Time management Is about gaining control of your life

Effective time management is about increasing your personal efficiency in achieving goals. The benefits are not only personal from a reduced stress level. It means your business will be more efficiently run. It’s about gaining control and making sure that you are not tyrannised by a series of apparently urgent tasks. It’s about giving the right proportion of your time to planning for the future as well as day-to-day tasks.

Time management involves honing two business skills in particular – organising and prioritising - by developing a set of techniques that ensure you have clear, uninterrupted time to concentrate ON the business.

Good time management is one of those critical management skills that can make a huge difference to both how you feel about your work and how effectively you do it. Today we’ll look at how to better manage that critical resource, time. In the process we’ll cover:

  • The consequences of managing time poorly
  • The effect of stress on people and their work quality
  • Techniques for improving your time management skills

Consequences of poor time management

Poor time management can make the workplace a much tougher place than it needs to be. Just consider the issues on the slide. You are likely to have experienced most of them at some time and are probably experiencing them currently if you’ve decided to come to a time management seminar!

  • Working nights and weekends
  • Struggling to meet deadlines
  • Not enough time to relax
  • Not enough time to plan
  • Feel bamboozled by new technology that you need to understand
  • Meetings finish late and without the desired results
  • Face frequent crises
  • Suffer from constant stress and/or physical fatigue

Poor time management means having little control over your environment. You feel at the mercy of one unpredictable event after another. This is highly stressful. Good time management means prioritising and systemising

The time management solution is to get ahead of the game by prioritising your tasks according to importance and systemising your routines for dealing with them. You can then pace yourself because you can better predict periods of high workload and can set aside time to relax and recover. It means you:

  • Can achieve more in less time
  • Suffer less stress
  • Have more physical energy
  • Can give more time to family/ friends/ leisure activities
  • Have clearer personal and professional goals
  • Have more control over your life
  • Have a more skilled and independent workforce
  • Be more confident in setting objectives


Time management gives you more control over the demands on you and your workforce. People who are overstressed work less effectively, as do people under too little stress as the results of the study shown on the slide illustrate. Managing time helps you manage stress. It helps you stay in the zone of maximum productivity.

Time management is a way of protecting your health and the health of your employees. People who suffer excessive and unrelieved stress over a prolonged period (say five to ten years) are liable to suffer burnout or a complete breakdown.

Time management allows you to avoid this nightmare scenario by helping ensure that workloads are kept to realistic levels and that periods of very high workload are matched by periods of lower workload.

Time management techniques

Let’s consider in turn some of the common time management techniques and what we can do to implement them effectively. We’ll cover:

  • Classifying your tasks
  • Setting and achieving objectives
  • Brainstorming
  • Avoiding being a procrastinator
  • Delegation of tasks
  • Planning to suit your body rhythms
Technique 1: Classify tasks

Time management starts with getting the big picture clear by understanding the relative importance of each task to the overall success of your business and then allocating the appropriate proportion of your time to each.

Many advisors classify tasks by Type and recommend typical percentages of time to spend on them:

  • Type 1 tasks are the really important ones for good business management such as project planning, making contacts with potential clients, and carrying out business development. You need to be quite proactive about getting these done. They might need up to 60% of your time.
  • Type 2 tasks cover current ongoing projects and such things as organising and holding meetings, dealing with incoming calls, and taking reactive action to developing situations. These need up to 25%.
  • Type 3 tasks include the routine or maintenance tasks that keep your business running smoothly - for example updating databases, dealing with accounts, or writing reports. These should not use more than 15%.

Sadly many managers let type 2 and type 3 tasks dominate their working week. It’s easy to let them take up 60 per cent of your time. But this is a stressful way to work and it can also lead to poor business strategy. Big decisions get rushed through without enough time to figure out all the consequences. New business opportunities can be overlooked.

Technique 2: Set achievable objectives

The first stage in getting a task done involves setting the final objective. There is a large danger here of setting objectives that no amount of planning or work can achieve – unrealistic objectives. The trick is to set objectives using what is referred to as SMART criteria.

A SMART objective is one that is:

Specific: unless goals are specific, it’s very hard to develop strategies and set timelines.

Measurable: if a goal is measurable, you can track your progress and take remedial measures if necessary.

Attainable: if you set goals that are not attainable, both you and your employees are likely to become exhausted and demoralised trying to achieve them. Deciding what is, and is not, attainable requires you to closely analyse your business, your market and your resources. This is a good thing to do in any case.

Realistic: a goal is realistic if you believe it is attainable. This comes back to the principle of knowledge. Analyse your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (S.W.O.T.). The task demands a decision to establish how realistic a goal is. Even when a goal is realistic it can be more or less easy to achieve. Goals that are easy to achieve won’t require you to ask yourself questions about the efficiency of your business or stretch your imagination. A goal that is difficult, though still realistic, is the sort that will have you working at your best to achieve it.

