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Time Management: Conquering the Clock



Time Management: Conquering the Clock

By Cindy Brauer

Learning to manage one’s time takes time—a curious dilemma for all those challenged by never-completed to-do lists, an impressive workload and endless interruptions and distractions. Conquering the clock’s relentless pressure requires an investment of time, discipline and persistence—yet effective time management yields valuable rewards in increased productivity, clarity of focus and reduced stress. That was the message of time management training sessions recently conducted by Catharine Gruver, training specialist in The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) Department of Human Resources.

The training on the California campus covered two topics: creating a personal time management system to organize tasks and using productivity techniques and strategies.

Five-Step Plan

A personal time management system must be tailored to an individual’s work and life style—easy to use and flexible, explained Gruver, drawing from the book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen

In Getting Things Done, Allen outlines a five-step action plan for personal time management:

  • Capture all physical, mental and miscellaneous tasks, commitments and ideas, using a readily accessible tool (notepad, smart phone, laptop) to “have a place outside your mind for all information to go.” Store these tasks and commitments in collection points such as computer files, in-baskets, desk trays, voice-mail messages and e-mail inboxes.
  • Clarify the actionable items that flow from the captured tasks and commitments. If a task is not actionable, trash it, archive as reference or place on a “someday/maybe” list. If actionable, do the task in two minutes or less; otherwise delegate the task or defer it to a calendar or list.
  • Organize tasks: on a calendar, datebook or software programs, categorizing each task on a list by the next action required, project or “waiting for.”
  • Reflect on task and project status with daily, weekly and occasional “big-picture” reviews.
  • Engage in the day’s tasks, bearing in mind priorities, each task’s time and energy demands, and tools required.

While adopting a personal time management routine takes effort, said Gruver, the payoff is staying focused and on task each day.

Tips and Techniques

Gruver next outlined strategies and techniques to support a time management system. In small group discussions, session participants applied the tips to real-life scenarios.

Categorize Tasks. Stephen Covey’s Time Matrix technique, covered in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, provides a tool to evaluate activities and projects based on their importance and urgency, listing tasks in a four-square configuration—Necessity; Productivity and Balance; Deception; and Waste and Excess. He advises managing the Necessary urgent tasks, but focusing on Productivity and Balance projects, which require planning, preparation and relationship-building. Avoid Deception-box tasks (needless interruptions, unnecessary reports and meetings, etc.) and limit the Waste and Excess activities of trivial busywork, irrelevant phone calls and e-mail, etc.

Set Priorities. Setting priorities can help control each workday’s activities. First review the day’s action tasks; select the top 10 and write down the three most important. Tackle the first big task, then the second and third. Handle smaller tasks as needed.

Minimize Distractions. To minimize distractions that hamper progress on action tasks, Gruver suggested closing the office door and the Internet browser, wearing headphones, letting calls go to voice mail and setting up available and unavailable times for co-worker interactions.

Respect Your Energy Levels. Schedule activities to match personal productivity and energy levels. Work on intense or complex tasks when most productive and energetic. Bundle routine, less demanding tasks for when fatigued.

Create Routines. Finally, create morning and evening routines to help boost productivity. For example, a morning work routine might include arriving at a certain time each day, working on the day’s most important task for an hour, then checking and responding to e-mails for 30 minutes. An evening routine could include concluding all tasks at a specific time, spending the next 15 minutes determining the next day’s most important task and assembling the required material, and finally, checking and responding to e-mails for another 20 minutes.

Time management is one of several training resources offered TSRI employees. For a course list and additional information, visit the Training Resources webpage.

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During a recent time management training course for employees, TSRI Training Specialist Catharine Gruver (center) reviewed basic concepts with Krystalyn Hudson (left) of the Nemazee lab, and Erin Devine of DAR. (Photo by Cindy Brauer.)