Business Information

Time Management - Less Stress, More Efficiency

Effective time management means lowering stress levels and increasing efficiency for both you and your organisation.

It’s about getting control, making sure that you are not tyrannised by a series of urgent tasks. It’s about giving the right proportion of your time to overall planning. Time management involves honing your business skills and using techniques to make sure that you have clear, uninterrupted time to concentrate.

Time Management Factors

Time management takes into account the following factors:

1. General workplace management: How do you manage information, for example? Can you retrieve it easily when you need to? Do you keep too many documents that you’ll never need? Other techniques are more focused. Can you improve your phone skills? Can you handle your email more efficiently?

2. Self-assessment: Are there areas where you procrastinate? Are you a perfectionist, and do you waste time doing minor tasks too well? Do you have difficulty delegating? It also means addressing your assumptions about other people. Are there any false assumptions that make your business decisions less accurate? Are they affecting the efficiency of your relationship management?

3. Communication skills: What can you do to reduce misunderstanding and wasted time in your workplace? What are the best techniques for keeping a meeting on track and productive?

4. Physical stress: Sleep, diet and exercise all affect your ability to work effectively when you need to.

Time management means sorting out the big picture and clarifying your priorities so that you decide when and how you work. It can help give you the balance you want between your work and personal life.

Assess Yourself

There are some time management warning signs:

Do you have more work than time to do it?

Do you have to work at odd hours, missing out on important family occasions or other big events in your personal life?

Do you often scramble to meet deadlines?

Are you often reacting to crises?

Is the structure of your working week determined by external events and other people’s needs and agendas?

Are you unable to get uninterrupted time to think through major issues and big picture items?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you can gain a lot from better time management. Better time management can help you reduce stress, for example. We’re all built to cope with a degree of stress, but problems start to appear if we overload ourselves.

The following list gives some symptoms that may indicate stress overload. Put a tick next to any that you feel apply to you.

  • Poor concentration
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Very high or low sex drive
  • Anxiety
  • Poor stamina
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom
  • Excessive aggression
  • Frequent colds and or viruses
  • Constant tiredness
  • Depression
  • Nightmares
  • Resentful or mistrustful attitude
  • Craving for sweet food
  • Troubles with digestion
  • Chemical dependency

If you have ticked a lot of these symptoms, there’s a good chance you have a stress problem. You can help lower this stress by managing your time better.

Lower Stress, Increase Productivity

The time management goal is to get ahead of the game, so that you can see more demands coming because you have planned for them. Good business planning depends on having clear goals and directions. As a manager, you need to generate the big picture. You need to generate creative ideas and innovations, or at least assess other people’s ideas and decide which ones to ‘borrow’.

Time management experts agree that you ought to spend about 60 percent of your time on the proactive side of your job. This will include carrying out tasks such as project planning, making contacts and carrying out other activities that will develop your business. Let’s call these Type 1 tasks.

Then there are Type 2 tasks, which include activities on projects that are up and running. Organising and holding meetings, dealing with incoming calls and taking reactive action are often Type 2 tasks. Ideally, Type 2 tasks should take up 25 percent of your time.

Finally, there are Type 3 tasks. These are the routine or maintenance tasks that keep your business running smoothly. Type 3 tasks include updating databases, dealing with accounts or writing regular reports. Type 3 tasks should account for the remaining 15 percent of your time.

Many managers find that Type 2 and Type 3 tasks dominate their working week. It’s easy to let them take up 60 percent of your time. However, this is a stressful way to work and it can also lead to poor business strategy. Big decisions can be rushed or half-baked. New business opportunities can be overlooked.

Analyse Your Time Use

The first step towards improving your time management is to assess how you currently use your time. You need to be systematic about this because your general impression may be misleading. So, keep a time log for as long as it takes for you to run through the principle tasks in your role. This may be as long as three months. Note down your tasks as you go through the day. Later, go back and decide whether your activity type was 1, 2 or 3.

The log could look something like the one in the attached file.

At the end of your survey period, add up the number of hours you have spent on each task type. You will then have an accurate idea of the percentage of your time you give to Types 1, 2 and 3.

Cost Your Activities

You can also use the log to assess whether your business is using your time cost-effectively. First, work out the hourly rate your business pays you for your services. To do this, take your annual salary and multiply it by 1.5 (to cover estimated overheads). Then divide this by the number of hours you work each year.

Salary x 1.5

= Hourly Rate

Annual Hours Worked

Suppose you pay yourself $75,000 per year and you work a 50-hour week for 46 weeks of the year. The calculation will then be:

75,000 x 1.5

= $48.91/hr

50 x 46

So, your hourly rate is roughly $49 per hour. Looking at your time log, you might find that you have been spending 50 percent of your time doing Type 3 tasks such as maintaining a database, chasing up delivery issues with your suppliers and making sure that you have enough stock in your warehouse. You could do a similar calculation for one of your team members and establish their hourly rate - at $25 per hour, for example. If you could effectively delegate many of these Type 3 tasks to another team member you would free yourself up to do more important things. Your business would save thousands of dollars a year because it would be paying a lower hourly rate to carry out the tasks.

