement to memory.
When one of the items on a task list is accomplished, the task is checked or crossed off. The traditional method is to write these on a piece of paper with a pen or pencil, usually on a note pad or clip-board. Task lists can also have the form of paper or software checklists.
Writer Julie Morgenstern suggests "do's and don'ts" of time management that include:
- Map out everything that is important, by making a task list
- Create "an oasis of time" for one to control
- Say "No"
- Set priorities
- Don't drop everything
- Don't think a critical task will get done in one's spare time.
Numerous digital equivalents are now available, including Personal information management (PIM) applications and most PDAs. There are also several web-based task list applications, many of which are free.
Task list organization
Task lists are often diarised and tiered. The simplest tiered system includes a general to-do list (or task-holding file) to record all the tasks the person needs to accomplish, and a daily to-do list which is created each day by transferring tasks from the general to-do list. An alternative is to create a "not-to-do list", to avoid uneccessary tasks.
Task lists are often prioritized:
- A daily list of things to do, numbered in the order of their importance, and done in that order one at a time until daily time allows, is attributed to consultant Ivy Lee (1877–1934) as the most profitable advice received by Charles M. Schwab (1862–1939), president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation.
- An early advocate of "ABC" prioritization was Alan Lakein, in 1973. In his system "A" items were the most important ("A-1" the most important within that group), "B" next most important, "C" least important.
- A particular method of applying the ABC method assigns "A" to tasks to be done within a day, "B" a week, and "C" a month.
- To prioritize a daily task list, one either records the tasks in the order of highest priority, or assigns them a number after they are listed ("1" for highest priority, "2" for second highest priority, etc.) which indicates in which order to execute the tasks. The latter method is generally faster, allowing the tasks to be recorded more quickly.
- Another way of prioritizing compulsory tasks (group A) is to put the most unpleasant one first. When it’s done, the rest of the list feels easier. Groups B and C can benefit from the same idea, but instead of doing the first task (which is the most unpleasant) right away, it gives motivation to do other tasks from the list to avoid the first one.
- A completely different approach which argues against prioritising altogether was put forward by British author Mark Forster in his book "Do It Tomorrow and Other Secrets of Time Management". This is based on the idea of operating "closed" to-do lists, instead of the traditional "open" to-do list. He argues that the traditional never-ending to-do lists virtually guarantees that some of your work will be left undone. This approach advocates getting all your work done, every day, and if you are unable to achieve it helps you diagnose where you are going wrong and what needs to change.
Various writers have stressed potential difficulties with to-do lists such as the following:
- Management of the list can take over from implementing it. This could be caused by procrastination by prolonging the planning activity. This is akin to analysis paralysis. As with any activity, there's a point of diminishing returns.
- Some level of detail must be taken for granted for a task system to work. Rather than put "clean the kitchen", "clean the bedroom", and "clean the bathroom", it is more efficient to put "housekeeping" and save time spent writing and reduce the system's administrative load (each task entered into the system generates a cost in time and effort to manage it, aside from the execution of the task). The risk of consolidating tasks, however, is that "housekeeping" in this example may prove overwhelming or nebulously defined, which will either increase the risk of procrastination, or a mismanaged project.
- Listing routine tasks wastes time. If you are in the habit of brushing your teeth every day, then there is no reason to put it down on the task list. The same goes for getting out of bed, fixing meals, etc. If you need to track routine tasks, then a standard list or chart may be useful, to avoid the procedure of manually listing these items over and over.
- To remain flexible, a task system must allow for disaster. A company must be ready for a disaster. Even if it is a small disaster, if no one made time for this situation, it can metastasize, potentially causing damage to the company.
- To avoid getting stuck in a wasteful pattern, the task system should also include regular (monthly, semi-annual, and annual) planning and system-evaluation sessions, to weed out inefficiencies and ensure the user is headed in the direction he or she truly desires.
- If some time is not regularly spent on achieving long-range goals, the individual may get stuck in a perpetual holding pattern on short-term plans, like staying at a particular job much longer than originally planned.
Many software products for time management support multiple users. They allow the person to give tasks to other users and use the software for communication.
