10 Key Steps for Effective Time Management

So much to do, and so little time in which to do it. Is that how you feel? You'll probably find yourself agreeing with management guru, Peter Drucker. He said: "Time is the scarcest resource... Unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed." Planning the best use of time is a vital management skill.

Good time planning will:

  • enable you to concentrate on the most important tasks
  • help prevent you from wasting time, and
  • enable you to complete more in the time available

If you're already feeling overloaded by the amount of work you have to do, being told that you need to organize your time better might initially make you feel more stressed. You may feel like saying: "Great idea, but when am I going to find the time to do that!"

You can begin to improve your time management skills by doing all or some of the following:

  • being prepared to delegate
  • limiting meeting and phone call time
  • using planning aids such as schedules
  • not avoiding unpopular tasks, and
  • reassessing priorities

Doing a quick audit of how you currently spend your time can help you identify ways to manage your time more effectively.

The Important/Urgent matrix

As a new manager, you might find it difficult to reassess your priorities. It can seem as if everyone wants something from you – and they want it yesterday! The good news is that it's possible to manage your priorities using a simple tool. This tool is the important/urgent matrix.

By using the matrix, you can divide tasks up into four different categories:

  • Both urgent and important
    Tasks that are both urgent and important should be dealt with immediately. These might include producing your sales figures for tomorrow's management meeting, or preparing yourself to interview new staff members this afternoon.
  • Urgent but not important
    Tasks that are urgent but not important should be dealt with quickly. You should be careful not to spend too much time on these tasks, which might include answering routine calls from customers or dealing with an e-mail from a supplier.
  • Important but not urgent
    Tasks that are important but not urgent should be started as soon as possible, because they can become urgent if they are left for too long. A possible example is finding and booking a new location for a sales conference that's due to be held in six months.
  • Neither urgent nor important
    Tasks that aren't urgent or important can go to the bottom of the list. These are usually the tasks that can most easily be delegated to members of your team. An example is undertaking research to identify new suppliers.

For example, consider the tasks that a new account manager, Evan, faces on Monday morning. He has to decide which box each task should be allocated to in an important/urgent matrix.

  • 8:30 AM – Evan begins the day hoping to spend some time preparing for the next round of employee reviews. The reviews aren't due to take place for another two months, but these are Evan's first staff reviews and he wants to make sure that he's prepared.
  • 9:00 AM – When Evan arrives at the office, he has several e-mails from existing clients, involving routine inquiries.
  • 9:30 AM – As Evan begins to deal with the e-mails, he receives a call from his boss, Beth. Beth is catching the evening flight to Boston for a hastily arranged meeting with an important prospective customer. Beth needs Evan to produce the slides for part of her presentation.
  • 10:00 AM – The receptionist calls Evan to tell him that a representative from a printing company is on the line. The representative is in the local area, and would like to know whether it's convenient to come into the office and talk to Evan about prospective work.

You may initially find it time-consuming to categorize your tasks, but as you become more familiar with the matrix, it will become automatic. But what about Evan? His tasks can be divided into the matrix as follows:

  • preparing for the reviews is important but not yet urgent
  • replying to his e-mails is urgent but not important
  • preparing Beth's presentation is urgent and important, and
  • meeting with the sales representative is neither urgent nor important

Planning is one of your main responsibilities as a manager, although it can be easy to neglect the planning of your own activities as your workload increases. Remember that taking a little time to plan properly now will save you time in the long run.