Effective time management – how to design your time

As management consultants we talk to our clients a lot about how they can best manage their time. One of the stumbling blocks when it comes to time management is the assumption that it is simply a way of organising a set workload into manageable chunks. This is to miss a fundamental strategy of effective time management and that’s analysing where our time goes and why.

An article I read recently by Thomas Davies of Google, made me think about how we talk about time. Davies proposes that managers need to shift their mindset away from the notion of managing their time to designing their time. Let me explain what he means.

Breaking time into Quadrants

In a previous article on the HGKC blog, we looked at how to use Covey’s Matrix as a tool for time management. Covey proposed that all workday time can be broken up into four distinct quadrants. What Davies suggests is to define your own quadrants.

By making a list of all your day to day tasks, recent meetings and projects, one off and ad hoc tasks you can categorise them into one of four areas that you pre-define. A ‘transactional’ quadrant is useful here as a catch all for one off tasks like reviewing emails or dealing with issues from team members.

Once you have your list of tasks you can think about designing your four quadrants and then organising your tasks accordingly. By ascribing value to each task, you will quickly be able to see what quadrants take up most of your valuable time.

Another thing that Davies suggests is picking a quadrant or two that contain work you enjoy doing. For some, this could be face to face interactions such as meeting with clients whilst for others it might be putting on the headphones and producing a proposal or important design. The point is not what it is, rather that you enjoy doing it. By ensuring that you set aside time for tasks in this quadrant you are able regularly to do things you like, which will keep you engaged throughout the week and better able to deal with the more mundane or thankless tasks in your workload.

The Importance of Monkey Management

Key to making this quadrant based model of effective time management is prioritising the work that makes the greatest impact and that means learning to say no to the work that doesn’t. Of course there is always going to be work that you feel doesn’t have a great impact but is necessary to complete anyway, because of compliance reasons or because it has been passed down to you from your manager.

We’ve talked about these distinctions in a previous blog post on monkey management. In that article I explained how time can be divided into boss-imposed, system-imposed and self-imposed time. Whilst the former two categories are difficult to influence, self-imposed time is something you do have direct control over.

Self-imposed time is further split between discretionary and subordinate-imposed work and it’s in this latter category that you can make significant time savings.

Practicing good monkey management will allow you to identify and assign your staff’s problems (or monkeys) appropriately without taking them on yourself. Not only will this help those around you become more self sufficient, it allows you to claw back valuable time lost, so you to spend more time on tasks that are more beneficial to the company or enjoyable to you (ideally both).

Check out the link to the monkey management blog post above for some great tips and tricks on this.

Remembering to Recharge the Batteries

When we think about effective time management we should remember that time is qualitative as well as quantitative. What I mean by this is that an hour spent working on a Tuesday morning might be, on average, more productive than an hour spent working on a Friday afternoon. In other words, productivity is a variable. More to the point it is a variable that can be influenced.

I’ve already alluded to the importance of spending time doing the work you enjoy to help energise you. Even if the most enjoyable tasks take up a small proportion of your working week, make sure they are a regular occurrence. Not only do they help recharge your batteries, they act as incentives that will give you something to look forward to and break up your week.

Davies talks in his article of a ‘fifth quadrant’, which is his family, and I think this is a pertinent point to end on. Your brain isn’t a machine you can just switch on and off. It needs rest and stimulation outside of work, so making sure you and take lunch breaks every day and go home on time is important to maintaining that work tool in your head. You will work fewer hours by sticking to these rules, but you’ll find that the time you do spend in work is significantly more productive if you do.

For more information and tips from on how to make better use of your time, and various other ‘pinch points’ your business will experience as it grows, download our comprehensive whitepaper today or contact us.


Author Peter Quintana