Chapter 20 - Softskills

6. Time Management

Short story…

…from Carl Rogers's life
During the hay fever medication project.

Dr. Rogers and Mr. Smith met again.

"What's the matter with you?" Dr. Rogers struggled to find an answer, a searching look on his face. Mr. Smith had surprised him with that direct question. Well, Mr. Smith was known for his direct approach. He found it easy to deal with technical problems and he knew exactly the right, sometimes penetrative, questions to ask. But, as I said, those were technical issues.

"I don't know what to say." "How about the truth", added Mr. Smith. "Well", said Carl Rogers, "The project's run into a few hitches. It isn't progressing as fast as it should be and our tests aren't moving along very well. I'm concerned that we're on the wrong track. And some of our key project personnel aren't always available to work on the project. Grace Holmes is going on maternity leave and Chris Feldmann is always being taken off the project to fill in for other people in his department. We're also having problems getting supplies of basic materials. Some of them simply aren't available on the global market right now. Of course, we could pay higher prices, but that will mean unscheduled higher costs. I'm working flat out, but I'm finding a lot of things difficult. I feel like a dog chasing its tail round in circles. I'm exhausted at the end of the day, but I'm not making any progress at all.

I've been taking work home with me for weeks, I'm answering e-mails around the clock and, despite that, we're not making progress. We're holding lengthy meetings, many of them without any tangible results. They're often interrupted by well-meaning colleagues and telephone calls and I'm having to take care of things that aren't really my responsibility." Carl Rogers spoke faster and faster as he went through all the various issues, his voice pitch got higher and higher and you could see in his face that his heart was racing.

"Whoa!" said Mr. Smith, taking hold of Carl Rogers's arm. "Let's go for a walk and get some fresh air. I'd like to tell you a story about a large-scale project. It happened like this. Let me take you on a journey in time." Tom Smith and Carl Rogers left the office. "We're in a meeting", Mr. Smith called to his secretary on their way out.

"It's 4 June 1944 and we're in southern England. You're looking over the coastline at some very impressive scenery." That's how Mr. Smith started his story. "I can just imagine it", said Dr. Rogers. "I expect there are lots of landing boats, different sized ships and a lot of people in uniform." "Exactly! So you know what event I'm talking about, then?"

"Yes, I'm pretty sure you're talking about the preparations for D-Day." "That's right. Let's take a look at this project. These final preparations show us that a major project is about to kick off. What do you think? Did it kick off in a frenzy or was it well thought out, with plenty of time for analysis and planning?"

"Well, I think it was probably well planned, but that it was also implemented under some pressure", answered Carl. "Pressure of time and stress are problems in any major project, aren't they?" "It only looks like that." Mr. Smith grinned mischievously. "Remember the big difference between pressure of time and on-going stress. On-going stress occurs when you don't set a deadline that you can focus on and work towards by taking suitable action. A good project manager will avoid on-going stress by setting a project close-out date. We do exactly the same thing in large-scale projects. A good project manager saying is: 'Don't tell me how long, tell me when'. I'm telling you this so that you'll realise something important. Set deadlines and interim deadlines. That way you can eliminate on-going stress and you'll be consciously aware of time pressure. On-going stress makes you ill. Pressure of time spurs you on."

"Do you know who was responsible for the D-Day project - who the 'overlord' was?" "No, I've no idea. I didn't even know it was a project." "I'm sure they didn't call it a project back then, but according to our standards, it certainly was. And the manager responsible for planning and implementing the project was General Dwight D. Eisenhower." "Ah, I've heard of him. Wasn't he President of the United States?" "He was, but in 1944 he was facing some very different challenges. He didn't get elected as president until some years later.

Perhaps you can imagine some of the challenges he faced? Let's take one of his typical working days. Key personnel are unavailable; some temporarily, some permanently. There are problems getting supplies, materials and fuel, tests with the landing boats aren't going too well and there are some serious conflicts with another general called Patton, who never does what is expected of him. Just imagine being in Eisenhower's shoes as manager of this project."

