Time Management Training: Can It Be Done?

Some of us are gifted with time management acumen, while others simply are not. My work isn’t always (or rarely) brilliant, but it’s usually on time. I have a friend, on the other hand, who’s a talented, intelligent person, but who too often is foiled by deadlines. My reasoning always has been: Who cares how brilliant it is if it never gets turned in?

I’ve had managers who were great time managers (such as my managers at Training!) And I’m now experiencing the other end of the spectrum with a manager who wouldn’t get anything done if it were left up to him. He’s one of those types who love the process, or journey, much more than the completion of any task.

A piece in Inc., “3 Time-Management Tips from a Google Exec” by Kerry Close offers suggestions for helping the time management-challenged. Do you think your Learning team can help employees and managers better avoid time crunches and missed deadlines? Close shares a few tips from Jeremiah Dillion, head of Product Marketing at Google Apps for Work.

First, Dillon tells Close it’s important to be specific about your goals, explaining that “the workplace can be divided into two groups of people: makers and managers. While managers’ days are sorted into 30-minute intervals, makers think about their time in half days or full days. They commit to ‘make time,’ or to complete tasks within a particular time frame of their day.”

That ability to divide your work into manageable segments reminds me of how I operate. At first, I felt overwhelmed by the workload of my current job, in which it’s a nearly one-woman show in getting a small weekly online magazine published every Tuesday afternoon. Then, it dawned on me that all I had to do was create a self-monitored schedule for myself in which each day would be devoted to specific activities.

On Monday, I know I have to set time aside for my weekly editorial meeting and putting final touches on the magazine content ready for publication, including sending last-minute follow-up questions from my editors to the article authors. I also use that day to get the marketing content (our weekly e-newsletter promoting the magazine’s content) ready to go. Tuesday is publication day, while Wednesday is an editorial planning day, in which authors and advertisers are contacted for long-term planning. Thursday is writing day, and Friday is publication-drafting day, in which the lineup for the following week is finalized and put into publication-ready form awaiting final review from my editors.

It’s no longer hard to get my work done. In fact, it often feels now like I’m on autopilot—an editorial robo-Margery.

Dillon’s second tip is to rethink your meeting schedule. He notes that some meetings can be made shorter or can include fewer people, and other meetings can be rescheduled or even done away with entirely. This tip reminds of something I quickly learned in my current job: The more people involved in any decision, the harder that decision will be. It sounds obvious, but many people never learn this lesson. I frequently get e-mails with simple or unimportant decisions that are sent to five or six people. And, naturally, everyone—even those who have nothing insightful to offer—feel compelled to chime in. I noticed that, despite all the feedback and opinions those e-mails usually resulted in a stalling of the decision-making and work process. So now before I send any e-mail with a question, comment, or idea, I take a moment to consider whether any of the recipients can be eliminated. Just as too many cooks ruin a recipe, so, too, do too many interjectors and “opinionators” stall a work process.

Dillon’s last tip, to “plan your days and weeks according to your likely energy levels,” also is smart. I’ve found that by Friday I’m very un-motivated, so even though that’s the day I need to get the draft of the following week’s magazine issue ready for review, I’ve actually already completed the heaviest lifting earlier in the week, so that Friday is just the day I put all the pieces together.

One of the worst things you can do from a productivity standpoint is to deceive yourself into thinking you don’t have to prioritize and organize tasks. I know people who delude themselves into thinking they have so much energy and ability that they can work on everything at one time, and that somehow, everything will miraculously get done on time. It’s OK to admit you only have so much energy each day, and need to approach your workload in bite sizes to meet your obligations to managers, colleagues, and employees.

Is time management a skill you can teach your workforce? What kinds of training or learning programs are best for teaching employees and managers to better manage their time? What do you offer at your company to improve time management skills?

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