Top Ten Tips on...

Time Management

17 January 2022
Effective Top Tens - Podcast
Quick, practical tips on a wide range of management and personal development themes.
Tips to help you deal with key issues such as interruptions, emails, overload, deadlines, and opportunity costs

you'll like these tips if you're interested in...


stop blaming time

'Time Management' is actually a misperception: we can't manage time - it reliably looks after itself - 24/7/365. It's an equal opportunities provider - everyone on the planet gets the same allowance. The difference is - what each of us does with that allowance. We 'manage time' only in the sense that we have to decide what to do with it. So really it's about managing our priorities, rather than managing time.


consider opportunity costs

Consider that you have 3 tasks you could do in the next hour (one of which might be reading this, or listening to the podcast!). Let's call them tasks A, B and C. Suppose you decide to do A: then the opportunity cost of doing A is not taking the opportunity to do B or C. Doing tasks B and C presumably contribute some value - to you and/or your family or organisation - so you are foregoing this value by doing A. So the opportunity cost of doing A is what you miss out on by not doing B or C. So really, you'd better do A (if it's your choice) only if it provides more value than would be the case if you did B or C....You can only spend time once, so be careful where you invest it..


see interruptions as service enquiries

Do you get interrupted most days? Are 'interruptions' pretty much a given? And do you get frustrated by them? If so, here are two key tips: firstly, put the heading 'interruptions' on your to do list - otherwise you are spending time on an activity that never appears on your list - so you can't account for it. Secondly, many of these 'interruptions' may be part of your job role - people are coming to you for information or advice - so interruptions are really 'service enquiries'. Thinking of them in this way may make you feel more comfortable about them...


the brick, splash & bucket

If you feel overloaded, it could be due to one of 3 factors, each of which requires a strategy

  • do you get given additional 'bricks' to put into your already full bucket?
  • if so, do you have to manage the 'splash' that results from accepting the additional brick?
  • or do you accept the brick and avoid the splash by building a bigger bucket?


challenge the 'T'

I often hear people say: "It didn't work". 'Challenge the T' means remove the 't' in 'it'. As a result, the line will now say "I didn't work (at it)". This makes sure you take ownership for anything that doesn't work that's down to you. In the same way, we tend to blame time: it's a convenient scapegoat - it can't answer back. So we can get away with saying: "I meant to do it, but didn't have the time". So try instead: "I meant to do it, but it wasn't enough of a priority" - less blame, more ownership, of time...


urgent & important

They are not the same thing. Urgent means there is an imminent time deadline; important means there is a significant cost if you don't do it. If you tend to prioritise by urgent, then what if so-called 'important' never becomes urgent..?


the three laws of urgency

Following on from the previous point: if you prioritise by urgent -

  • everything you do will be urgent
  • some important will happen too late
  • some important will never happen at all (because it never becomes 'urgent')


delete urgent & asap

We know that 'urgent' means there is an imminent time deadline. So if that's true, surely we can give the person that specific information - eg "can I please have this before 2pm this afternoon?" rather than 'please let me have it, it's urgent..." Not only is giving sensible information more courteous and less oppressive, it also is more likely to ensure compliance. If someone returns to their desk with 6 post its, all asking for something 'urgently', it's a lottery as to which gets attended to first. If they all had the deadlines as information, the receiver is much more likely to do their best to meet them in order, as best they can...


separate deadlines from durations

A deadline tells you when something has to be completed by - but it doesn't say anything about how long the task should take. So two people could hit the same deadline, but the work quality would be different because of the time spent on completing the task. And, generally speaking, quality improves with the time invested. So letting people know how long the task should take - the duration - might produce a better result than simply giving a deadline...


use sensible email headers

The email header should reflect the content of the email - for two reasons. Firstly, a busy person with lots of incoming emails might simply be able to scan the headers, to decide which to open now and which to hold till later. And secondly, if the reader wants to find the email that (for example) had details of the Shawcross Application Grant, they can find it more easily if the header says 'Shawcross Application Grant'...!

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