"It must have been awful", said Rogers, smiling "It would finish me off." "Yes, I think you really would break under the pressure."

Mr. Smith continued, "Ike, as Eisenhower's friends called him, didn't break under the pressure. Why not? Because he had his very own work system that I'd like to talk to you about. It's an ingeniously simple system that you can use, too. He used his desk!" "Did it have some special technical features?" asked Carl Rogers. "No, not really. But Eisenhower's desk was actually more than just a desk. I expect his adhesive tape was olive green." "What tape?" Carl Rogers was curious. "The tape he used to divide his desk into four quadrants. In our project work, we have three main objectives." "Yes", said Dr. Rogers, "Quality, deadline and budget objectives." "Correct. So, what do you think the main priorities were in the D-Day project?" "Was there a deadline?" "Yes, the project had to be completed with the liberation of Paris by the end of July 1944." "Good", said Dr. Rogers, "Then I'd put driving the Nazis out of Paris right at the top of my list of priorities. I'd give the deadline second priority. This project is a strategically important organisational project. The costs for that kind of a project are often of subordinate importance. So I'd give adherence to budget third priority. Maybe I'd just focus on getting the project completed to deadline, though."

"Very good", said Mr. Smith. "That's probably what Ike did too. Let's go back to his desk. He'd divided this desk up into four quadrants. He based it on a diagram that had urgency on the baseline. He allocated the priority of 'non-urgent' to the left quadrants and the priority of 'very urgent' to the ones on the right. On the left axis of his diagram he allocated the activities in order of priority.

He put the 'unimportant' things in the bottom quadrants and the 'important' ones in the top ones. So, he had four quadrants. Top left: Very important but not urgent. Bottom left: Not important and not urgent. Top right: Very important and very urgent. Bottom right: Very urgent but not important. What would you do now that you know about Eisenhower's desk?" Dr. Rogers answered, "First of all, I'd allocate all my activities to one of the four quadrants." "Very good! And then?" "Then I'd start work on the activities in the top right quadrant." "That's not such a good idea", said Mr. Smith. "What then?" "Take the bottom left quadrant first." "Why should I do that? The unimportant things are in that quadrant." "Exactly! And you need to get rid of those activities first of all. Then you've got more space on your desk. And, more importantly, you've got the space to do a competent job."

"OK, I understand that. But what do I do if I need something that I've thrown away later on?" "Don't worry, it'll appear as if by magic on your desk. You can throw it away for now, though, so that you've got more space on your desk! And now let's go to the top right quadrant. But you have to deal with it professionally!"

"What does that mean? I always try to do everything professionally and in good quality." "So do all tradesmen who value craftsmanship. But not the master tradesmen over the centuries, who knew that they were really managers. I mean something different when I talk about working professionally in this case. As manager, you don't have to perform the tasks yourself. You have to prepare them for delegation. According to Italian social scientist and economist, Vilfredo Pareto, we can apply the 20/80 rule here. It means that 20 percent of our activities account for 80 percent of our success. In other words, you have to prepare work well. That involves thinking about who will be performing the activities and what those people need. Then you delegate them. The things that you'll be delegating are in the bottom right quadrant, so they aren't important for you, though they are obviously still urgent. I suggest that you take a piece of paper and write deadlines on it for your work package owners so that you can check how far along they are with the work packages and where they may need help."

"What shall I do with the checklist?" Dr. Rogers asked. "Put it in the top left quadrant. At time X, this 'follow-up' job will move up to the top right quadrant and then you'll have to deal with it again. You'll have to call in on your team and make sure everything's going OK. There are also other things in your top left quadrant. You have to focus your attention completely on them because they are strategically relevant. They'll challenge you because you need time and quiet to handle them. Now that you've delegated everything, you have to deal with these things before they become urgent. Then, you'll always be one step ahead of your time schedule." Dr. Rogers laughed: "… and get to be president." "Why not?" teased Mr. Smith.

