Time management: how do you plan your time?

Time management

We are slowly heading towards the middle of the year. Soon we will be at the half-way point. What were your goals in the last six months? What have you achieved? What was left undone? What absolutely must be done before the summer holidays? What are your goals for the next six months? Do such questions make you feel uneasy? Do they even trigger stress?
Many of us live hectic day-to-day lives. One deadline follows hot on the heels of another, and time seems to fly by. What can be done to counteract this? How can you successfully plan your time to ensure you have time for everything?
In this article we will look at time management. Even Goethe recognised how important good time management can be:

«People can achieve incredible things if they plan their time and know how to use it well.»
- J.W. von Goethe -

What is time management?

Time management has already been defined by many different authors, who sometimes include more aspects in the definition, and sometimes fewer. Essentially, it means the optimum use of the time available, both professionally and personally. So it’s a question of planning, coordinating and implementing forthcoming tasks and deadlines as best you can. In brief: if you try to use your time in the best way possible in order to achieve the desired results, then you are practising time management. Every single one of us has the same amount of time. Every day has 24 hours and nobody can change this. So we can’t manage our absolute time, but only the activities within certain periods of time. How you plan, coordinate and implement your activities is personal to you. Tools such as to-do lists are often associated with time management. Such tools can help us to plan time so that we can use it efficiently.
When you talk about time management, it is also important to pay a certain amount of attention to self-management. As the term implies, this means managing your own self. Self-management involves planning and organising your own life to use your own abilities and knowledge in the best way possible. One self-management technique is setting goals, and as time management means using our time efficiently to reach our goals, self-management can be seen as a sort of foundation for good time management. But now back to time management.

What will good time management do for me?

A review study from 2007 showed that there is a positive correlation between time management behaviours and job satisfaction. This means that you are happier in your job when you plan your time at work in the best possible way and then use it in the best possible way. A positive correlation between perceived control of time and health was also found. What’s more, time management is negatively associated with stress. No effect on performance was found in this review, but another review had heterogeneous findings (both positive and negative outcomes, or no correlations). Yet another review likewise established the benefits of time management. Consequently, time management is associated with a stronger sense of purpose, higher self-esteem, optimism and better health. People who have good time-management skills seem to suffer less from psychological stress and experience less fear and hopelessness. Here it should be noted that some of the included studies are already quite old and the study sample size is small. This makes it difficult to summarise the effects.

What’s the point of goals?

What goals do you have in your life? Are they professional, personal, or both? You can probably think of some things you would like to achieve at some point. How do you go about achieving those goals? What efforts do you make?
Goals substantially affect our behaviour. They can motivate us to stay on task and steer the deployment of our skills and abilities. Planning and goal-setting between them form the central component of self- and time management. Research has shown that people with specific goals are not only better at evaluating their performance, but that their performance was actually better.
But, despite setting goals, we do not always achieve them. Have you ever set a goal that you then did not achieve? What could have been the reason for this? Maybe your goal was too unspecific? Was it even your goal, or did someone close to you want you to set this goal for yourself? To raise the probability of achieving a goal, framing your goals using the SMART formula is recommended. You can read about how this works here. What’s more, the SMART formula is a time management technique in its own right.

Time sinks

When we talk about the best possible use of time, it’s also important to know what is preventing us from using our time as efficiently as possible. What distracts you? How do you waste time? Try to watch out for the things that distract you in your daily life.
When at work, many different factors can distract us from our work and result in us always being stressed before deadlines and needing to do overtime. Authors list the following displacement sources that frequently absorb an unnecessary amount of time:

  • Meetings and conferences
  • Superfluous details
  • Visitors
  • Lack of delegation
  • Unnecessary telephone/video calls
  • Failure to set goals
  • Failure to prioritise
  • Indecision
  • Perfectionism
  • Starting too much at the same time
  • Unclear responsibilities
  • Being unable to say «no»
  • Lack of communication or information
  • Frantic activity
  • Lack of control over work advancement

This list is, of course, incomplete. Other things will certainly occur to you (e.g., use of smartphones, reading the news). Several ideas about more efficient uses of work time can be obtained from this list of factors. Which of them are you already familiar with yourself? How do you approach them and how can you change them?

Time management strategies

Now we would like to present two strategies for optimising your time management. As well as these strategies, you can do exercises to help you tackle your time management and improve it. You will find some exercises later on in this article.

The ABC analysis

This analysis will help you to create a clear picture of your is-situation. What’s more, it will above all help you to set priorities. But before you can prioritise anything, you must know what all your forthcoming tasks are. Write down these tasks on paper or in a digital document. When you have created your list, you then need to evaluate them in terms of importance and urgency. Use these three categories:

  • A: A-tasks are important and urgent (approx. 65% of your tasks)
  • B: B-tasks are on average important but not particularly urgent (approx. 20%)
  • C: C-tasks are less important and are mostly details and/or routine (approx. 15%)

What happens after all tasks have been allocated to a category? Your analysis is then transformed into action and you should first complete all your A-tasks. Then it’s time to tackle the B-tasks. If possible, you should delegate your B-tasks to other people. From time to time, check that certain B-tasks haven’t become A-tasks by increasing in urgency. C-tasks should where possible always be done efficiently and within a short time. You should also monitor tasks in case any of them can eventually be downgraded – not all tasks get more urgent or more important as time passes. Using this categorisation / prioritisation, you will recognise which tasks are not so urgent or important. Defer such things for a while without feeling guilty and concentrate on your A-tasks.