Time-bound: setting a time makes your goal more readily measurable. Setting a time also requires you to set out realistic stages and deadlines. Time becomes a way to measure the success of your business.

Monitoring progress toward the goal

Having goals, even SMART goals, is a waste of time if you don’t then actually track your progress towards those goals in some way. Otherwise, how are you going to know if you are on track or if circumstances have changed that require a change in the strategy for getting there? One common method for planning what needs to happen to get to a goal, what resources are necessary to throw into the effort, and for tracking progress, is the Gantt chart. This is a project planning tool that can be used to represent the timing of tasks required to complete a project. Because Gantt charts are simple to understand and easy to construct, they are used by most project managers for all but the most complex projects. Simple Gantt charts can be done in Excel, or a free tool such as Canva.

Gantt charts can be as simple or detailed as necessary for the job as long as they show your major commitments. And they can extend over any period. A year-out plan can be quite useful. It will show the long-term patterns of your business at a glance.

It can include not only external tasks you need to do, such as year-end accounting, but also your business projects, such as a stock take period. This sort of chart will allow you to judge what periods of the year will have a heavy workload.

Remember to include a break period

The annual chart can help ensure that you set time aside for breaks. This is essential for your long-term health. Even a break combined with business is worthwhile.

Say you are an automotive paint manufacturer. You have scheduled a week in Germany, where you have some existing clients. You decide that you should also use the trip to spend a couple of days in Italy, where you see some opportunities for business development.

You can tell from your chart that there is a gap of two weeks before the heavy workload begins. You decide that you could slot in some time off to indulge your interest in Italian food and red wine and explore some of the non-automotive paint on show in Italian galleries.

Note that you will never be able to take a holiday at a time when nothing is happening in your firm. But taking holidays is a good exercise in delegation. And it will test how well your business systems hold up in your absence.

Technique 3: Brainstorming

Planning and objective setting do not need to be solitary activities. In fact, it can be more time-effective to do some planning as a group activity, that is, by brainstorming.

You can use brainstorming as the first stage in setting an objective. Brainstorming means getting a group of people together in a room to throw ideas around. One person notes the ideas down in a loose way, on a whiteboard for example.

  • Don't overlook the obvious - the obvious solution is sometimes the best
  • All ideas are good ideas
  • Make sure each idea is complete - don't use one-word descriptions to avoid misunderstanding
  • Don't fear repetitions – later discussion of the duplicate ideas may trigger different responses
  • Record and display each idea
  • Go for quantity, not quality
  • Be creative - think outside the box
  • Suspend judgment
  • Don't stop and discuss or edit ideas
  • Keep the momentum going

It’s easy to capture all ideas simply by listing or clustering them around a box that represents the central idea.

Organising the brainstorming ideas

The key to brainstorming is that all ideas are acceptable. This means you can end up with a lot of ideas that need some organising to make sense and decide priorities.

Edit down the results of the session by classifying them into broad categories. What your categories are will depend on what the aim of the brainstorming session was.

At this stage, you can also give some thought to individual ideas and remove those that simply aren’t feasible. Be ruthlessly critical at this point and consider which ideas you can use to form worthwhile plans and objectives. And when you have decided which to go forward with remember to put them into a project framework like the Gantt chart we mentioned previously so you can track progress.

Technique 4: Overcome procrastination

There’s one advantage to doing business in a reactive way – you’re never short of things to do! In fact, you may often have two or three urgent issues that demand immediate action.

If you manage your time well you should have fewer crises to deal with, but you may encounter a problem of another type. When you are not driven by external pressures it can be difficult to take that first step and just sit down to get started.

Procrastination is a major time-waster in business. If you find you rate highly on procrastination, there is a bright side. You can gain a big increase in your productivity by making some simple changes to your behaviour.

This lists some of the major causes that ALLOW us to procrastinate. Clear up these and we’ve gone a long way to beating the problem. Some of these we’ve already covered and some are pretty straightforward, such as keeping the workplace tidy and manageable.

  • Don’t recognise self-defeating problems such as; fear and anxiety, difficulty in concentrating, poor time management skills, indecisiveness and perfectionism
  • Lack of discipline to use time wisely by setting priorities
  • Time isn’t organised around your body's rhythm
  • Lack the motivation to apply yourself to a task
  • Can’t set realistic goals
  • Work in a non-conducive environment; noisy, poorly lit, too comfortable
  • Don’t have the necessary equipment at hand
  • Waste time going back and forth to get things

Let’s look at just two other important aspects here – organising your tasks and overcoming perfectionism.

Organise your tasks

Sometimes we put things off simply because they are unpleasant. Organising your tasks means setting yourself a set of goals.

The simplest approach is to make a rough master list of tasks at the beginning of every day. You can then make any required changes to your diary or personal organiser.

When you make your master list you might prefer to jot your tasks down as a list so that you can cross them off as you complete them. You might also like to jot down tasks in a template like Important and urgent, Important but not urgent, not important but urgent, Not important and not urgent.

