Time Management

by Di McLanachan

Working styles

In the previous pages, we have looked at various areas where you might be able to start improving your time management skills. However, if you really want to get down to fine-tuning these skills, it is helpful to start with increased self knowledge. What is your working style? What are the advantages and drawbacks of that style in terms of time management, and can you learn to change your style to suit the occasion?

Before you read further, you need to fill out the questionnaire to determine which working style you have.

Type A

If you scored more ‘A’s than ‘B’s, this indicates that you have a Type A working style. You may be quite driven, prone to working harder, faster and longer hours than your colleagues. You strive to be an achiever on as many different fronts as possible, so you take on far more work than you can realistically handle. You hate wasting time. If you have a doctor’s appointment, you will take a book to read in the waiting room. If you are watching television, you may also be reading a newspaper or doing the ironing at the same time. The very thought of going on a relaxing beach holiday without access to a mobile phone or the Internet is anathema to you. Needless to say, Type A people are prone to stress and this stress can be self-induced by their lifestyle.

If you are a Type A, you need to take a step back and look at the balance that exists between work, family and you (hobbies, relaxation and health). If there is a significant imbalance, particularly if work is dominating your life, then you need to take steps to redress that situation. Remember that an accumulation of stress can lead to serious health problems.

  • Set realistic goals for yourself, both at work and at home.
  • Next, plan exactly how you will achieve those goals.
  • Delegate those things that you cannot realistically achieve.
  • Be prepared to turn down new projects rather than over-committing yourself.
  • Use things-to-do lists to focus your energies at work and avoid that headless chicken feeling.

Finally, learn to relax more. Make sure that you leave work at a reasonable time; share more time with your family and friends, and aim to become physically fitter. There is no need to feel guilty and no need to keep on proving how good or effective you are.

Type B

If you scored more ‘B’s than ‘A’s, you have a Type B working style. You like to achieve things in your own way and at your own pace; it’s rather like the hare and the tortoise, with you as the tortoise. You are happy working in a team, but may find it difficult to say ‘no’ to colleagues. You will tend to avoid confrontation and conflict, although if pushed, you can be assertive. You take a great pride in your work, but can go overboard on quality at times. You can get so engrossed in researching some small detail that you end up becoming the world’s expert on it. This consumes time and may be inappropriate if a deadline is looming. Type B people often lack clear goals in work, career and life in general. However, this can help to keep their stress levels under control.

  • You need to set quantifiable goals for yourself that can be objectively measured.
  • Beware of trying to do everything to perfection – it is time consuming. Assess an appropriate standard of quality, deliver to that level and stop there.
  • Be prepared to express your opinions when necessary, even if they may be in conflict with those of someone else. If you are assertive and maintain respect for others, you will be respected also.
  • Finally, become more decisive and stop procrastinating. It is very easy for a Type B to get so bogged down in compiling the most intricate of plans that nothing ever gets accomplished.

What works for your type?

If you have done the exercise, you will know which type of person you are, A or B, and will have seen the suggestions for avoiding the downside of belonging to that group. But of course there is an up side to each group, and really successful people know how to be flexible when the need arises. For best results, you need to know two things:

  • How to use your innate character to its best advantage
  • When to step out of character.

Here are some things to think about as you decide what will work for you at any given moment.

1. Are you a butterfly or a flower?

Schedule accordingly! Butterflies (A types) like to move around. If you have six projects, spend a little time on each task each day. Flowers (B types) blossom when they have time to grow in one spot. Dedicate an entire day or afternoon to each project.

2. Sometimes more is better

Believe it or not, researchers find that people with multiple roles tend to be happier. So whether you are a butterfly or a flower, don’t let it worry you if you have several projects/roles at once. A big win in one role can compensate for a bad day in another. And most people accomplish more when they are forced to budget their time. (Remember, however, that if you are a Type A person, you may tend to take on too many jobs at once.)

3. Dog or cat?

Decide if you need to be a dog or a cat. A cat (B) is finicky: everything must be just right. A dog (A) cuts to the chase – fast and sloppy. Which is your style, and can you vary it? No point spending time as a cat when a dog will do.

4. Your biorythms

Know what your personal rhythms are. When is your most productive part of the day for particular types of task? Use this knowledge. Do your most difficult tasks when you are at your personal best. Perform less demanding work at the time of day when you are most likely to be in a slump.

5. Motivation

Most important: know what motivates you. How can you then use this knowledge to set things up so you stay motivated? For example, does a crossed off to-do list motivate you, or is the initial to-do list just a way to start the day – and do you only look at it again at the end of the day?

6. Your schedule tolerance

How you schedule may depend on your job, but people have preferences as to how tightly they are scheduled. Those who like a very structured and pre-planned day have probably already got a workable time management system. It is in their nature to seek tools to provide the structure they need. If you work better when you can just go with the flow, a very tightly structured system will not work for you. But note that this does not give you permission to throw the diary out the window! You still need to work in with others and their schedules, and you still need to do some planning. Get to know yourself and work within your own tolerance for scheduling.

7. Computerised?

If you would like to have or you need a system that works on a computer or handheld, find one that does not require constant maintenance and attention. Some systems take so much time to keep up to date and working properly that they almost defeat the purpose of having them. One of the big advantages of a computerised system is the facility to back up the information, which is not possible with a paper-based system. Another advantage of computerisation is that you can have the same information synchronised into several different locations, such as your desktop, your laptop and a handheld device or mobile phone.

8. How many systems?

Some people prefer all of their information in one place, others run several day-planners for different areas of their lives. Which would suit you?