The following time management essay is meant to serve as an introduction to time management for anyone who wishes to organize him/herself better and become more productive. I will cover everything in order, from the field’s definition to its history, to the various strategies, software, and ideas that have defined it.
You can implement these strategies immediately, and they will definitely increase your productivity. Even if you’ve studied time management before, there is bound to be something in the following paragraphs you haven’t yet heard of. If pure facts and history seem a little dry, I invite you to read my other article on time management centered on my own personal story and experience around the subject.
So, let us begin.
Definition: Time management is the act of consciously planning and controlling the time you spend doing certain activities, with the purpose of improving your productivity and efficiency. It’s an act of juggling the time you spend with your family, on your social life, on study, on employment, as well as on other commitments and personal interests, so you take care of what’s most important to you in the limited time you have. What you consider the most important use of your time is up to your choice.
Time management’s meaning and goal is to maximize the benefits you receive from the activities you perform. Time itself cannot be changed or managed, so you must adapt to it yourself.
When you have goals, projects, or tasks that must be done by a certain due date, there are a series of techniques, tools, and skills developed by time management thinkers that can help you organize your actions. You can find all these later in our time management essay.
In the beginning, the term time management was related only to work or business tasks, but its meaning eventually encompassed personal goals and endeavors as well. A system of time management is created by combining a series of methods, processes, techniques, and tools. It is most necessary when developing a project, in order to predict and plan its scope and the time of completion.
The most prevalent ideas in time management literature are as follows:
- Priority setting;
- Reducing the time you spend on low-value tasks;
- Doing your tasks in order of priority;
- Preparing an environment designed to increase effectiveness;
- Giving incentives to make sure people do their tasks by the assigned deadline.
There are 2 concepts time management is closest to:
- Attention management: This is the management of your mind, and especially the time you keep your mind focused on a certain task;
- Project management: Time management is one of the key pieces of project management. It is a part of it also known as project scheduling or planning.
Time management within organizations is used to reduce time spent on unimportant things, and to identify the tasks and activities that require the most attention and resources. Organizational time management is used to value financially, report and identify productive time, wasted time and sustainable time. Its purpose is to make wasted time once again useful with the help of initiatives, products, projects, and services which bring a positive return on the initial investment.
Time Management History
Next in this time management essay, let us cover its history, as it began with the industrial revolution. Up until a few centuries ago, people would live one-dimensionally, as artisans, farmers or anglers. Their work was small in scale and their output was subject to the wind and the sun.
Back then, the only time management to speak of was planning according to the seasons, the tides, the agricultural tempos or the weather. For example, work hours were dependent on daylight, the growing season’s circumstances affected productivity, and the holidays were arranged according to the weather. Timekeeping was maintained based on the moon and the sun.
However, the developments brought by the industrial revolution and those that followed gave society the power to control nature for its own goals. Relying on the weather ended with the introduction of factories and large machines. Soon afterward, electricity and artificial light put an end to man’s dependency on the sun.
Most important for this article, time management was made possible with the invention of the clock. However, the way time was seen still differed from how it’s perceived today. Although from the very beginning, clocks were highly precise, the early versions had only an hour hand that showed time by the quarter hour. During the industrial revolution, counting every second did not seem necessary or important.
Time Management in the 19’Th Century
In the 19’th century, the idea of time management began taking shape due to several factors. For our time management essay, we’ve chosen the following 3 as the most relevant:
- Because of the technological developments brought by the industrial revolution, the agrarian economy turned into a trade based one. This required time to be managed much more strictly, since goods had to be traded in a timely fashion.
- Precise timing was needed for services like the railroads, the telegraph, and the postal service. This made values, such as speed and productivity, stand out.
- The views of Isaac Newton and other scientists and scholars caught the public’s eye. Isaac Newton was a proponent of a universe which worked with a sense of discipline and rationality, an idea that people adopted in their own lives, themselves becoming more disciplined.
However, it was Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson who consolidated time management’s importance. To schedule his indoor chores, Thomas Jefferson created a clock with 3 hands and a dial which indicated time to the second. Benjamin Franklin’s ideas on time management are famous to this day. He is the one to first say: “Time is the stuff of which life is made” and “Time is money.”
Thanks to their influence, the common people started associating adulthood with timeliness. When a child began wearing a watch, it symbolized his entry into the world of time conscious grownups.
Punctuality was also enforced in the 1830s by the school system, as they began being organized into lessons and hours. Lateness was punished and punctuality received certificates.
Before the 19’Th century, home and work life were balanced by doing them at the same time, similar to the telecommuting and flex time approaches of today. However, the opening of factories and the introduction of standard working hours split home and work into 2 separate entities.
Since you had less time to handle chores at home, managing your time became even more important. In 1847, A Treatise on Domestic Economy came out, written by Catharine Beecher. It dealt with household habits meant to save time and was a bestseller.
