Time Management

Gravel, rocks, sand and water.  What do those items have to do with managing your time? And what is time management all about?  Here’s a crash course, with just enough information and three important Time Management methods, for you to start creating your own strategy for better handling your 2,400 minute work week.

Lifestyles are becoming increasingly hectic.  Lean business design, and the flattening of organizations, have led to new levels of complexity in the workplace.  Because of these factors, effectively running on what never seems to be enough time, has become a “make or break” activity for people across all segments of life, including athletes, executives, line workers, soldiers, students, politicians, and parents.

Method #1

Decades ago, an idea was presented by President Dwight D. Eisenhower which became commonly known as the Eisenhower Method.  This practice began with a memorable statement from our 34thPresident:  “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 Method, tasks are evaluated and designated into four categories as follows: delegated; dropped; completed personally and immediately; or completed personally and with a deadline.

Method #2

Later, in his book entitled First Things First, Steven Covey introduced a concept similar to the Eisenhower Model.  Covey’s approach is widely used today, and is best explained through a hands on demonstration using a container in which is first placed gravel, then rocks, then sand, and finally water.  The grid below is depictive of the theory, without the mess:

Covey diagram

Similar to The Eisenhower Method, tasks are assigned a quadrant where they are most appropriately executed.  Covey has included a deeper analysis of how to effectively distribute your time based upon the quadrants.  For example, the recommendation of many time management experts is to spend 45% of your time attending to the tasks relegated to the upper left-hand box labelled “Important/Urgent”.  Additionally, 35 % of your time should be focused on the upper right-hand box labelled “Important/Low Urgency”.  What now remains is 20% of your daily 1,440 minutes to be spent on the bottom quadrants.  15% should be spent working on the lower left hand box, or the “Not Important/Urgent” items.  The final 5% of your time could now be devoted to the remaining tasks, which have already been recognized as neither important nor urgent.  Eisenhower, always every bit the general, grouped matters such as trivia, pleasant activities and time wasters into this box, and followed with the ruling that these tasks be abandoned.

The next step after learning Time Management theory and understanding the box approach, is to decide more specifically what tasks and occurrences are comprising your day, and then placing those tasks into the appropriate quadrant.  In brief, the list below combines recommendations from several theories, including Covey’s and Eisenhower’s:

GRAVEL—crises, deadlines, problems, some meetings

ROCKS—planning, thinking, relationship building, recreation

SAND—visitors, mail, telephone calls, meetings, interruptions

WATER—trivia, pleasant activities, “escape” activities, chat rooms


Method #3

Finally, another expert in the field is Dr. Jon Warner, who has advanced a list of competencies associated with time management skills.  Dr. Warner, in the following quote, describes our 1,440 minutes per day as if it were money in the bank:  “Every night, our “time bank” writes off as lost whatever we have failed to invest in a good purpose. It carries no balance forward and allows no overdrafts. Each new day, it opens a new account with us, and each night it burns the record for the day.  If we fail to use the day’s deposit, the loss is all ours. There is no going back, no drawing against tomorrow. We must live in the present—on today’s deposit. Invest in it to get the utmost in health, happiness, education, and service, and anything else that is valuable to you”.

Warner has identified and developed seven competencies in his Time Management Effectiveness Profile.  The Profile scores an individual on each level of skill, in each competency, and from there one can create a personal action plan aimed at improving the areas that have been determined to be challenging. Using the assessment findings and the tools provided in The Profile, the individual now has the ability to collectively and generally improve his or her time management practices and results.  Below are the seven Warner competencies:

  1. Organizational Ability
  2. Predisposition/Temperament
  3. Managing Interruptions
  4. Delegating
  5. Preparation
  6. Stress Management
  7. Results Orientation

What happens when you more effectively manage your time?  The benefits include higher productivity at work, decreased levels of work-related stress, the ability to focus on a deeper level, and the discovery of new (and often more efficient) ways to approach your profession.  Companies that implement time management training have also discovered deeper levels of innovation as well as increased employee engagement, which is a critical element in today’s business environment.  Superb time management skills are essential for today’s executives.

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