Friday, August 21, 2009

Characteristics of Effective Time Managers

In his book Time Is Money, Ross Webber identifies seven core behaviors that are characteristic of effective time managers (ETMs).

First, effective time managers project themselves into the future. They transcend present events and look into the future to anticipate tasks. They contemplate their weekly and monthly calendars. They identify upcoming events and plan ahead. They also avoid being ambushed by unforeseen events by anticipating deadlines and assessing potential crises that could arise.

ETMs have the capacity to convert the unique or exception into the routine. They examine the flow of events on the job to detect predictable crises that can be anticipated. They then implement standing policies and procedures to deal with conflicts before they appear. The U.S. Navy is a good example of this. Responses to predictable emergencies that might arise are rehearsed and practiced to convert the emergency into the routine. Similarly, businesses can create predictable responses to such things as the loss of a major customer, a plant accident, a product failure, or the usual rush to close out accounts at the end of each month or quarter.

The ability to anticipate is key to effective time management. Unfortunately, many managers view unplanned tasks as if they are unique crises. When events are handled as unique, priorities are not differentiated, crisis predominates and a great deal of time is consumed in reactive responses.

The second trait of effective time managers is their ability to generate personal cues, momentum and artificial deadlines to govern their actions.

People who believe they have little control over their lives tend to look for external events to energize them. They want clear cues signaling when they should begin a difficult task. Such people may delay starting a diet until an appropriate time, like a Monday, or the first of the month, or after Christmas. They abdicate control over their life to chance.

Effective time managers have the courage to confront the difficult and unpleasant early. Instead of procrastinating, ETMs plunge into undesirable projects first. They develop momentum by beginning with some easy, programmed steps that lead to the accomplishment of the task. They seldom accept other people’s deadlines, creating artificial deadlines that are earlier. The self-imposed deadlines put them in control and create enough leeway to allow them to relax before the actual due date.

ETMs know when to say “no” or ignore certain cues they receive from others.

At an insurance company where I once worked the CEO was notorious for asking “what if” questions. With each query scores of his minions rushed off to collect data on his what if scenarios. After spending hundreds of man-hours researching the answer to his questions, they’d present their findings only to discover he was no longer interested in the answer. My staff was spared countless hours of wasted effort by NOT responding to the CEO’s requests unless he asked for something twice.

Developing tactics for selectively ignoring certain cues and determining what doesn’t have to be done is crucial to effective time management.

Saying “no” also extends to telling a superior when time demands are excessive or deadlines are impossible to meet. It includes assertively identifying which tasks are essential to getting the work done and which are administrivia. Large amounts of time are consumed in the workplace because managers are too passive to ignore demands that interfere with performance. For example, many people sit in hundreds of non-productive meetings simply because they feel helpless to say “no” to the norms or traditions of the company. Although some organizations do demand substantial conformity, most people are bound by ineffective chains they themselves forged.

Effective time managers know how important it is to withdraw and hide periodically. Most people actually do have spare time in their work lives. Unfortunately, the biggest problem with discretionary time is that it’s chopped up. They can’t get anything done because they’re interrupted every few minutes.

Progress on tough projects requires time periods long enough for concentration. The minimum usable time span required by most people to focus on complex issues is one to two hours. Anything less requires too many transitions. ETMs find ways to isolate themselves so they can work through tough issues.

After being interrupted several times while working on an important project, I installed a traffic signal on my door. A green light meant it was okay to enter my office for any reason. A yellow light signaled that the interrupter should pause before entering and think through how important their issue was before interrupting my work. When the red light was on I was not to be disturbed unless the building was on fire or some other dire emergency.

ETMs also find a “creative” location where they can consolidate chunks of uninterrupted time to relax and think more deeply about organizational problems and other important issues.

Most ETMs have learned the value of rewarding themselves for progress on their work. Note that effective time managers reward themselves for progress, not for effort or intention. All large, complex projects have smaller parts that can be celebrated as they are accomplished. Small rewards, like a coffee break or even an afternoon off, are justified if they mark significant progress on a lengthy project.

Effective time managers also know not to expect perfection. Perfectionists are especially prone to procrastination. Such people want to do things exactly right, so they delay working on the task until they are fully prepared. Most managerial tasks don’t lend themselves to perfect solutions. Thus managers need to be able to tolerate some uncertainty about how well the task has to be performed and be willing to enter into the task without a perfectly mapped-out plan of attack.

Finally, effective time managers confront ambiguity regularly. ETMs don’t allow themselves to get caught up in the inexhaustible supply of present details. They enthusiastically attack the ambiguities of the future. Because the future has the nasty habit of being unpredictable, managers need time to read and think, not just about their jobs, but about a wide variety of topics. Just as we never know where the next problem will come from, we can almost never predict where the next solution will come from. Consequently, ETMs relax the intensity of their work on present problems so they can focus more on future responsibilities. They value today less and tomorrow more.


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  2. I believe that effective time management is the biggest challenge for everyone. We are facing lot of distractions everytime, To minimize everyday distractions, carefully allocating time is must to complete our priority to-do items.

    We have to use time management tool for better time management. Personally, I have been using Replicon software, it has helped me to save a lot of time as I can track the time taken for the tasks at work and plan the tasks effectively.

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