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Time Management in the Workplace

Creating Discretionary Time

It could be argued that a key element of time management in the workplace is choice. Psychologists argue that the more control we feel we have over situations, the less stressed we are. We’re then more likely to feel better about what we do.

When we feel we’ve lost control we can start to feel trapped. The combination of work pressures, limited choices, and little latitude for decision-making can cause real stress at work. There is survey evidence to suggest that feelings of personal control, job satisfaction and personal accomplishment all protect against stress.

In addition to affecting the way we feel at work, our perception of control can also affect what we actually do. Someone who feels a degree of control over their work environment is arguably much more likely to tackle any problems than someone who feels helpless. Feelings of helplessness or disempowerment may lead to negativity at work. Poor productivity may be the result of such feelings, as limited choice may encourage a range of behaviours, from apathy to open antagonism.

Time Management in the Workplace

In this article we discuss choice and time management in the workplace. Imposed demands on our time tend to make us feel trapped. Building more choice into how we spend our time, and how we perform our work, can reduce stress and make work more fulfilling.

Your happiness and effectiveness at work will be significantly improved if you feel you’re more in control. Both of what you do, and of how you do it. In addition, freeing up your time to focus on strength-based activities will also deliver results for your employer. Ask yourself these questions and read on for some answers:

  • All jobs have demands and constraints but how can we minimise these and maximise choices in how we do our jobs?
  • How can we manage to create more discretionary time in what we do?
  • How can we reduce demands on our time imposed by others?
  • How can we free our time to focus on activities which are based on our strengths, and which deliver results for our organisations?
Time Management in the Workplace is the third article in a series on improving motivation at work. The first article: “In Search of Optimum Performance“, introduces the series. If you haven’t read this article yet then it may be a good place to start.

Management is essentially a balancing act and the first article introduces a model for balancing a number of facets to achieve an optimum, based on six common management problem areas:

  1. Ease of work
  2. View of workload
  3. Amount of discretionary time
  4. Energy to tackle work
  5. Ability to be creative
  6. Getting the right things done

In this article, we consider how time management in the workplace can release time to concentrate on our strengths. Finding an amount of discretionary time may be simpler than you think!.

Time Management in the Workplace: “Creating” Choice

If we want to move from feeling trapped to feeling “freed-up”, we may need to take a fresh look at what we do. This is especially important if we want to make more use of our strengths at work. UK academic, Rosemary Stewart, conducted a lengthy and detailed study of what managers do, and howthey behave.

Stewart studied managers in detail, over a long period of time. She concentrated on managers in similar jobs, working in relatively similar, bureaucratic organisations (where one might expect managers to be doing very similar things). Despite these similarities, Stewart found very wide variations in what the managers actually did. How did she explain these variations? Her insight was that they were was caused by differences in demands, constraints and choices relative to each manager, and to the ways in which the managers responded to these factors.

Demands – things we “have” to do

  • Some jobs are mainly about doing what you have to do (meeting demand);
  • For example, minimum criteria for performance, procedures that cannot be ignored, apparently immovable deadlines, etc.

Constraints – limits to what we can do

  • Resource limitations;
  • Attitudes and expectations of others;
  • Physical location.

Choices – activities that you are “free” to do

  • Choosing what work is to be done;
  • Choosing how, where, when, and by whom the work is done.

Of course, being aware of these variables is only the first step. Stewart believed we should “teach potential managers how to see their opportunities for action, how to manage their boundaries, how to select and maintain contacts, and how to make choices that maximize their effectiveness given different constraints and demands of the job.”

The key to effective time management in the workplace is thus dependent on several things. Firstly, our ability to reduce demands and release constraints by analysis, efficient management, and effective negotiation (where possible). This may not always be feasible and may not be easy. We may need to work hard to create more options in what we do, especially if we are to deliver acceptable outcomes. However, if successful this effort may result in an increase in choice, and a potential for decreased stress. What at first glance may be seen as a demand in our jobs may in fact be an opportunity for choice. The value here is that perceived discretion (freedom to choose) often has a positive effect on a manager’s motivation.

Time Management in the Workplace Activity: Expand your Choices





In most jobs, the natural pressure may be for demands and constraints to squeeze our freedom to make choices. Especially our choices about what we do and how we do it. Take some time to think about each of the three criteria and ask how you might reduce demands and constraints, and how you might expand choices. A useful technique for effective time management in the workplace. Then use the table below to highlight areas you may want to change.


Time Management in the Workplace


One simple way of representing the tensions between demands, constraints and choices is to use a simple visualization tool. After completing the list above, use arrows to illustrate which of the three areas is most influential. Add an arrow to represent the number of activities in each category. You might also find it useful to illustrate priorities by making arrows representing more important factors thicker. Although simplistic and somewhat subjective, this tool is easy to use, and can be useful in highlighting potential tensions and imbalances.

Time Management in the Workplace

Time Management in the Workplace: The Difference Between Effective and Ineffective Managers?

Rosemary Stewart drew some interesting and challenging conclusions from her work:

The “primary distinguishing features of effective versus ineffective managers is a greater ability to recognise opportunities for action in the choices available. The ability to operate within and outside of boundaries and to see boundaries as fluid rather than rigid, further distinguishes the ascendant manager.

Of course, it’s not sufficient just to be aware of what we need to do. However, identifying these tensions and imbalances is the first step in dealing with them, and thus demonstrating effective time management in the workplace. What next then?

Time Management in the Workplace: “Creating” Time

“There is no shortage of time. In fact, we are positively awash with it. We only make good use of 20 per cent of our time…. The 80/20 principle says that if we doubled our time on the top 20% of activities, we could work a two-day week and achieve 60 per cent more than now.”

Having considered demands, constraints and choices, the next thing to ask ourselves is can we “create” time? Perhap we can choose to create time by reviewing how we value it. It’s important to remember that not all things we do are of the same value. It’s possible that much of our work actually contributes very little to results that are meaningful to us, and to our organisations. In his book: 80 20 Principle – The Secret of Achieving More with Less, Richard Koch outlines ways in which we all could “work less, earn and enjoy more”. Of particular note is the chapter entitled: “Time Revolution” where Koch argues:

“It is not that we are short of time….It is the way that we treat time, even the way that we think about it. A time the fastest way to make a giant leap in both happiness and effectiveness.”

Think about this for a moment. How frustrated do we get when things aren’t done properly, perhaps through poor planning or execution? Or worse, how do we feel when doing things that perhaps don’t need to be done at all? What about the frustration of responding to someone else’s priorities, especially as a result of their poor time management?

“It is not shortage of time that should worry us, but the tendency for the majority of time to be spent in low-quality ways.”

You can read more about how to deal with time management issues by following the link to our pages: Time Management Information and Management Tips. Here you’ll articles and tools which will help you deal with your demand, constraints and choices management. They provide essential insights and tips into such topics as: alternate perspectives on time; identifying and managing “busyness” at work; asking the right questions; and problem analysis and solving techniques. You’ll also find links to articles on managing your boss, an essential issue for anyone feeling trapped at work, or lacking choice in their workload.

Now you’ve read Time Management in the Workplace, be sure to look at the other articles in our “In Search of Optimum Performance” series. Look at the graphic below then follow the links to the articles that explain the model.



For more on the Optimum Performance Series just follow these links:

  1. Ease of work
  2. View of workload
  3. Amount of discretionary time
  4. Energy to tackle work
  5. Ability to be creative
  6. Getting the right things done


Where to go from here:


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