As a side note, while the workmen of the 19’Th century followed tough schedules, businessmen were much more flexible. Typically, they would spend around 3 hours working on their businesses, then move on to other obligations, such as the church, the government, their families, etc.
Time management in the Beginning of the 20’Th Century
In the 20’Th century, time management evolved alongside the science of management. For this time management essay, we will mention Taylor, who believed the reason for the workers’ tardiness was their habit of working slowly since they had no motivation to move faster. Because of this, Taylor suggested we set up clear targets at work and pay workers for accomplishing those targets and goals. This required better time management and turned into the basis of modern approaches.
The following need for workplace flexibility, multitasking, and the appearance of families with 2 incomes, demanded balancing home and work responsibilities. These raised the importance of the now vital discipline known as time management.
Modern Time Management
In the modern era, the approaches to time management number in the hundreds, and there’s more emphasis on balancing home and work than ever.
According to Stephen R. Covey, in his book “First Things First,” time management’s evolution after the Second World War can be split into 4 phases:
- The first phase is based on alerts and clock reminders. This approach was considered rudimentary and traditional.
- The second phase is based on time-based goals and the overall preparation and planning of events and work.
- In the third phase, some events and tasks were given more importance than others. Tasks were controlled with the help of schedulers and unimportant ones were postponed indefinitely.
- The fourth phase introduces the current approach to time management. This approach also prioritizes events and tasks, but prioritization is not made based on the task’s urgency like in the third phase but on its importance. Also, the use of time management tools is highly encouraged.
Building an Environment Conducive to Work
From this point on, our time management essay will focus on the different ideas and strategies developed by thinkers over time. Many books on time management propose you build an environment where you are most effective. The strategies used to achieve this are:
- Achieving by getting goal focused using goal management,
- Getting organized (organizing your tasks and paperwork),
- Fixing bad time-related habits,
- Protecting your time with delegation, isolation, and insulation.
Proponents of building an effective environment suggest you keep a tidy home and office where you can be relaxed and creative, as well as making full use of your prime time. Another important part of time management they focus on is overcoming psychological problems like procrastination.
Being unable to manage your time on a chronic or excessive level may be the result of ADD or ADHD. Among the factors used to diagnose such problems, we count an inability to organize oneself, underachievement, trouble following through on projects, starting multiple projects at once, difficulties in beginning a task, etc.
Of course, you should not immediately assume you suffer from a mental illness. Most cases of bad time management are merely caused by laziness or bad habits.
The prefrontal cortex is another major focus point for some authors. This is the last part of our brains to evolve, and it’s responsible for the control of impulses, your attention, your ability to monitor yourself, organize yourself, etc. These authors sustain the workings of the prefrontal cortex can be changed through practice, so you can train your mind to work the way you want it to.
Goals and Priorities
Like numerous other literary works, in this time management essay, I also highly recommend setting personal goals. Time management literature often contains ideas, like:
- Set goals and start working on them in order of priority,
- Set attractive goals that give you the impulse to immediately act.
Such goals are noted and afterward compiled into a task list, an action plan or a project. You can assign priorities, set deadlines and give them a rating based on their importance. The result of this process is a calendar, a schedule, or a list of tasks for you to begin working on immediately. Authors may suggest you make a plan for each day, week, month, or year that follows, depending on how big your goal is.
There are many ways to do this, but for our time management essay, we shall mention these as the most popular:
The ABC Analysis
This strategy has been practiced in the management of businesses for quite some time, with the goal of separating large amounts of data into groups based on their importance. According to this ranking, A activities are both important and urgent, B activities are not urgent, but important, and C activities are unimportant regardless of how urgent they are.
After this basic separation is made, the groups are further ordered based on their priority. To refine the list even further, some people will take all the B ranked data and forcefully put it in the A or C categories. Of course, an analysis made with the ABC method can contain a D rank group and so on, depending on your preference. This method is often used in combination with the Pareto Principle.
The Pareto Principle
Vilfredo Pareto is the one to think of the 80/20 principle or the Pareto principle as it’s also known. According to his idea, most of the things you need to get done put together (80%) take only a little time to do them (20%). However, we must beware of the rest of the tasks (the remaining 20%), for these will take up most of our time (80%). Applied this way, a person using the Pareto principle to sort out his tasks should give greater attention to the tasks that can be completed faster.
However, we can also apply the Pareto principle to productivity. In this case, we can observe that 20% of all our actions bring us most of our results (80%). The rest of the things we do at work or home are not really that important, so they should be delegated if possible.
For example, if you’re an SEO professional trying to get a client on the first page of Google, then the most important tasks you have to take care of may be optimizing the client’s pages and building links. If this is what you know will bring most of the results, working on his Facebook profile or doing any other tasks should be avoided.
When completing any task or trying to obtain a result, there is always an easy and a complicated way to do it. The complicated version always takes more time, so we should always try to simplify the way we do things.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Next, in our time management essay, we must mention one of the most influential people in this field. According to Eisenhower, you will always face 2 kinds of problems: urgent problems and important ones. However, if you look at these problems closely, you’ll notice the urgent problems are rarely important, and the important problems are almost never urgent.
