James ends his working day with over 30 unanswered emails in his mailbox. His agenda is filled with back-to-back meetings and he plays catch-up daily by answering emails during evening hours. Carla feels overwhelmed: there is constantly more on her desk than she can manage and she feels stuck in reaction mode – is she prioritising effectively? Carla feels tired. She has little time to step back and zoom out from her overcrowded to-do list. Paul has postponed lunch with old friends for more than two months – and feels frustrated because tomorrow he will unlikely make the lunch he re-re-rescheduled.
Why is time management important?
The following are my thoughts and summary of the many conversations I have had over the years on the benefits and rewards of effective time management.
1. Clear priorities lead to clear sense of direction
If we manage our time, we regularly ask ourselves: out of these 5, 10 or 15 tasks, which one is my number 1 priority? Prioritising involves deciding what comes first and stopping dealing with tasks ‘as they come’ or ‘as they are due’. It involves regularly mapping out all of our tasks and ranking them in order of importance or urgency. In James’s case, prioritising allows him to no longer feel anxious about unanswered emails; those emails are unanswered because they can wait. In Paul’s case, if lunch is not a priority, the frustration fades; poor planning around his priorities led to rescheduling multiple times, but by setting his priorities clearly, Paul can replan realistically. When we spell out and rank our priorities, our time management becomes priority-led. Time is allocated purposefully and we experience a clear sense of direction.
2. We benefit from quality time at work and in our personal lives
Successful and effective time management is measured by the quality we create in our work and in our personal lives. James’s evenings will look very different if they are flooded with tens of emails to answer, as opposed to ONE email he decides is important to answer. When we focus on our priorities and set aside interferences, our focus is higher and we produce better quality work. We enjoy what we do. Important and urgent matters are ranked according to our personal prioritisation. Some important matters are not necessarily urgent (for example, blocking time in our agenda each weekend to plan the coming week), but are the ones that mainly contribute to our personal and professional development. Healthy boundaries are in place, and stay in place, when our prioritisation system resonates deeply and feels right for us.
3. By delegating effectively, we create opportunities
Could Carla assign certain repetitive tasks to a more junior team member or create synergies in her team to reduce in-team duplication? Could James delegate actions in connection to, let’s say, 20% of the emails he receives daily?
Delegating is putting in place a system whereby we assign some of our tasks to someone else, with different degrees of involvement from our side. The different degree of involvement/supervision is where the potential to generate additional time for doing more important things for us lies. On the contrary, and if we fall into poor delegation, excessive involvement increases our stress level and makes us flip back to us doing the thing – micromanaging. Micromanagement creates a lose-lose type of delegation because we keep getting closely involved; we don’t truly make more time and the party who assumes the responsibility doesn’t really have a chance to perform it. Delegating effectively is creating opportunities for us as the delegator and for the person tasked with taking care of the matter we delegate. It has the potential to build working relationships, develop experience at both ends and fine tune our very personal criteria for deciding WHEN it’s good to delegate.
4. We develop a stronger sense of purpose and meaning
Let’s take Paul’s example. If Paul highly values maintaining meaningful relationships with his friends, he can make a choice to prioritise lunch and social events and nurture that connection. He has prioritised people over things. Paul attends that lunch with a sense of purpose. He is not distracted by phone calls or emails to answer. When we regularly remind ourselves of our priorities, we ultimately remind ourselves of our values. These values give a sense of meaning to our actions and fill our time with a sense of purpose.
5. We make space for creativity
Carla feels tired and unable to zoom out, step back and listen to herself. Her return on enjoyment and personal development is low. Prioritising creativity is challenging. But it’s mostly by creating space in our days and by feeling that we have time to extend our thinking that we can come up with new ideas and allow our creative minds to wonder and expand. Creativity comes in the form of new solutions to old problems, reframing of existing paradigms and willingness to explore, or truly start, something new. When our time management works, we are able to accommodate unplanned time – and that’s where creativity begins.
6. Working smarter, not harder. We make better decisions
James, Carla and Paul are all working hard. Their working days are full-on and demanding. However, when we manage our time and do not simply respond to work demands, we work smarter, not harder. We don’t zigzag around obstacles and juggle continuous requests that make us feel depleted at the end of the day. We plan how much time we want or need to devote to what is important, urgent and needs taking care of. It takes a good understanding of our prioritisation system (and hence our values) to say a confident ‘no’ and feel comfortable and unapologetic about it. We prune out the unnecessary. We make better decisions when we are focused and we make better decisions for ourselves when we improve time management at work – and this includes what we prioritise.
7. We reduce stress and improve our health
Does Carla have any time to exercise and re-energise? Is John using his time wisely and managing his health? Stress is high when we perceive that we don’t have the resources to cope with a matter or a problem. So why is time management important? One of these resources, alongside know-how, is time. We can reduce unnecessary stress (and often associated sleep deprivation) by working on our time management. When we feel we are in control of our time and have buffers here and there for the unexpected, our stress level decreases significantly. When we effectively manage our time, we make time to manage our health. Our general wellbeing and health increase. Good time management has created a positive health cycle.
There are some solid reasons why time management is important in the workplace. For successful strategies on how to manage time, please see “Time management coaching for lawyers: 5 successful strategies to get done what you what to get done”