Set Task Priorities

It’s easy to procrastinate. But putting tasks off until they’re urgent just makes them more unpleasant than they need to be. Time management is about carrying out tasks at the most appropriate time. On any given day you might have, say, ten or twenty things to do. It will help if you divide your tasks into three categories.

1. High priority: High priority tasks are important and need to be carried out immediately - by the end of the day, for example. They will cause serious problems if they are not done on time.

2. Medium priority: These are also important tasks, but the deadline may be in the medium term, or you may be able to set a deadline yourself. Try not to set deadlines that are any tighter than necessary.

3. Low priority: These tasks are neither urgent nor important. Set aside a time to complete them. You may decide that you do not need to do them at all.

Make Written Plans

Planning out your week with a personal organiser can help you allocate time for medium and low priority tasks. Take your pick of a variety of commercially available paper or electronic organisers. Remember to set aside quiet time to think through key issues, ideally well before you have to meet any deadlines. Set aside enough time each day to carry out high priority tasks.

It’s also good to write down a master list of tasks at the beginning of each day. Tick them off as you complete them. If you have planned well, you should be able to spend most of your day carrying out medium priority tasks. This will lower your stress levels and also increase your efficiency. People generally work more efficiently when they can approach tasks calmly and methodically.

Use Charts

Charts can help you map out big projects and work around events that happen at certain times of year. You can use Gantt charts (Henry L. Gantt, 1917) to map out projects. For example, suppose your company needs to produce a publication of some kind. You could use a Gantt chart to keep you on track.

The attached file includes a very generic Gantt chart.

You can also use a chart that has the months of the year across the top, and tasks such as annual reports, tax, and performance reviews listed down the side. Use it to block in tasks and months, so that you can see at a glance when your workload is likely to be heavy.

Delegate

Effective delegation will free you up to concentrate on crucial management tasks that only you can do. It can also increase the skills of your team members and build their confidence and initiative. Good communication skills are essential to delegation. Team members must know precisely what you expect from them. This means you need to not only explain the task, but also get feedback to make sure you’re understood. It’s also important to delegate to workers who are comfortable working autonomously, and not to burden workers who are already loaded with high-priority tasks.

Organise Your Workspace

Little things can be important for time management. For example, you need to bring order to your office so you do not waste time looking for things when you need them. Basic steps to increase efficiency include keeping your desk clear and having a filing system that works well. Files need to be labeled in a way that everyone can immediately understand. Colour-coding files can help.

It’s good to have clear criteria on when and why to throw files out. Keep only files that you will need to look at again. Set aside regular times to file documents and maintain your filing system. This will never be an urgent task, but poor filing can lead to panic if you have trouble finding documents in a high-pressure situation. Encourage your team members to work with you in maintaining a well-ordered work environment.

Discourage Interruptions

The average interruption to a manager lasts only six to nine minutes, according to a study carried out by professional magazine, Industrial Engineer. But managers take anywhere from three to 23 minutes to recover from an interruption. Putting these two figures together and averaging them, you find that the average interruption costs you 20.5 minutes. This means that a short interruption each hour can cut your effective time by a third.

Discouraging interruptions is a key part of time management. Other team members can help filter potential interruptions. Make sure they understand who is generally entitled to interrupt you, who can interrupt you when you are not especially busy and who should not enter your workspace without an appointment.

Run Focused Meetings

Meetings can be very expensive for an organisation. You may have half a dozen people sitting in a room and the hourly rate clock is ticking for all of them. If the meeting is discussing something not relevant to the participants, or if the meeting gets sidetracked, you may find that a meeting is costing you hundreds of dollars an hour, without result.

You can more easily keep a meeting on track if you prepare and circulate an agenda well in advance and even have a word individually with each of the participants, so that everyone is clear about what you expect the meeting to achieve. If the meeting is going to cover a contentious issue, try to cover routine matters earlier in the meeting and build up a pace and momentum. This will make people less likely to think they can linger excessively over one issue.

Keep On Learning!

These are just some introductory points on time management and there are many other issues and techniques to be explored. You can use time management techniques when you read your documents for example, or implement IT systems and software which will make your life easier.

Time management also affects how and when you travel for business and the way you schedule important time off. It is worth it to keep exploring time management because it can increase not only the productivity of your business but also the quality of your personal life.

SOURCE NOTE: Bullseye Business Solutions

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Business Roadmap provides practical business advice for small to medium sized businesses that are trying to overcome problems, or are trying to achieve their vision and full potential. Visit the Business Roadmap website for further information.

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to provide valuable, useful information, Blue Mountains Web Pty Ltd. (trading as Stralia Web), Business Roadmap Pty Ltd. and any related suppliers or associated companies accept no responsibility or any form of liability from reliance upon or use of its contents. Any suggestions should be considered carefully within your own particular circumstances, as they are intended as general information only.

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