It will help you to make sure you do your tasks when they need to be done.

Set timelines for the tasks

‘A’ tasks are urgent, which means they need to be completed by close of business that day. Set aside sufficient time for them in your diary. 

Set aside time to complete ‘C’ tasks by COB. But, as these tasks are not important, ask yourself if you are the only one who can do them. Delegate them if possible.

You need to set a time for completing the ‘B’ tasks but that can be in the next week or month, depending on the task. Don’t make deadlines unrealistic or too tight. There’s no point working under unnecessary pressure.

As ‘D’ tasks are neither important nor urgent, ask yourself if you need to do them at all. You might be using ‘D’ tasks as a way to keep yourself busy during quiet times.

You can now use quiet times for planning instead. So if you can either trash or delegate a lot of ‘D’ and some ‘C’ tasks, you have freed up a lot of your time for more productive use.

Note that the A-D tasks don’t correspond with the 1-3 grouping of tasks, which depends more on whether tasks are proactive or reactive. This template just gives you a different perspective and can help you fill in daily and weekly plans in your diary or organiser.

Deal with it!

Another way to save time by reducing the opportunity for procrastination is to limit the number of times you handle a document. When you read something:

  • Take immediate action, or
  • File the document and schedule it for future action, or
  • Pass it on, delegating it, or
  • Throw it out

Consider having an employee filter your reading material, but make sure you set clear standards. They will be able to send a lot of material straight to the trash can or pass it on to someone delegated to handle it.

Getting perfectionism Into perspective

Perfectionism can be another excuse for procrastinating. ‘Perfectionism’ is the behaviour of keeping on striving for an extreme degree of excellence that is never achieved. A perfectionist is always very critical of his or her work and is never satisfied with it or praises it.

Everyone takes pride in doing important things well. But what do you gain by doing unimportant things perfectly? What would it profit you, for example, to have the most neatly arranged sock drawer in your street?

You can save time by setting standards according to the business requirements of a task, rather than according to personal preference. For example, you would need to apply the highest standards to a poster or publication, which is put out by your company. A single typographical error in a phone number or address could cost you thousands of dollars.

On the other hand, a typo in a routine business letter to a supplier is embarrassing, but not a disaster. You don’t need to apply the same scrutiny to a document that won’t be published. A mistake in an email is no big deal and is easily corrected.

Not all jobs need to be completed to the highest standard and doing the minor ones perfectly provides the perfect reason for not getting on with the important ones.

Focus on what’s most important

Not being a perfectionist has consequences in many areas. You don’t need to focus on all tasks with the same level of intensity.

For example, it’s not necessary to read all documents with the same level of concentration. You often don’t have to read a document closely unless you need to take immediate action on it.

You can skim-read, or speed-read, most documents, decide what parts of them you need to focus on or set aside a time to give them close attention. You may find you don’t need to read a document at all.

Skim-reading does not mean rushing or trying to read faster. It means learning to let your eyes scan documents and check for main points.

You can do a course or buy a book on skim-reading.

Technique 4: Learning to delegate


Avoiding perfectionism will make it easier for you to save time by delegating tasks to your employees. Delegation works if you do it properly:

  • Objectively assess the quality required in a task
  • Clearly communicate standards and benchmarks to the person you delegate to
  • Get feedback from the employees to make sure they’ve understood
  • Remember you’ve given the employee the right to make decisions and show initiative
  • Retain overall responsibility for the project
  • Monitor the employee’s progress and offer help if needed, but don’t crowd them
  • Give employees feedback and be constructive and generous in your assessment
Technique 5: Planning to suit your body rhythms

When you fill out your daily planner, consider your physical limits. After my stroke (2007) it took me over a decade to discover the benefits of a 30-minute brain rest after lunch. This seemingly insignificant change doubled my brain's useful time each day.

Set aside enough time to prepare for meetings, but also set aside time after a meeting to recover, clear your mind and refocus.

Most people can only concentrate intensely for a maximum of 45 minutes. So when you feel your mind starting to wander, go with it. Stand up, stretch and take a walk, even if only to the other side of your office.

You might do some Type 3 tasks for 10 minutes and then work for another intense period of 45 minutes.

Avoid staying glued to your desk and you will have less chance of developing fatigue-related problems such as RSI.

Are you a morning person or an evening person? Some of us are very energetic from 10 to 12 am but then have trouble keeping our eyes open from 2:30 to 3:30 pm.

When you fill in your planner, schedule your Type 1 tasks for your peak times, when you can concentrate best. Schedule your routine, Type 3 tasks, for that after-lunch trough.

Don’t be tempted to fight your body rhythms by giving yourself short-term boosts of energy with sweet food or caffeine. This will give you a brief boost of energy, but it will be followed by an energy trough that is deeper than the one you were in to start with.


Good time management can help you:

  • Achieve more
  • Control stress
  • Reach and enjoy goals