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Following a report and proposal from leading think tank Autonomy, from June to December 2022, more than 70 UK companies and organisations are trialling a four-day working week, with no loss in pay for employees. It is the biggest ever trial of a four-day week in the world.
More than 3,300 workers, based throughout the UK and representing more than 30 sectors, are receiving 100 per cent of their pay for 80 per cent of their time, in exchange for a commitment to maintaining at least 100 per cent productivity. Their research aims to show that there is no positive correlation between productivity and the number of hours worked per day.
With the goal of the project to achieve a permanent 32-hour (or less) four-day week, with a reduction of hours and no loss of pay, organisations and their workers are going to need to examine how they are managing their time, and work towards improving their time management skills in order to work smarter not harder in order to achieve this goal.
BBC Radio Four collated a number of interesting facts and figures about time in the UK workplace and time management.
- Employers in Sweden have been trialling the six-hour workday for the simple reason that it appears to make people happier and healthier, and more productive. In one pilot with a group of care workers, initial results after 18 months were promising: staff reported better health, took less time off sick and organised 85% more activities for their patients.
- Research suggests that UK businesses lose two hours of employees’ time each day to inefficient processes and unproductive activities. Among other things, time is lost to reading unnecessary emails, looking for missing files, recreating lost documents, unscheduled interruptions and unnecessary meetings.
- The average UK office worker spends around 25% of their week either in meetings or preparing for them. This adds up to 17,470 hours across a 40-year career, or higher for many managers and directors.
- The average UK employee only uses three-quarters of their annual leave entitlement.
What is time management?
Time management is all about organising time wisely so that it can be used more effectively. Being busy isn’t the same as being effective. In fact, for many people, the busier they are, the less they actually achieve.
Management guru Tony Robbins provides the following definition of time management: “Time management is your ability to use your time effectively, be productive and accomplish not only your daily tasks, but your larger life goals. It means knowing the difference between being busy and being productive”.
Time management refers to making the best use of time as time is always limited. Every day comprises 24 hours, or 1440 minutes, no more, no less. We cannot save time to use another day, only spend it in that 24-hour period. Time management is about spending that finite amount of time wisely.
Why is time management important?
Time management plays a very important role not only in organisations but also in our personal lives. When you manage time, you can plan and prioritise better. Good time management helps you achieve bigger goals, reduces procrastination, and increases productivity.
Learning how to improve productivity, and getting more things done in less time, you decrease your stress levels, leaving you in a better state of health overall.
Some of the most important aspects of having good time management skills are that they:
- Help to eliminate procrastination by ensuring that you are organised and are on top of the tasks on your to-do list and when they need to be completed by.
- Help to reduce unnecessary stress and tensions in your life. When you start to feel overwhelmed due to too much work on your plate, this can not only hamper your productivity but also take a toll on your overall health. Excessive stress and hypertension can lead to heart diseases, depression, obesity and more. Knowing what to do to prioritise what needs to be done and when can help to organise time to deal with the most important and urgent tasks.
- Assist with meeting deadlines, as being punctual with your work will not only increase your effectiveness but will also help you to earn a good reputation at work as people can depend upon you to deliver what you promise.
- Improve your overall quality of life, as time management skills don’t just benefit your working life but can also improve your life outside the workplace. Being in control on the work front gives you more time to focus on your personal life and relationships by bringing a sense of calmness to your life, and as you feel calmer and less stressed out, your quality of life improves automatically.
- Help you to achieve a better work-life balance, one of the most important benefits of time management. When you spend long hours working, you risk burnout and feeling tired all the time. Creating a good balance between your work life and personal life helps to prevent burnout, making you more effective both at work and outside work.
How to develop time management skills
The majority of us are not born with an internal ability to manage our time effectively; for most, it is a skill that needs to be learnt and developed. It does require some self-discipline, as it is all too easy to become distracted and to procrastinate, especially when we are not focused on the end goal. Luckily, time management skills can be easily learnt as there are many tools, techniques and tips to employ that can help you to develop them.
The first place to start when developing time management skills is to assess what you are doing currently. All of us get 24 hours in a day, and although it is not possible to change the number of hours in a day, you can utilise that time to its best advantage by first identifying at what time of the day you are at your most effective.
