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Time Management is a Personal Problem...
And it’s not one that your work cares about.
What? Of course my employer cares about how efficient I am!
Well maybe – but it depends on your job. With ‘information jobs’ and so on (by which I more or less mean anything not utterly mechanical) the thing your employer cares about is you getting the job done. They don’t care how many hours into your weekend you work, just that the report is done by the following Monday.
So who has the problem? Not your employer – the deadline is fixed and you have to hit it… which means the efficiency and productivity are your problem, a lifestyle or work/life balance problem, not your employer’s problem. Perhaps that’s why most employers don’t give decent time management training to their staff….?!
Okay, I’m overstating the case and making a lot of assumptions – for the sake of making a point – but I think the overall issue is valid: we tend to assume that time management issues belong to the organisation but in real life a lot of them simply have more impact upon our personal lives.
Once we realise this, it makes a huge difference to how we approach trying to be efficient and effective.
This is an important distinction that is glossed over by a lot of Time Management training. Efficiency has to do with doing things in a way which has the least ‘friction’. In other words, whatever you’re doing is done with the minimum amount of effort. Most of the posts on this very website fall into this category because they look at things like how to sync your files more quickly and easily etc.
On the other hand, effectiveness is a measure of the impact of your work. It largely subsumes efficiency but also includes a whole bunch of other questions, such as whether you’re doing the right things in the first place. In the example I’ve just given the key efficiency questions would be things like:
- Should I be synching files in the first place; and
- Which files do I need to make a priority?
As soon as I put it like this, it’s obvious that these questions come before questions of efficiency.
So why is it a problem?
The problem is that these are much more difficult questions to help people with. Doing it generically (like I’m trying to do here!) can often sound horribly trite (sorry!) and doing it for individuals is time-consuming and challenging. You end up asking them questions such as, “Why are you doing that?” quite a lot and people often find that to be critical.
As an aside, if you ever find yourself doing that, I recommend that you make a big show of differentiating criticism of the person and criticism of their workflow! It’s not as easy to do that as it sounds, believe me!
What’s to be done?
At risk of sounding over-simplistic and trite (see above) the solution is simple…
Start with just one workflow, one process. If you try to bite off more than you can chew you’ll fail and hate me
- Look at everything you do and if you’ve not got a flow chart of that workflow, draw one
- For every decision point in the flowchart, ask yourself, with you honesty dialled right up, if the amount of effort you put into it is worthwhile and if there’s not something in the workflow that could better use the resources you put into that branch of the flowchart.
- Print out the flowchart – it’s easier to work on it this way.
- Allow for the fact that some branches of a flow chart almost never get followed (do you need to spend all that time down them then?)
- Be ruthless and make notes on your flowchart – red pen is useful (seriously!)
- Adjust your workflow according to the new principles.
Of course, this is only a practise run. You’ve done it for one workflow but that’s not the real problem… the real effectiveness questions lie in looking at how workflows compete between them! Take a deep breath and take a long, hard look at yourself, asking all the time… “could I make this more efficient” and “could I be more effective”.
This is a philosophical question with a hard application. That means you can’t tackle it in a “over a coffee at Starbucks” soft of way! Nor can you take it simply with a paper-based exercise.
Featured photo credit: Tired businessman sleeping on a laptop via Shutterstock
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