Time management is about achieving the greatest volume of useful work in a fixed amount of time. There is a particularly important word in the previous sentence which you might have glanced over, can you pick it out? If you chose greatest, you would be incorrect in my opinion – it was useful.
Time management could be considered subjective; what I think is time spent wisely, you could consider a waste of time and visa versa. The obvious question should then be:
How do I accurately select items to spend my time on?
The answer to this simple question rests with a phrase you may or may not have heard: Key Result Areas. A key result area (also known as Key Performance Indicators) describe the main areas of responsibility or accountability of a job. A key result area is not a particular task and they are not really goals; they do however group together tasks which help to achieve a result. An example for a retail manager might be customer relations or leadership while for a software developer it might include software quality or business efficiency.
If you were to relate a key result area to your daily job, they would form your primary roles or responsibilities. From a productivity stand point, if everyone could manage to have a high ratio of key result area tasks to non-key result area tasks; everyone would be incredibly productive. Unfortunately in the real world, this is often not the case which is where the management of your work priorities comes into play. You must find the appropriate balance between key result areas and non-key result areas.
Getting back to the two important points, greatest and useful. Without realising it, your time can be consumed very easily by doing a lot of little tasks. Doing a lot of little tasks isn’t in itself a problem, however if those smaller tasks aren’t contibuting to your key result areas or performance indicators then you’re time isn’t being utilised as efficiently as possible. Fortunately, there are a few simple questions to ask yourself to try and swing it back into the favour of the key result area. Does your current or next task:
- increase revenue or decrease costs?
- increase the quality of the product or service?
- increase the quantity of product produced?
- increase business efficiency or decrease the time?
- increase security or reduce risk?
- increase safety?
If you are answering yes to one or more of the above points, then there is a good chance the task will contribute to your key result areas in some way. If you are not answering yes to any of them, you should probably be asking yourself why you’re completing this task and not a more important one. Of course, there will always be situations where you need to complete non-key performance indicator tasks. This is the exact scenario where your time management skills must come into play and find the appropriate balance of these tasks to achieve the highest performance from your company, staff or yourself.
As a self development exercise, take notice of the type of tasks you are performing and how many of them are being attended to. Make sure you are counting all the tasks, even the ones that you don’t complete – as an incomplete task still competed for your attention and work time. Once you have your list, run each set of tasks through the itemised list above. Out of your list of tasks, how many of them satisfied one or more of the above points? If you completed tasks which didn’t satisfy at least one of the above points – ask yourself why it got your attention.
Time management is about working effectively; achieving the most good in a fixed amount of time. If you’re not primarily working on your key result area tasks, then you aren’t effectively managing your time. What you might find is that you are being efficient, in that you are completing a lot of tasks but they aren’t the tasks that you should be completing. Be mindful of what items are actually getting your attention and work time, you might find that the wheels are turning and you’re not getting anywhere.