The Time Management Skill

The Time Management skill is pretty simple in concept, but is often a struggle for us all.

The Time Management skill enables an individual to determine what tasks are most important and how to devote the appropriate amount of time to accomplish those tasks to a high level of quality.

Another way to look at the skill is this: You go to work in the morning and you know you have 10 things to do. Four of those things are critical . . . but YOU have to figure out which four of the ten are in that category.  Then you have to (sort of) “fake it on the rest.”

Actually, we really don’t manage time.  We manage ourselves as time marches on.  Anything that we do will not change the steady progression of the clock.  So, we must understand that we must be able to organize ourselves to do the things we need to do in the time that we have.

During the K-12 and to a lesser extent the undergraduate college educational experiences, the days are generally scripted and organized for the students.  A high school student goes to band practice at 7:30AM, has hourly classes from 9:00AM until 3:30PM or thereabouts, and possibly some extracurricular activity after school.  The evenings are not scripted, but in many households, parents ensure that students spend adequate time on their homework before bed.

In college, the schedules are not quite so tight except in some of the military academies. Plebe year at the US Naval Academy is a good example. Each day there are many things that need to be memorized (“Plebe Rates,” as they are called) and a plebe must be prepared to demonstrate that he/she knows those rates to any upper classman who might ask for them. This requirement is in addition to a highly structured class schedule over the entire year and forces plebes to manage their time and ensure that the things that MUST be done are, in fact, done.

After the K-12 and college experience and an individual enters the work force where, depending on the nature of the job, the work day may or may not have structure.  Generally for entry level employees, there is some degree of structure and projects or work tasks are assigned without the individual having to choose what to work on from multiple choices.

As one gains responsibilities, however, there are multiple projects and tasks that have to be done as well as the inevitable unexpected crisis that happens at the most inopportune moments.  That is when the need for time management begins.

When one begins to manage time – alternatively, start managing one’s self to do the required work within a given time – then whatever he/she has learned through the K-12 and college years starts to show itself.  Some people just have it – others don’t.

Those that do most likely have some sort of system – such as an organized way to list things . . . a to do list.  Others keep things in their heads.  Still others put things to do on little yellow post-its and have them stuck all over the place.

The BEST system seems to be that which WORKS; and what works for someone might not work for another.

As we age, you might experience the same sort of phenomenon as have I – and that is that time seems to pass by faster as we grow older.  I’m not sure if this is actually true – I think not – but it certainly seems that way and there have been many studies conducted to examine what causes this phenomenon.  Whatever the reason, it seems real to many people and is a complicating factor when it comes to managing time.  Time just seems to go faster – and is therefore harder to manage.

You can buy books about time management, apps for your smart phone, and more sophisticated computer programs ranging from simple to do lists to sophisticated project management programs.

On the sophisticated side of project and time management, a classic example of the is what was developed for the US Navy when it began building nuclear submarines.  A sophisticated technique known as the Program Evaluation Review Technique (PERT).  This system enabled multiple construction tasks to be conducted simultaneously while compressing the total time needed to complete construction.  A “Critical Path” would be developed that enabled managers to see the key milestones that were necessary to keep the project on track and on time.  An example of a very simple PERT chart is as follows:



A little less sophisticated but far more popular is the Gantt Chart.  This is a simple and easy to understand project timetable that can show what tasks are required in a project, when they start, when they should finish, and how they might overlap with other tasks needed to be done.  During the field study projects I conducted with high school student teams, we used the Gantt Chart technique to construct our work plans.  The actual work plan used to do the AMA-sponsored Field Study for the Wheaton Medical Clinic is shown as follows:


An even less sophisticated tool that is highly useful for setting priorities and managing time is known as the Eisenhower Matrix.   Things needed to be done were classified according to their importance and urgency and placed in the appropriate quadrant within a simple 2 x 2 matrix as follows:


Q1 – The really important stuff.  Things you have to do right now.

Q2 – Important things, but can be scheduled to do later.

Q3 – Important things, but not critical.  You can delegate these to others – but make sure you follow up.

Q4 – Interesting things to do, but not critical, urgent, or even important.  Candidates for elimination.


The main point of these different examples is that a time management tool or a project management tool can range from the sophisticated to the simple; and, again, which one (or whatever tool one might find) is right for individuals to use . . . . . is whatever works for them.




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