Modern task list applications may have built-in task hierarchy (tasks are composed of subtasks which again may contain subtasks), may support multiple methods of filtering and ordering the list of tasks, and may allow one to associate arbitrarily long notes for each task.
In contrast to the concept of allowing the person to use multiple filtering methods, at least one software product additionally contains a mode where the software will attempt to dynamically determine the best tasks for any given moment.
Time management systems
Time management systems often include a time clock or web-based application used to track an employee’s work hours. Time management systems give employers insights into their workforce, allowing them to see, plan and manage employees' time. Doing so allows employers to control labor costs and increase productivity. A time management system automates processes, which eliminates paper work and tedious tasks.
GTD (Getting Things Done)
GTD Getting Things Done was created by David Allen and the basic idea behind this method is to finish all the small tasks immediately and a big task is to be divided into smaller tasks to start completing now. The reasoning behind this is to avoid the information overload or "brain freeze" which is likely to occur when there are hundreds of tasks. The thrust of GTD is to encourage the user to get their tasks and ideas out and on paper and organized as quickly as possible so they're easy to manage and see.
Francesco Cirillo's "Pomodoro Technique" was originally conceived in the late 1980s and gradually refined until it was later defined in 1992. The technique is the namesake of a pomodoro (Italian for tomato) shaped kitchen timer initially used by Cirillo during his time at university. The "Pomodoro" is described as the fundamental metric of time within the technique and is traditionally defined as being 30 minutes long, consisting of 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break time. Cirillo also recommends a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes after every four Pomodoros. Through experimentation involving various work groups and mentoring activities, Cirillo determined the "ideal Pomodoro" to be 20–35 minutes long.
Elimination of non-priorities
Time management also covers how to eliminate tasks that do not provide value to the individual or organization.
According to Sandberg, task lists "aren't the key to productivity [that] they're cracked up to be". He reports an estimated "30% of listers spend more time managing their lists than [they do] completing what's on them".
Hendrickson asserts that rigid adherence to task lists can create a "tyranny of the to-do list" that forces one to "waste time on unimportant activities".
Learning is considered to be an activity of stress free notifying of an exposure received with mindfulness. Any form of stress is considered to be deblitative for learning and life, even if adaptability could be acquired (eustress) its effects are damaging. But stress is an unavoidable part of daily life and Reinhold Niebuhr suggests to face it, as if having "the serenity to accept the things one cannot change and having the courage to change the things one can."
Part of setting priorities and goals is the emotion "worry," and its function is to ignore the present to fixate on a future that never arrives, which leads to the fruitless expense of one's time and energy. It is an unnecessary cost or a false aspect that can interfere with plans due to human factors. The Eisenhower Method is a strategy used to compete worry and dull-imperative tasks. Worry as stress, is a reaction to a set of environmental factors; understanding this is not a part of the person gives the person possibilities to manage them. Athletes under a coach call this management as "putting the game face."
Change is hard and daily life patterns are the most deeply ingrained habits of all. To eliminate non-priorities in study time it is suggested to divide the tasks, capture the moments, review task handling method, postpone unimportant tasks (understood by its current relevancy and sense of urgency reflects wants of the person rather than importance), control life balance (rest, sleep, leisure), and cheat leisure and non productive time (hearing audio taping of lectures, going through presentations of lectures when in queue, etc).
Certain unnecessary factors that affect time management are habits, lack of task definition (lack of clarity), over-protectiveness of the work, guilt of not meeting objectives and subsequent avoidance of present tasks, defining tasks with high expectations than their worth (over-qualifying), focusing on matters that have a positive outlook by appearance without vigilance of its input to personal needs, tasks that require support and time, sectional interests and conflicts, etc. A habituated systematic process becomes a device that the person can use with ownership for effective time management.
- Action item
- African time
- Attention management
- Calendaring software
- Flow (psychology)
- Gantt chart
- Goal setting
- Interruption science
- Maestro concept
- Opportunity cost
- Professional organizing
- Prospective memory
- Time and attendance
- Time perception
- Time to completion
- Time value of money
- Work activity management
- Workforce management
- Workforce modeling