When it comes to the world of soft skills development, a very popular training topic is time management tools. Clients who are looking to improve their productivity, life balance and goal attainment recognise that effective time management is important for all of these. However, going on a generic time management skills training may not be the answer because the real trick is actually understanding what the barriers to your time management are.
People may not realise that, actually, there are a whole number of processes at play when it comes to getting things done. In order to implement the correct time management tools, you must first understand what your obstacles are. This blog will outline some of the different time management challenges that you may be facing so that you can be more targeted in choosing a solution that works for you.
Workload – A question that can be conveniently ignored in the field of time management is ‘is your workload feasible?’ It’s all very well wanting people to develop their time management strategies but this is irrelevant if the workload is unrealistic. Managers and leaders must ask if the workload is fair and reasonable for their teams. If not, no amount of time management training will work in the long term. In the short term, they may be able to squeeze more productivity out of their people, but this will ultimately lead to burnout and even toxic cultures of over working.
Understandably, employers may be reluctant to address this question for fears of having to scale back the organisation’s activities or fork out the costs of hiring more staff. However, when you recognise that over working people has its own long term costs (financially and reputationally) then changing strategy becomes a no brainer.
If your time management challenge is an unmanageable workload then your solution is having constructive conversations with your workplace to explore staffing options, task allocation, turnover times and outputs.
Unclear goals and expectations – This directly impacts on your workload. For example, if you are not sure what the parameters of a task are then you may spend longer researching, second guessing and maybe communicating back and forth with team members which means that tasks take longer to do. You also have the added problem of miscommunication leading to errors and work needing to be repeated or edited.
Ensuring that everyone on the team understands the task helps people to find a state of flow and make the best of the time they have available to them. If you find that you are unsure of your tasks and expectations then you and your team may benefit from communication skills, coaching and assertiveness training to ensure that everyone is able to make clear requests and clarify when needed.
Prioritisation – Keeping a to do list is effective, but what is even more critical to effective time management is knowing which tasks on the list are the most important. This may be recognising which items have the biggest impact, contribute to the teams goals or even which ones are important to your sense of self and wellbeing. If you find that you ‘never get around’ to the tasks that you want, or are continually spinning plates then you may benefit from tools which help you to identify your priorities.
Estimating time – Having an accurate sense of how long your tasks will take you allows you to plan your day effectively. People who underestimate the size and scale of tasks will often find themselves running out of time and therefore things stack up, leading to moments of panic or some tasks falling by the wayside. If you find it hard to estimate how long tasks will take you then some coaching or training in reflective practice and evaluation may help to build up your self awareness and accuracy.
Scheduling – This is about being able to plan out a sensible flow of tasks and to, quite literally, manage your time effectively. Scheduling brings together the logistical skill of utilising a diary or a planner, as well as the more emotionally intelligent skill of being self aware. Knowing when you are most productive, when interruptions might occur and being able to plan tasks around the general flow of your team helps you make the most of your day. For example, if you know that your workplace has regular customer inquiries in the afternoon, you may schedule your biggest tasks in the morning when it is quiet. If you find yourself going ‘off plan’ regularly, or don’t even have a plan for your to do list then training in different scheduling tools may help you to structure your day better.
A common conversation that comes up with clients is; ‘I have a schedule / plan but I can’t seem to get it done.’ This is where the skills of self regulation come in. Logistically planning out your tasks is only one part of the time management puzzle. Actually, it takes a lot of self awareness to be able to implement whatever plan you have in place:
Energy levels and flows – Human beings are not consistent, however we are patterned. It is very normal and natural to have different levels of energy across different parts of a day a week, month or even year (winter slow down, anyone?) When planning out your time, it’s important to use your knowledge of self and your own energy levels to your advantage. Do you know when you do your best work? Do you know when you’re likely to be more distracted? Are there periods in the week or month where you naturally take a dip, and therefore might schedule more menial tasks? One size does not fit all when it comes to scheduling tasks so you may benefit from a 1:1 discussion to help you identify your energy patterns for more mindful planning.
