Saturday, 5 May 2012

Time management

Time management is something that began to worry me about a year ago – I wrote about it here. At the time, I felt I was doing well with it so far, but I was about to take on extra work due to a colleague leaving; that, and the general busy nature of my workplace, made me begin to think about whether I needed to improve. Working in a small campus library, my tasks and responsibilities cover a wide range of areas, from subject liaison to line management (and a bit of acquisitions and serials in the middle!), and so it’s really important for me to organise my workload well to ensure that I stay on top of everything, when I am moving between so many different things – particularly when we are doing a lot of project work for our eventual closure and move to the main campus. I am worried about losing or forgetting things, and can identify a few occasions over the past year where I’ve not been happy with my time management. My line manager doesn’t think I have a problem, but at my insistence, improving my time management is appraisal objective for me, as well as one of the objectives on my Chartership PPDP, so when an internal time management course was offered for staff at my institution, I took the opportunity to attend. 

I usually like to write really positive reflections on courses that I attend, but this one unfortunately didn’t tell me that much that I didn’t know already! I was hoping not just for tips on time management, but for some ideas about tools we could use; I have tried Nirvana but didn’t get on with it, so was hoping for some more ideas – but when I asked the course presenter about these tools, she looked blank. She had never heard of Nirvana and knew of no others, and suggested that Outlook calendar is a good tool to use, but that there was no need to use technology if we didn’t find it useful. I agree that we shouldn’t use online tools for the sake of it, if they don’t work for us, but I expected someone teaching a course on time management to at least be aware of them! 

There is one way in which the course has been quite useful, and that is in helping me to think about how to prioritise my work and create a more effective to-do list. I was already using my Outlook calendar to block out time, add reminders to myself, and plan my work in order to meet deadlines, as well as written to-do lists, but I was aware that I wasn’t always reflecting priority in these. The trainer introduced us to a matrix from The seven habits of highly effective people, in we considered what of our work was important and urgent (i.e. the stuff that needs to be done right now), urgent but not important (i.e. something which someone asks you to do urgently, which may be important to them but not to you), important but not urgent (i.e. the long-term stuff: strategic planning, training and CPD, admin etc.), and neither important nor urgent (so why are you doing this work?) (Covey, 1989). The trainer pointed out that if we don’t spend time on the important but not urgent stuff, it will eventually become important and urgent, potentially causing us stress and pressure and not being done as well as it could be. This is something that I realised I needed to work on; I tended to plan the important and urgent work well, but not pay so much attention to the important but not urgent tasks. I often put some of them into my Outlook calendar, but if they were pushed aside by something urgent/important (or something urgent/not important), I tended not to reschedule them. Since attending the course, I have spent  more time considering the important/non-urgent work that I do, making sure I schedule it in, and re-scheduling for another time soon i.e. the next day it if it absolutely has to be put aside for something urgent. The trainer pointed out that we need to consider the impact on our workload when asked to take on a non-important urgent task, but this is something at which I was quite good already – I am comfortable telling someone if I can’t do the thing they’re asking me to do straightaway, and giving them a time or date by which I will able to do it. As well as considering my long-term workload in a more effective way, this matrix has also helped me to write my to-do lists in priority order, based on thinking about my tasks in terms of these four boxes.  

I am going to share this useful aspect of the course with colleagues when I help to run a staff development session on time management soon.

A couple of weeks ago I had this year’s performance development review (appraisal), and discussed my reflections on the occasions where my time management had not been so good, and my desire to keep it as an objective, with my line manager, who did not share my concerns. When we looked at feedback from colleagues, it was interesting to see that most of them had said that I was very organised, with one of them even picking out a project as an example of this, which I had picked out as an example of my poor time management! I am now starting to wonder whether my time management is actually much better than I believe it to be. Even so, I think I would like to continue to work on improving my time management skills, in particular my ability to prioritise well and to devote some time to the long-term aspects of my work, as hopefully this will help me to feel calmer and more in control of things; even if all appears fine to my colleagues, and is in fact fine, I sometimes feel flustered or like I’m about to forget something important!

I’d love to hear your time management tips; have you found any tools which really work for you? And does anyone else worry about their time management?