Then you can conduct a time audit so that you can clearly see how you spend your time currently. Track your time over a period of several days so that you can get a better idea of how you are spending your time. By doing this you can examine and analyse how you actually spend your time compared with how you want to spend your time.
Next, prioritising your daily tasks is the key to successful time management. Categorising your tasks by how important and how urgent they are, will help you to focus on what actually needs to be done.
Knowing what time of day you are at your performance peak helps you to plan these times for the most important tasks, and the ones that are urgent that require immediate attention. Allocating a finite time period to these tasks can also help you to complete them on time. You finish tasks as quickly and effectively as possible without compromising on the quality of your work.
Getting yourself organised can really help when you are developing time management skills. If someone isn’t organised and has a messy or cluttered workspace, they will spend around 1½ hours per day, or even more, either being distracted or searching for missing things, and in a single week, this could add up to approximately 7½ hours of lost time – that’s 7½ hours when you could be socialising with friends or engaging in a sport or your other hobbies.
Controlling your interruptions and distractions would also drastically improve the effectiveness of your time management. The average person gets 7–8 distractions every hour, which in turn equals 50–60 interruptions per day.
The majority of these issues are usually found to be unnecessary, such as looking at every email as it arrives, trying to work in a noisy environment or being readily available to drop everything when someone asks for your time.
Using a diary to establish set times for the things you need to do can really help; for example, diarise times in the morning, mid-day and towards the end of the day to deal with emails, blank out time for tasks that need your full concentration, and make sure that you let others know when you will be available for interruptions.
Once you get these fundamentals in place, you can begin to monitor what works for you and what doesn’t, and make any necessary adjustments.
Experiment with the many time management tools and strategies to find out how these can assist you, such as:
- To-do lists, to help prioritise.
- Diary/wall chart for scheduling tasks, meetings, breaks etc.
- Outlook reminders, to ensure important items are not missed.
- Eisenhower matrix, used for prioritising important tasks.
- Time trackers, to make sure that tasks don’t expand to fill the time available – set your own deadlines.
- Assertiveness, to manage interruptions and time-wasters – say no when you need to.
- Taking care of your health and wellbeing, taking breaks, including holidays, to give you time to rejuvenate your energy levels and maintain your motivation.
Why are time management skills important?
Without good time management skills, your work and wellbeing can suffer, and it can lead to:
- Producing poor quality work.
- Missing deadlines.
- Being seen as undependable.
- Damaging your professional reputation.
- Increasing your stress levels.
- Harming your work-life balance.
Good time management skills benefit you in every area of your life. The benefits of managing time are simple, they allow you to accomplish more results in a shorter period of time, which leads to more time freedom, helps you focus better, allows you to be more productive, lowers your stress and gives you more time to spend with the people that matter most.
Taking control of your time reduces stress and anxiety; less stress increases productivity and helps you to sleep better. When you work longer and harder your energy levels can drop and you feel tired all the time. One of the biggest benefits of managing time and achieving the things that you have set out to achieve is having greater energy and motivation. Increased energy helps you to focus on your most important goals.
How to improve time management skills
It is just as important to optimise your personal time management as it is to optimise your professional time management. Personal time management involves managing your time outside of the workplace instead of letting it manage you, and reclaiming those seemingly elusive lost hours of the day. If you have a well-organised and less stressful life outside work, the benefits of this will be felt in your working life too.
Before you can improve your time management skills, you have to recognise where there is a problem. Are you late for appointments, for meeting friends, even for arriving at work? Do you arrive in a fluster and feeling more stressed than usual? You need to identify why you are always running late. Do you have too much on your plate? It’s a matter of redistributing and prioritising some of the commitments and responsibilities that you have.
Cutting down on any time-wasting activities and asking for help can help to lighten the load. Plan your time carefully without stressing over the tasks you need to tackle, and try not to cram too much into too little time. Unexpected complications can arise at any time so time for these will also need to be factored in. The best planners know that problems can crop up at any time and things can take longer than expected.
While it is tempting to say yes to all requests, especially from family and friends, set boundaries and learn to say NO; remember it is the request that you are refusing, not the person.
Also remember that you need to schedule in time to switch off from your responsibilities, to take a break to relax, to talk to friends and family, perhaps to offload any problems and to go back to your commitments with a clear head.