Motivation – Motivation is your willingness to actually sit down and do whatever task you set yourself. Although this links to energy flows, there’s a little bit more to it. Motivation has cognitive aspects – how much you value the task, the way you talk to yourself, the way you envision the outcome and your motivational style. You can be motivated because you want something good to happen, or because you’re avoiding a bad outcome. Understanding your own motivational style, in general, as well as in relation to a specific task is an important skill for helping you to commit and implement the tasks that you’ve set yourself. Do you know what your motivational style is and how to change your self talk patterns?
Procrastination – This is the opposite of motivation: when you put off a task that you’ve committed to. People procrastinate for a whole number of different reasons and, again, one size does not fit all when trying to overcome procrastination. An important self regulation skill is being able to recognise why you are procrastinating, how, and to be able to change your thought processes, environment, and commitment to the task. Have you reflected on your procrastination habits? If you would like some support in understanding and overcoming your own procrastination then you can download a free workbook on the resources section of the website.
Managing your environment – Some people may argue that your environment shouldn’t come under self regulation. However, it’s been placed here because you have a lot more control over your environment than you give yourself credit for. Choosing the way you set out your workspace, how you interact with technology and how you set boundaries with other people can make a massive difference to your ability to get into a state of flow. Are you taking control of your environment so that you’re able to work effectively, or do you allow your environment to dictate your day?
This aspect of time management is less talked about in whole group workshops and training sessions and would likely be the focus of one to one coaching. You can have a healthy workload, plan out your schedule and get yourself motivated, but a final barrier may well be the very personal and individual thought processes that you bring to your own approach to tasks.
Assertiveness and boundaries – This links back around to your workload. People who find it difficult to be assertive or set healthy boundaries may find that they take on far more tasks than is reasonable. We can all think of examples of ‘people pleasers’ who put so much on their plate that it becomes impossible for them to manage their time. Do you take on more than you need to in order to be liked or be seen as competent? If so, you may have an underlying insecurity, which, if worked through will allow you to have a more healthy relationship with your to do list.
Perfectionism – Spending longer than is necessary on tasks because of a desire for everything to be perfect can really eat away at your day. There’s a big difference between being competent and being a perfectionist. Sometimes it’s okay to say to yourself, ‘this is good enough’ because you know there are other important things also waiting for your attention. Do you get anxious about making mistakes and spend long periods of time checking, editing or over doing work? If perfectionism is slowing you down, then you may benefit from coaching which allows you to explore and overcome those insecurities and gain more time back in your day.
Social comparisons – When we compare ourselves to others it can trigger insecurities in a whole range of ways that impact our time. We may alter our behaviour in order to emulate others, or to compete with them or to prove ourselves better than them for fear of others not liking us. You may feel that you have to do tasks in a particular way, or work on them at a particular time because that is the group norm – even though it doesn’t work for you. Social comparisons may affect your decision making and task management and so be slowing you down. If you find yourself comparing to others frequently, you may benefit from support in recognising your unique patterns, strengths and style, which should be appreciated and used to your advantage.
After exploring this list, you may find that some of these barriers and obstacles have jumped out at you. This is really important because being aware of which of these barriers is affecting you or your team is key to choosing a time management strategy that will actually make a difference. It’s no use booking a workshop on prioritisation if your real problem is a culture of perfectionism. Learning to get motivated is irrelevant if the workload is unmanageable. This is why self awareness is a critical skill in all forms of leadership. Once you are aware of what the real issue is, you can implement an effective strategy for overcoming it rather than a one size fits all approach which may be a waste of time and resources.
If you are looking to improve time management skills in yourself or your team, The Self Leadership Initiative takes a bespoke approach which addresses the root of the issue. Why not book a consultation to discuss the time management skills you need to succeed.