A workshop on time management and decision-making skills
author runs a workshop for the Directors of child and youth care
programmes in Cape Town.
1. Time management
Ten key factors in personal time management
1. Personal time management starts with an understanding of the Value of time. Too many of us think of time as a free resource. It is not. A rough way to cost your time is to take your gross annual income, double it and then divide the result by 1760 - that's roughly and conservatively what your cost per hour is to your organisation. (Excluding the value of board and/or lodging). If your gross income is R10 000, your cost per hour is R11.36 - almost 20 cents a minute.
2. Personal time management is inextricably related to the overall management system. How well a manager manages has a very marked impact on how effectively he employs his time asset. When he employs an orderly and systematic approach to his work, he will find that he automatically makes better use of his time simply because he is applying managerial logic to his efforts.
3. Personal time management calls for a recognition of the fact that today's manager does not have enough time to cope effectively with all of the work that he could do. Time demands are growing at a faster pace than is time availability. This introduces the necessity to allocate time on a priority basis to the work of greatest short and/or longer-term importance. This is work primacy - a recognition of the fact that all work is not of equal importance and a manager must stratify his work in terms of its urgency, importance and impact upon the efforts of others.
4. Personal time management recognises the need to allocate some of the manager's work to non-working hours. A manager cannot fulfil his responsibilities in a normal eight hour day. It is necessary to encroach upon the manager's personal time in order to complete his work. Recognition of this fact may not be a particularly happy thought to some managers - but it is a realistic thought.
5. Personal time management can be enhanced substantially by the practice of delegating. Delegation of decision making authority lets the manager get work done through others. This means that delegation increases the manager's available time, provided, of course, that he is a confident manager who is willing to let others get on with their work and not be overly concerned with (or involved in) the work methods of his subordinates. Instead his attentions should be focused on the results achieved by his subordinates. In this context, delegation becomes a personal time multiplier.
6. Personal time management calls for an understanding of the need for the manager to work at developing his subordinates. Capable subordinates can do more and better work than incapable subordinates and the difference between the two usually is directly related to the effort the subordinate's manager has made to develop his people. And, of course, to the degree that subordinates are capable and confident, they will require less managerial attention to accomplish the same amount of work - leaving the manager with more time to do other tasks.
7. Personal time management is based on self-discipline. Effective time management means that the manager frequently must avoid the temptation of doing what he wants to do and instead, doing what needs doing. Sometimes this may be distasteful, but it is a necessity if time is to be effectively applied according to what needs to be done and not just what it is that the manager wants to do (and there can be a significant difference).
8. Personal time management can be most effective when the entire organisation recognises the value of time conservation. Peers, subordinates and bosses can be wanton and extravagant squanderers of other people's time and their own as well. This can be anathema to the person who values his time, but is forced to work with people who have far less understanding of the value of their time or of his own. These intruders can frustrate the efforts of others to shepherd their time wisely - usually by such bad habits as indiscriminately calling meetings, dropping in, failing to recognise the difference between "individual" and "group" work and similar factors.
9. Personal time management, to a larger degree than generally recognised, is influenced by the organisational structure within which the manager operates. Structure can have a marked impact on time utilisation and the two major determinants are span of control and depth of control. If a manager has too many people reporting to him (this is span of control) he will be overly immersed in time-consuming, man-manager relationships. If the structure has too many levels (this is depth of control) communications are frustrated and this will result in the manager's having to allocate more time than is normal simply to be aware of what is going on above and below his level. Either way, he's in a time trap.
10. Personal time management works best when the manager periodically reviews his use of time and looks for bad habits that should be eliminated. We all cultivate bad time-oriented work habits, and this usually occurs without our even being aware of it. For this reason, the really capable manager periodically reviews his work habits and makes a personal appraisal to ensure that he really is utilising his time as effectively as he wants to. In making such a personal appraisal, we frequently overlook one of the easiest and most effective methods of determining how well we are using our time: asking our colleagues, bosses and subordinates to tell us — frankly — just how well they feel that we are employing our time. Remember Murphy's Second Law: Everything takes longer than you think it will.
Questions to answer
Do you know how much one hour of your time is worth?
Do you really know how you spend your time?
Have you delegated all the tasks you can?
Do you schedule your daily tasks and activities?
Do you get too much involved in details?
Do you carry a notebook with you at all times?
Do you know when to say "no"?