The ABC analysis can be used quickly and simply and, if you apply it consistently, it will help you to avoid stress. This method is most suitable for planning a single day. If you would like to plan over the longer term, then the Eisenhower-Matrix is better. It’s also good for using in your daily life.

ALPEN method

Exercises

Time perception

Are you someone who overestimates time, or underestimates it? How do you feel about handling your time? You can find out with a time perception exercise. For this exercise, write down how much time you need for all your activities in a normal week. You should estimate the time and not calculate it exactly. Start in the early morning and estimate how much time you need for getting up, physical hygiene, breakfast etc. How much time do you think you need for each individual activity per week? Don’t forget to write down the hours you spend sleeping too. Time spent travelling to work or to do sport should also be estimated. At the end, add up your hours.

Ready? Great, let’s break it down. There are 168 hours in a week. If you have estimated a lower number, then either you haven’t written down all your activities, or you experience many of them as pleasant. If you have a total of over 168 hours, then maybe you feel stressed.

Time to chill

Are you aware of what you’re doing all day? What activities occupy you? Try to calculate how much time you have left each week for chilling. When you do, remember that activities like shopping, housework, work, sleep, travelling etc. need to be calculated too. What’s left?

Time logs

Create a weekly plan by listing all your activities (both professional and personal) from morning to evening and note down the time you would like to spend on each of them. Put the plan to one side and create a time log for the week you have just planned: write down the activities that you will actually do each day and the time you will need for them. Then you can compare your plan with your time log. What have you established? What is the difference between what you want and reality? Where can you make changes to use your time better?

Weekly planning

Planning the forthcoming week (or day) requires time. However, this is always time well spent, because it saves us a great deal of effort and improves our work outcomes. If you would rather plan today or tomorrow (instead of planning the whole week), then don’t take any longer than 5 to 15 minutes. This should be enough. If you want to plan a whole week, you will need a bit longer. Make sure that you only plan approximately 60 percent of your time, and leave around 40 percent for unforeseen tasks. What would you like to achieve in the coming week? What is realistic? What didn’t get done last week? Set yourself a goal for the week. At the end of the week, you can check to see whether you have achieved your goals. Take stock of how much time you needed and whether this matches your plan. If you didn’t achieve your goal, what could be the reason? What can you change? Now plan next week on the basis of your newly acquired knowledge.

Note that dealing with time (e.g., planning and optimising) is no easy matter. However, with practice you will manage to improve your time management skills.

Conclusion and tips

  • Time management is all about having to make decisions. What tasks are urgent and need to be prioritised? What can wait? What can you delegate? What do you say no to?
  • It’s entirely normal not to achieve as much as you would like on one day or another. Consider this: did you plan too much in such cases? Are your wishes and goals realistic?
  • Time management techniques and exercises will help you to plan and use your time better.
  • Are you a morning person? Or do you concentrate better later in the day? The average biorhythm shows that most people perform best in the late morning. Then there is usually a low after lunch, followed by another intermediate low, then an intermediate high. If you know your own personal performance curve, it’s worth adapting your tasks to it. Plan important and urgent tasks for times when your performance is at its peak.
  • You don’t need to plan tasks or activities for every second of your day. You will sometimes be able to drop tasks and you also should not skip on time for relaxing.
  • Breaks and rewards are just as important for your performance as sitting and working on specific goals. Concentrating for hours at a time is simply impossible, which is why short breaks now and then will boost your productivity. When you have successfully completed a task, you can allow yourself a reward. Planned breaks are part of good time management. Never forget to take a break!

 

 

 

References
Aeon, B., & Aguinis, H. (2017). It’s about time: New perspectives and insights on time management. Academy of management perspectives, 31(4), 309-330. https://doi.org/10.5465/amp.2016.0166
Becker, J. H. (2018). Selbst- und Zeitmanagement. In J. H. Becker, H. Ebert & S. Pastoors (Hrsg.), Praxishandbuch berufliche Schlüsselkompetenzen (pp. 113-124). Springer.
Böttger, M., Weilandt, M., & Braun, O. L. (2019). Zeitmanagement. In O. L. Braun (Eds.), Selbstmanagement und Mentale Stärke im Arbeitsleben (p. 21-36). Springer.
Claessens, B. J., Van Eerde, W., Rutte, C. G., & Roe, R. A. (2007). A review of the time management literature. Personnel review, 36(2), 255-276. https://doi.org/10.1108/00483480710726136
König, C. J., & Kleinmann, M. (2018). Selbst- und Zeitmanagement. Handbuch der Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie (1st ed.). Hogrefe.
Rusch, S. (2019). Stressmanagement (2nd ed.). Springer.
Weisweiler, S., Dirscherl, B., & Braumandl, I. (2013). Zeit- und Selbstmanagement: Ein Trainingsmanual–Module, Methoden, Materialien für Training und Coaching. Arbeitsmaterialien im Web. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-19888-5

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