"Let's get back to our desk. I think your life would be easier if you put the four quadrant concept to consistent use. Put a strategically important document on which you have written the following things in the top left quadrant:

This is what I want

1. professionally and
2. personally

Set yourself a deadline such as two weeks as of today and two follow-up deadlines in four and nine days respectively. Write down everything that is important to you. Write down all the things you want to have in life and all the places you want to see, the things you are interested in and the things you want to focus on in life. Write down the projects you are working on and the position that you hope to achieve. Maybe you even want to be president! I'll call in on you in four days' time to see your list." Mr. Smith laughed and said goodbye.

Levels of time management

Levels of time management.

You as an individual are embedded in your team, your sub-organisation and so on. That means that the decision you make influences your team, your organisation but also your family and the society. So, the most important step is to realise this. To manage time properly you have to obtain clarity about your life objectives. You can do this by way of

  • a funeral oration,
  • a life fairytale and/or
  • a toilet map

What's that?

In a funeral oration, both private and professional achievements are portrayed.
Now imagine what is to be said at your own funeral oration. What goals do you want to have achieved? What was your private and professional life like? You could write your own eulogy to get clarity about your goals.

Since this task is admittedly very difficult and macabre, you could also write a fairytale.
If your life were a fairytale, what would you write about what you have achieved? Again, you can focus on your private and professional life. But this task is also very time-consuming, although it is more positive than the eulogy, but you would have to invest a lot of time to write your life as a fairytale.

The last method to become clear about your life goals is the toilet map.
If you use this method, you hardly have to invest any time, but in the end, you will have the same result as if you were writing your own funeral oration or fairytale.
To do this, you will spend the next 14 days writing a list with two columns every time you go to the bathroom using the toilet. On one side you write your private goals, on the other side your professional goals. Write down everything that seems important to you and what you want to achieve, everything you can be proud of later.

As soon as you've identified your objectives, you can group other tasks around those issues and carry out an efficient time management.

The areas that you identify during considering your life objectives provide clarity about your mission, strategic orientation, desires and attitudes to life. Afterwards you can go on with time management.

Time management methods

Time plays a central role in self-management. Efficient time management not only protects your health, it also saves the organisation money because a badly organised member of staff generally works inefficiently. He wastes company time and the associated costs that are generated for the employer are not compensated by services rendered in return. There is a widespread opinion among employees that salaried staff cost the company nothing because "they're there anyway". These hidden costs tend to be regarded as a sort of unavoidable fixed cost.

The following three success factors form the basis for efficient time management:

1. Setting priorities
2. The ability to say no
3. The ability to delegate

These skills can be learned and a range of tools enables their effective application.

When dealing with time management, always keep the Pareto principle (80/20 rule) in mind. This principle says that with 20% of effort you put in you can achieve 80% of the desired results. Conversely, this means that you have to spend 80% of your energy on the remaining 20%.

Priorities

Setting priorities means being able to differentiate between what is essential and what is not. In project management practice, nobody is able to cope with every single task that is theoretically associated with their position. Generally, they only have time to perform absolutely essential tasks. Exaggerated perfectionism tends to get in the way of project work.

In order to set priorities, it can be useful to create the Eisenhower matrix.

Set priorities by considering the urgency and importance of tasks by using the Eisenhower matrix.

Saying no

For many people it's difficult to say no because they fear that, if they do, they will make themselves unpopular with colleagues and superiors. They fail to realise that this ability is critical for their survival. Unless they learn to say no, they will fall prey to burnout syndrome at some time or other. Their body and mind will cease to function effectively and they might even suffer serious physical and psychological damage.

Saying no is not just acceptable, it is a sign of their personal strength. It is important to be polite yet assertive when saying no. Only a brief explanation such as, "I'm afraid I haven't got time because I have to do X" is necessary. Ideally, you should suggest an alternative date or colleague to the person who has requested him to perform the additional work.