How to improve time management skills in the workplace
As mentioned above, developing and improving your time management skills will take experimentation and practice to find out what works for you. The overall aim for improving your time management skills is so that you are able to control your workday so you can improve your personal effectiveness and productivity without compromising your work-life balance.
When you learn to block time out of your day for all your important tasks, you will have a better idea of everything you need to accomplish and how long each task should take. You will find that you spend less time deciding what to work on or procrastinating, and more time getting down to important work. Consequently, when you are not constantly racing to meet a deadline, you can put more effort and thought into your work and improve your work quality.
To be able to achieve this, assign every task on your list to specific blocks of time and try to stick to them. You may not succeed in keeping to them at first, but keep adjusting and noting why things might be taking longer than the time you assigned.
Did you assign long enough or do you still need to manage interruptions? When you understand how to manage your time effectively, you will become more focused at work which allows you to accomplish more with less time available.
Set goals that are S.M.A.R.T, that is:
- Achievable / agreed.
These goals should bring a solid structure to your work life and prepare you for what is in store for you on a day-to-day basis.
Planning out your time in advance is the most important element of good time management. Get a good sense before you start each day of how much time you will spend working on everything on your task list and prioritise.
Make sure you clearly know the goals of your organisation and your part in achieving them, so that you can focus your daily plans around doing tasks that directly relate to these. If you establish a routine, you can focus better on the tasks in your day. If you have a routine for most of your day, whilst unexpected events will inevitably happen, you will be better able to deal with them when you have time to spare, and you can still be more productive.
Take small breaks frequently to refresh and rejuvenate. Breaks are one of the effective time management strategies. Accept that you can’t do everything all at once and in one day. Don’t get frustrated if you could not do everything you had planned to do, but give yourself a small reward for tasks you do accomplish in the day, as rewards can be a great motivator.
How to improve time management skills for students
One of the most important skills anyone who is embarking on a course of study will need to learn is how to effectively manage their study workload to ensure that they submit their essays, assignments, projects and other work on time. Studies have shown that students who manage their time tend to get better marks and have a better study/personal life balance. Most of the tools and strategies outlined above can be integrated into time management when studying.
By creating a work plan to study in a regular pattern, perhaps by working a set number of hours a day, helps to maintain a balance in your student life, as scheduling time for participating in recreational activities is important too. The human mind and body make better decisions and perform more efficiently when they are well-rested, so ensuring that you get enough sleep is an important element of good time management.
As well as developing a work schedule, develop a schedule for your sleep too, and stick to it every day. When you get a sound night’s sleep for six to eight hours, not only will you feel fresh and rejuvenated, but it also contributes to a healthy lifestyle and it enables you to make better decisions and perform more efficiently when you are well-rested.
Here are some time management tips from leading UK universities and colleges:
“You should buy a diary and use it. Work out how much time you should allocate to each element of your course and try to stick to a timetable.” Oxford University
“Create a study diary or a wall planner, your study plan could be a long to-do list for the weeks ahead, but it probably works better as a diary or wall planner. Online calendars have the benefit of being easily edited to reflect any change in your plans.” University of Leeds
“Think about your short-term goals, such as completing an assignment. Try to divide your work for an assignment into manageable chunks that you can schedule into the study sessions you have available. Breaking up a large task like this helps your motivation, so you really do get started on a particular study task. By setting goals and getting used to working to a plan you’ll find it easier to stick to your study schedule.” The Open University (OU)
“It can be easy to get distracted when studying. Try to work out what is taking up your time so that you can avoid distractions.” University of Sussex
“To be effective, you need to decide what tasks are urgent and important and to focus on these. In other words, prioritise them. Don’t be fooled by things which look urgent, urgent things are not always the most important. Ask what happens if you don’t do the urgent job, but do one of the important ones instead.” CIFE six form college
“While your academic work should be the main focus of your time at Uni, you shouldn’t feel that you have to study all the time. Use the study time you’ve allocated effectively and you won’t need to feel guilty when you do something else at other times. Make sure that you have factored regular breaks into your planning so you can take time away from work and avoid getting too stressed.” Imperial College London
We are all guilty of wasting time with common time-wasters that cut into our productivity. What is stealing your time? Knowing how much time you are wasting and where you are wasting it will give you an accurate picture of how much time you spend on your daily activities. Knowing this is the first step to effective time management. Perhaps then we can all work towards a four-day working week.