A stitch in time saves nine

By Karuna Kumar

‘A stitch in time, saves nine’ is an age-old adage. But does it really resonate with our daily corporate lives? Surrounded by reams of paper, struggling to complete the proposal for a prospective client before a meeting, stuffing a sandwich alongside while taking a call from the supervisor and shooting off an e-mail to a colleague regarding the follow up of a previous project…and the list continues!

While many of us wish there were more than 24 hours in a day, the only way to fulfill the desire to have more time is to make more of it – through some disciplined time management.

Time management calls for a commitment to change and significant to change is a commitment to action. The key aspect here is planning and protecting the planned time. The absence of meticulous time planning can lead to labour inefficiencies in the organisation that eventually result in lower productivity.

Emphasizing the colossal losses through poor time management are statistics from a survey conducted in 2007 by Proudfoot consulting. The survey states, “Companies in the UK waste around 18% of all working time through inefficient use of labour, the equivalent of 40 working days per employee per year. The financial cost amounts to £80bn, or around 7% of GDP, based on current average hourly wages in manufacturing.”

An interesting principle that leverages time management is the Pareto Principle of 80:20. The Pareto principle (80:20) lays down a pragmatic premise to understand the relationship between time and efficiency. The principle states, “in anything, a few are vital and many are trivial.” 20% of the defects cause 80% of our problems and 20% of your work consumes 80% of your time and resources.

The Pareto principle is very valuable as it directs people to focus on the 20% of work that matters. 20% effort , if correctly applied, can produce 80% of the desired results. Putting it in another way, the principle also encourages spending  80% of one’s time and energy on the 20% of the work that is really important. Learning to identify what is critical to your mission and setting the right priorities are important in practicing effective time management.

Time is on my side – yes it is!

Creativity drives business innovation and business innovation can thrive only in a time-disciplined environment. Imbibing a few time management strategies in daily work activities can thereby aid the innovative streak of any business.

Here are a few tips to help you apply the right technique:

•Reconditioning the expectations of others to your availability is an important aspect of time-management. In a scenario where responsibility is inherited, do not enslave yourself to an unrealistic process or system. Challenge work that could lead to a waste of your time.

•When it comes to your own short term and long term goals, review your activities and prioritise accordingly.

•Plan your activities thoroughly without leaving everything to your PA’s.

•Ensure you make space for unplanned activities. You never know when an important meeting or task might pop up. Thinking ahead will prevent a lot of schedule-juggling down the line!

•To be really efficient, manage the entire environment in a way that is most conducive to your working style. This includes the adoption of new systems, tools and technology.

•Multitasking – while done by many – is not always beneficial. Too many jobs started at once, at times, can lead to completion of none.

•Learn the art of delegation – perhaps the most important part of achieving effective time management. Keep in mind, it must be guided by benchmarks decided upon unanimously rather than working along prescribed work plans.

•Challenge your own habits and routines and be aware of the way you choose to spend your time.

Manage your calls and emails and do not let them manage you! The inbox need not necessarily be your first destination as you step into your office. Commence your day by attending to significant work that needs your urgent attention. Attending to the frequently popping notifications of e-mails while working on project reports and proposals might not be the best way to manage your time.

Stephen R. Covey’s framework for prioritizing work

Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People recommends a useful framework for prioritizing goals in the chapter, ‘First things First’.

He focuses on four generations of time management:

1. First generation of time management – advocates the use of task lists, notes and checklists that would help in the recognition of demands.

2. The second focuses on the use of calendars and planning books aiming at planning ahead and scheduling.

3. The third generation concentrates on clarifying values, goal setting, prioritizing weekly and daily projects/tasks.

4. Lastly, the fourth generation entails personal management. It is not a matter of time management but managing ourselves.

“Significant to the generations of time management is the identification of primary roles and principles. All decisions around time management must be guided not merely by the clock of scheduling but by the compass of purpose and values,” Covey states.

Digital Approaches to Time Management

With the waves of technology touching the corporate shores, time management has become a much easier task than before. Instrumental in transforming one’s effectiveness both personally and within a business team, digital acumen is a skill-set essential for managing time. With the mobile internet, accessing e-mails on the move can mentally prepare you to react promptly to messages. You can also organise data systematically by grouping information logically and making it more accessible. Digital communication also allows the sharing of information, contact lists and appointments enabling mutually convenient times for everyone.

To conclude this toolkit, I leave you with a final snap shot of the keys to building effective time management skills:

•    Be clear about your goals and values.
•    Establish a clear focus.
•    Be single minded.
•    Be decisive.
•    Be rational.
•    Be persistent.
•    Create routines.
•    Work in time blocks.
•    Set aside time for renewal.

Time is uni-directional. Valuing what’s current is what matters the most. Time management requires planning and organizing in a way that allows the most important goals to be achieved as quickly as possible. The quality of our time management is a determinant of the quality of life we live.

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