Delegation

Delegating tasks is not a sign of weakness, but of strong (self-)management and leadership skills. Obviously, people who tend to do everything themselves will on occasions complete the work in less time because they won't need to provide lengthy explanations or check the work. However, even a well-organised project manager will be unable to cope with the work he has assigned to himself at some point - and the project team members will be frustrated because they feel that he doesn't trust them to perform the work.

Project managers benefit in many respects from delegation:

  • You have more time to perform the tasks that cannot be delegated.
  • Your team members are motivated and acquire additional skills.
  • Delegation improves the overall efficiency of the organisational unit (e.g. team, department).
  • The sick rate of overworked managers declines.
  • If a manager or knowledge carrier has to take time off work, colleagues can easily perform his work because they are already familiar with it.

However, you should not delegate tasks that you cannot cope with yourself to colleagues unless they have agreed to perform them because this can result in your team members being just as overworked as you are. The allocation of tasks should therefore be a team activity. You should make it clear to every team member that they can refuse additional work without fear of reprisals if they feel that their workload is excessively high. Project managers who delegate tasks that they dislike to subordinate members of staff contradict the principle of fair play.

If you delegate tasks, keep those tips in mind

  • Provide the member of staff with a precise explanation of the task.
  • Make clear the purpose and objective of the task.
  • Ask whether the member of staff has understood everything.
  • Agree upon a deadline with the member of staff.
  • Check progress and obtain feedback on agreed dates.
  • Allow your team members to incorporate their own methods and ideas when performing the task.
  • Ensure that the other members of staff are informed that the task has been assigned to somebody else.

Time management tips

The following tips will help you to effectively manage you working day

  1. Think first, then act
  2. Set priorities
  3. Take a break, afterwards you can continue to work productively
  4. Be punctual (so that you can adhere to your appointments schedule)
  5. Use a diary with scheduler
  6. Keep your desk tidy (so that you can find the information you are looking for quickly)
  7. Deal with private matters outside working hours
  8. Start the day early
  9. Complete tasks in small steps instead of thinking about the mountain of tasks ahead of you
  10. Avoid over-researching decisions, so that you can make decisions quickly
  11. Set a time limit for tasks
  12. Plan the next working day the evening before
  13. Allow 40% contingency time every day for unforeseeable events and spontaneous activities
  14. Prevent interruptions (e.g. shut the door, divert telephone calls)
  15. Create checklists for routine tasks (e.g. preparation of a presentation)

Information

It is generally helpful to write down all the things that you have on your mind - pending tasks, solution to a problem, recruiting a new employee or anything else associated with your wide range of project responsibilities.

Summary

To summarise the keywords of that chapter, here is a quick overview:

Technical term Definition
Time management There are several approaches to time management which help us to perform tasks and meet deadlines within the available timeframe
Delegation Hand over tasks to project team members so that they can perform them
Levels of time management Social environment > corporate environment > general organisation > sub-organisation > team > individual
Eisenhower matrix Tasks are classified into important/unimportant and urgent/non-urgent
Depending on where the tasks are located, they are prioritised differently
Pareto principal = 20/80 rule
With 20% of effort put in, 80% of the desired results can be achieved
Conversely 80% of one's energy needs to be spent on the remaining 20%

Test yourself!

Now it is time to check your knowledge.

Answer the following questions for yourself. Please take your time and think carefully about what you would answer before revealing the solution.

What is a time management?

There are several approaches to time management which help us to perform tasks and meet deadlines within the available timeframe.

What is meant by the Eisenhower principle?

Tasks are classified into important/unimportant and urgent/non-urgent. Depending on where the tasks are located, they are prioritised differently.

What is meant by the Pareto principal?

This principle says that with 20% effort you can achieve 80% of the desired results. Conversely, this means that you have to spend 80% of your energy on the remaining 20%.