Ten guides to increasing personal productivity
1. Periods of prime effectiveness. We are all more effective at certain times of the day and on certain days of the week. It is Time Management and Decision-Making important that we identify our own peak effectiveness periods and use these times for that work which is most demanding, rather than attacking our work on an "as it happens" basis.
2. Grouping like work together. Most of us jump from one type of work to another - necessitating a mental change of gears with each jump. We should group like work together into predetermined time patterns which relate to either work priority or individual periods of effectiveness.
What about interruptions? Obviously they cannot be entirely avoided, but they can be subject to far greater control. If an organisation creates an atmosphere of time management, the unplanned interruptions will diminish because others who cause such interruptions will be managing their time as well.
3. Manage your meetings. Many meetings are time wasters, simultaneously wasting the time of many people because they are mismanaged.
The first question to ask is, "is it necessary to have this meeting?" Some tasks/decisions are best handled by individuals.
Meetings need control:
Set agendas, distribute them in advance and then stick to them and avoid letting meetings become simply Bull Sessions that have no productive bearing upon the business.
Set time limits for meeting duration and don't overstep them.
Any meeting needs not only a leader in title but also a leader in fact.
4. Keep a "project" up your sleeve. No matter how well a manager may attempt to structure his time, he will still be susceptible to unplanned changes which will alter his schedule, e.g. being kept waiting at appointments. Have things to do at such times.
5. Delegation. Delegation of decision making authority (plus the concurrent assignment of work) is an outstanding way of increasing managerial effectiveness because it ensures that work is accomplished (and decisions are made) at the organisational level where people are paid to do such work and to make such decisions. When this is not the case, decisions are made (and work is undertaken) above the level that is appropriate and this results in a pushing upward of essential work. The obvious result, because there is a ceiling at the top of any organisational structure, is an overflow of work at the top level (the principal) much of it work which logically, from a time and cost standpoint, should be handled by individuals further down in the structure.
A common cry is "I have no one to whom to delegate!" — a cry heard often in human service organisations, including children's homes, which often do not have established middle managements. But is this really so? Can some of the decisions taken (and work done) by the principal not be more appropriately and effectively undertaken by the secretary, the child care workers, the social worker, the housekeeper, the handyman?
6. Establish priorities of work importance. All work has a relative value. Managers should assess the relative value of their work and place their time and effort resources behind that work which is of greatest importance. Most of us simply work on everything, more for the sake of work completion than for personal work orientated productivity. We should ask ourselves the question: What would happen if this particular job was not done?
7. Make your secretary time conscious. Your secretary can help guard you against needless trespassers on your office time.
8. Request written reports on routine matters. We can read and comprehend words much faster than anyone can say them to us, and we can also read reports at our own convenience.
9. Do not procrastinate. When an answer to a report, letter or memo is necessary, try to reply to it at once while your mind is zeroed in on the matter. This obviates having to go back to it later on and become mentally reinstated to the situation.
10. Try a change of pace. Many of us find long, time-consuming tasks difficult. Try a change of pace, switching from a highly difficult to an easier task for a few minutes; get up and do some exercise; meditate. We all have one resource that is more precious than any other: our time. It is our only non-recurring asset. We can re-use all other resources; but the time we fail to use today (or fail to use effectively today) never recurs.
In order to ensure that we do use our time as effectively as possible we need first to assess how effectively we are using our time now. Then, and based on such an assessment, we can determine how we should best employ our time.
The decision-making process frequently brings out the worst in many managers. Some managers just won't make decisions. They prefer to wait until the circumstances surrounding the needed decision align themselves in such a way that the decision becomes so patently obvious that it virtually makes itself; or, worse still, they develop into a crisis, resulting in crisis management and decisions made only in times of crisis. In other cases, we get the shoot-from-the-hip type of manager who preaches that any decision is better than no decision". Perhaps the biggest problems in the area of decision-making are:
the impression that the making of decisions is easy and hence managers seldom do the amount of thinking that they should about the whole decision making process;
the feeling that managers are not allowed to make mistakes. The manager who never makes a mistake, never makes (or does) anything.
Questions to answer
Do you always make difficult decisions expeditiously? or, do you tend to procrastinate and hope that the decision will make itself?
Are you willing to be held accountable for the decisions you make? or do you inwardly look for means of avoiding the accountability phase of decision-making?
