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10 Tips on Time Management

How to Reduce ‘Busyness’!

10 Tips on Time Management: because identifying busyness may be relatively straightforward, but treating it can be much more difficult!

In our article: Time Management at Work, we defined busyness and discussed ways to identify it in the workplace. Busyness, or “time spent doing unnecessary or unproductive work”, is a real drain on any organisation’s resources.

This article offers our top tips on time management, to help you reduce busyness in your workplace. Finally we offer some practical advice with links to our tips pages or to our e-guide, especially written to help you deal with busyness. Because, as Peter Drucker said:

“There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Recognising Busyness?

Firstly, let’s briefly remind you what busyness looks like. Our common features of busyness included:

  • Doing well what doesn’t need to be done;
  • Allowing other people’s agendas;
  • Doing “nice” work;
  • Confusing fat for muscle;
  • Displacement activity;
  • Doing bits and pieces;
  • Meetings!;
  • Procrastination;
  • Indecision;
  • Cluttered work;
  • Lack of priority not lack of time.

Replacing Busyness With Real Work

Whilst diagnosing busyness may be relatively straightforward, treating it can be much more difficult. However, time spent dealing with the waste generated by busyness is an invaluable investment.

People may be engaged in busyness for several reasons. It may be because they feel obliged to. Perhaps busyness is the inevitable result of routine, or custom and practice, especially in a culture which doesn’t encourage change or constructive criticism in its workforce. Or it may be a reaction to negative or authoritarian management practices. Eradicating busyness in these instances will require a change in management attitude.

Arguably a more serious problem may arise if removing busyness requires a change in staff attitude. Employees may have become accustomed to busyness through (bad) habit, or through laziness (it’s easier than thinking and changing). However busyness may also hide underpinning issues such as poor morale, inadequate or under-developed skills or a mis-match between the job requirement and staff ability. Either way, line managers need to find a way to discourage busyness and replace it with effectiveness, and this may not be easy.

Those who prefer the comfort of busyness to the challenge of effectiveness may be resistant to change. Some people can actually be very effective at being busy. Strategies for preserving busyness include:

  • Camouflage it! – hiding the true nature or (poor) value of work being done.
  • The buck starts here! – blaming other people for what’s being done, or what’s not being done.
  • Obstruct it! – stopping other people from effective working to protect the culture of busyness.
  • Maintain the status quo! – managing change by discouraging it.
  • Fudge it! – managers who set vague targets, give vapid feedback, or sanitise unpalatable results are encouraging busyness in themselves and their staff.

Do you find that you struggle with boss imposed activities which create busyness rather than effectiveness? We discuss this difficult but crucial area in our article: Boss Time Management: 10 Ways To Help Protect Your Own Time.

Our 10 Tips on Time Management: Replacing Busyness With Real Work

So, how do we deal with busyness? Before you can manage it in others you must first consider your own time management at work. Ask yourself four questions to clarify your own working practices:

1 Are your objectives clear, unambiguous and SMART? – specific, measurable, achieveable, relevant, time-bounded.
2 Is it clear which activities deliver results? – in relation to your objectives.
3 Does the task/activity need to be done? – does it add value to your organisation?
4 Does the activity do anything meaningful for your customer? – do they value it?

Then, when you are clear about the nature of the work, think about our remaining tips on time management. Put some practical steps in place to combat busyness:


Huddle Collaboration

5 Be clear about what you are doing – so that you can be clear about what you don’t need to do.
6 Ask “why”?, (nicely and often) – both of others asking you to do something, and of yourself in what you do.
7 Say “no”! – as often as is needed to keep busyness under control.
8 Prune and review regularly – stop busyness creeping in by remembering: anything run by human beings will tend towards complexity.
9 Don’t get too busy! If the day is filled with activity then it is too full.
10 Don’t confuse activity with productivity – or allow others to do so either.

Happiness Tips on Time Management

Another thing to remember is the importance of encouraging positive behaviour in the workplace. Replacing busyness with effectiveness in our own work practices is only the first step. Good managers will try to ensure this best practice is fostered thoughout the organisation. Read through this article again, but this time try focusing on busyness in relation to your colleagues, rather than in yourself. Then consider how you can change this by remembering the basics of happiness.

There are other tips on time management hidden in the field of positive psychology. Martin Seligman, considers that happiness and life satisfaction are achieved by attaining a balance between the pursuit of pleasure, engagement in relationships, and living a life of meaning or significance. In our opinion, removing entrenched attitudes to busyness can be achieved by fostering happiness in the workplace:

  • Promote pleasure – make work a pleasurable experience;
  • Encourage relationships – get to know your colleagues as people, not just employees;
  • Emphasise meaningful work – better time management at work can be achieved by stressing the benefits to be gained by doing meaningful work.

Finally, you might like to read a great story in our article: Benefits of Time Management. This may help you think about the real value of time, and whether this is reflected in the way you spend yours. It might be a good article to read after working through Time Management at Work. Perhaps it will help you identify where busyness has crept into your home life too.

We need to get busy in eradicating busyness, and releasing time and energy for the real work that delivers the real results. The rewards can be significant. Think about our tips on time management or you may just end up like Jerome K Jerome when he said:

“I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me: the idea of getting rid of it nearly breaks my heart.”

Beating busyness …

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For help with combating busyness, go to our specially written guide: Managing Time and Priority. This guide expands on the tips in this article and includes some excellent tools to help you take back your time. It will help you to:

  • Assess your time priorities and manage your actions.
  • Develop coping strategies to avoid the limitations of “busyness”.
  • Manage the impact of other people’s demands on your time.
  • Develop approaches to “getting things done”. Apply practical tools to managing priorities and time, to get the right things done.
  • Help others to manage their time.

Tools:

  • Tool 1: Commitments summary
  • Tool 2: Time log
  • Tool 3:Time analysis
  • Tool 4: Time planning with task filters
  • Tool 5: Task priorities

Where to go from here:

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