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?


  1. Richard Hawkins9 May 2012 at 01:17


    First up, thanks for the post. It made me think a bit more about my own time management behaviour and where I might be able to improve.

    My 'system' involves me using a variety of different tools and techniques, which seem to work OK for me.

    I use Evernote a lot. In particular I use a work schedule list which lists all the different jobs that need to be done on a daily basis (quite menial tasks mostly) and I tick these off as I do them. I find it helps me in the mornings to quickly get started and finish these simple jobs.

    Next I add to the schedule various other projects or jobs that I need to work on and if more detail is required, I create a separate list for this project or job too. That way my work schedule list stays nice and tidy and keeps me focused on what I need to do.

    I suppose I am using these lists to keep me on track and one other thing I frequently do at the end of the day is take a moment to have a think about what I will need to do tomorrow and adjust my work schedule accordingly. I find this to be very useful as it enables me to pick up where I left off more efficiently.

    Of course I use Google calendar and Outlook calendar, which I have synced so I can add events to either and they flow back and forth. I also have this synced with the calendar on my phone too. I find that a quick look at Google calendar at the beginning of the week or day helps me to spot any upcoming meetings or events that I need to prepare and allocate time in my work schedule for.

    It's not perfect but it seems to work ok.

    Keeping track of the more long-term aims is more easy. I just use my memory for that :-)

  2. Hi Rachel - have read your block and attended several Covey seminars and as you i am a big fan of evernote - if your are interested in a huge amount of gathered advice within timemangement I came across this one a few months ago - all the best ken lee

  3. Hi Rachel,

    I enjoyed your post. My workload and responsibilities also increased a few months ago as a result of my manager’s retirement and that made me rethink my approach to time management, or rather, task management. I did, and still do most of my scheduling using Outlook, which I sync with my phone and tablet. On top of that, I used to keep a handwritten task list on a notepad, but when my workload increased this felt totally inadequate and I started the hunt for an electronic task management tool. This was actually quite arduous work! I guess I expected to find lots of tools that would the job (“there’s an app for that” attitude), but in reality most of them did not meet my requirements. In the end, I settled for ‘Remember the milk’ and I have been using it successfully since January. It’s very simple and extremely efficient. It works well with the important/urgent matrix - you can prioritise items as 1,2,3 or no priority. The only downside is that you have to pay an annual fee to get the full functionality.

    If you are interested, I blogged about my task management tool hunt a few months ago:

    I find it really interesting that your colleagues perception of your time management skills was so different from your own. Like you, I still feel that my time/task management could improve, and getting external perspective, helps to keep personal expectations realistic.

  4. Hi Rachel,

    I think this is an issue that is very current in all sectors with the cutting of budgets resulting in the cut of staff. I think we just have to realise that we are human... we can't necessarily get everything done in a certain day and need to prioritise.

    Like you I always have a feeling I've forgotten something but I do use the task bar in outlook and usually end up having an alarm every 30 minutes to make sure I actually get there in time.

    The other option is to delegate what you can if possible.. I can get a pit possessive with work tasks but being able to hand out tasks that may not be time sensitive can help you free up time.

    It's always helpful to reflect on working practice to make sure you optimise the time you have but you also need to make sure that it doesn't get on top of you, it's as important to make time to relax and wind down as get everything done!