Do you make your decisions and forget them - at least to the point of not fretting over them? or do you make the decision and then "re-live it" for several days after it has been made? Can you make a tough decision and then, within practical means, forget it? Do you accept the fact that managers are supposed to make tough decisions and that's one of the things they get paid to do?
Do you make your more critical decisions in a systematic manner, starting with the planned acquisition of information surrounding the decision to be made? or are you a conclusion-jumper? Are you a shoot-from-the-hip expert who never really sees the target and settles for just firing in the general direction of the target?
Do you believe that a wrong decision is preferable to no decision? or do you really recognise the critical importance of correctness in managerial decision making and take the effort to make certain that your decisions are as correct as you can make them?
Steps to take
Clearly determine the subject of the decision.
Get all the relevant facts.
Analyse the facts.
Redefine the subject (to make certain, after getting and analysing the facts, that it is what you originally thought it was).
Establish all the logical alternatives (the decision choices).
Select the most appropriate choice of alternatives.
Sense possible reactions to the decision (and decide, in advance, how to counter any negative reactions).
Make the decision.
Establish an action (implementation) plan.
Implement the decision.
Follow it up with whatever action is necessary to assess its correctness.
Impediments to managerial decision-making
Lack of information of both a quantitative and qualitative nature.
Lack of a clear definition of the key problem.
Lack of knowledge concerning exactly who (the manager or someone else) has the delegated authority to take decision-making action.
Fear of what could be a poor decision and resultant negative consequences.
Lack of personal objectivity both in definition of the problem and in making the decision, and a resultant difficulty in making a decision that is free of predetermined prejudices and past experiences.
Lack of personal sense of urgency and decision-making priority.
Lack of past recognition and (where warranted) reward for prior decisions.
Lack of past follow-up (by the next level of management) on prior decision making action.
Lack of confidence in subordinates' ability to implement decisions after they are made.
Lack of willingness (and managerial guts) to take a decision-making risk.
Lack of time which is specifically set aside to think through and then to make decisions.
Decision-making and problem-solving
We must avoid making decisions about what we might think the problem is instead of what it really is. We must also be concerned about making corrective types of decisions that relate to the cause of the problem and not simply to the problem itself.
Before starting the decision-making process, it is useful to go through the following steps:
Step 1 - What is the apparent problem?
Step 2 - What is the real problem?
Step 3 - What is the cause?
Step 4 - What are all of the decisions I could make to correct the cause?
Step 5 - What is the best decision?
Suggestions for decision-making
Distinguish big from little problems. Apply time on the really important matters but give little things less attention or, if possible, assign them to others who more than likely are closer to the lesser problems anyway, and hence can be expected to deal with them more effectively.
Rely on policy procedures to settle routine recurring kinds of problems. Don't waste time making the same decisions over and over again. Set up the mechanisms for handling them in a repetitive, recurring manner.
Delegate all the decisions that you can, particularly those concerning the little things. Among other obvious pi us factors, this will give subordinates experience in decision-making - something that too many subordinates never get.
Consult and check. Use the thinking power of others. It is a sign of strength, not of weakness, not to know all the answers. Relying on others for information and analyses is also a wonderful morale and confidence-building factor. Use it.
Get into a relaxed frame of mind. Try not to make decisions under stress. Take enough time to decide on the basis of all the available facts. On the other hand, concentrate on the decision at hand and exclude other things for the moment.
Avoid crisis decisions. Dashing about putting out fires is the mark of the managerial amateur. Don't get into spots where you have to make more than the normal number of spur-of-the-moment decisions.
Don't even try to anticipate all the results of your decisions. It can't be done. There are too many ramifications to any really critical decision. Try to foresee the major effects (only) of decisions, but don't try to foresee every minor effect.
Don't expect to be right all the time. (And
don't expect your subordinates to be, either).
Don't be afraid of failure. Fear of failure is one of the biggest causes of managerial stress, a hindrance to effective and timely decision-making and a positive method of preventing the development of subordinates.
Cultivate decisiveness. Indecision and procrastination are a direct cause of tension.
Try to have alternative solutions up your sleeve if conditions surrounding decisions change during the analysis stage or a solution number one doesn't work out.
When you've made the decision forget it. Mulling over past decisions invites ulcers - for you and for your subordinates.
Keep the time factor uppermost in mind. This is especially important in decisions concerning children.
Author's Note: The ideas presented in this workshop were taken from articles and handouts acquired at a variety of seminars and workshops which I have attended, and none of which are referenced.