Using this principle, you can measure tasks based on how urgent, not urgent, important or unimportant they are. Afterwards, you can place them in an Eisenhower Box, and deal with them as follows:
- Tasks which are both urgent and important should be dealt with personally and immediately;
- Tasks that are not urgent but important should be dealt with personally and given a due date;
- Urgent yet unimportant tasks should be removed from your list;
- Not urgent and unimportant tasks should be removed as well.
The POSEC Method
This method relies on a template that focuses on your immediate monetary and emotional security. It recommends you take care of your responsibilities before anything else.
The acronym stands for:
- Prioritize your actions and organize your life using specific goals;
- Organize whatever you need to take care of on a regular basis;
- Streamline the activities you dislike, but must take care of;
- Economize on the number of activities you must accomplish which are not pressing. Cut out on some of your socializing and pastime;
- Contribute to the few things which are really important.
The Domino Effect
Some tasks, like taking a bath or eating, you take care of once, then sometime later, the effect is gone and you must do them again. However, other tasks, once completed, will have a domino effect and keep giving you rewards for weeks or even years afterward (ex. learning how to drive a car). Using this method, you can gain a lot more benefits by completing tasks with a long-term positive effects, such as reading, exercising, changing your eating habits, learning social skills, etc.
Accomplishing your Goals
A list of things you must accomplish, or a to-do list, is something any time management essay will at least mention. It includes the steps and/or chores you must take care of to complete a project or reach a certain objective. It’s an inventory created to help you organize your mind, and it acts as a supplement or alternative to memory.
To do lists are mostly used as grocery lists, in software development, business management, self-management and project management. When you accomplish a task on your list, you cross it out or check it.
Traditionally, these lists are made on a piece of paper using a pencil or a pen, and after completing one or more tasks, it is recommended you do something to reward or celebrate your accomplishment. This will help ingrain the habit of working from a list and will motivate you to check more things off it.
Time management’s do’s and don’ts as suggested by Julie Morgenstern are as follows:
- Make a list to map out all your important tasks;
- Build a time oasis for you to manage;
- Use the word NO;
- Don’t eliminate every task;
- Don’t leave critical work for your spare time.
Digital equivalents, such as PIM application and the majority of PDAs are widely available. You can also find list applications on the web, some of which you can use for free.
Organizing your Task List
Quite often, task lists are tiered and diarized. The most basic tiered system, as mentioned in numerous time management essays, is composed of a general list meant to inventory all the goals one has to accomplish, and a more specific to do list for each day, made the day before, by moving activities from the general list. To avoid unneeded tasks, you can also create a list of things not to do.
Prioritizing task lists can be done as follows:
- Create a daily to-do list, and number the items in it based on their importance. Resolving each item in order until the day’s end is an idea first thought of by Ivy Lee.
- The ABC system can be used for this purpose by grouping all tasks you’ll do that day as A tasks, all tasks you’ll complete this week as B tasks, all tasks you’ll complete this month as C tasks, and so on.
- When it comes to your daily list’s prioritization, you may note each task based on its priority. Or you can list every task first, and afterward, assign each a number. The number 1 task will be completed first, number 2 second, etc. This second method is usually faster.
- Another idea advocated by experts in their time management essays is putting and completing the most difficult task from the A group first. After it’s completed, the rest of the items will seem easier. As for group B / C items, the same idea can be used, but in a slightly different way. In such cases, by singling out the most difficult task, you’ll feel motivated to do all the rest just so you can avoid it.
- Finally, Mark Forster, a British Author, proposed you forget about prioritizing altogether. Instead of a never-ending list of things to do, which you cannot possibly accomplish in a day, he suggests you make a closed list, a to-do list you should be able to finish by the day’s end.
This way, if some of the work is left undone, you can review your actions and improve them. Also, finishing your list will give you a great sense of achievement, something which may not happen with an open/endless list.
The problems of to-do lists have been expressed by numerous writers. For this time management essay, we mention:
- Writing a to-do list consumes time you could otherwise use to complete it. Some people might use the to-do lists as an excuse to procrastinate, causing analysis paralysis. Doing too much planning may actually slow down your task completion.
- For your list to work, you must take some details for granted. Instead of adding bathroom cleaning and kitchen cleaning, it helps more to add housekeeping to your list. This helps you write the list faster and gives you less stress and items to complete.
Remember: Whenever you add another task to your list, you’ll need more effort and time to manage it. This is the mental effort you make to get yourself to complete it. The more tasks you have and the more precise they are, the more overwhelming they will seem and the more you’ll be likely to procrastinate on them.
- Exclude routine tasks from your list. You are already doing them daily without thinking of them, so there’s no point in wasting your time writing them down. Getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, making your meals, are all things you naturally do daily, so there’s no need to put them on your list.
- Make space in your list in case of a disaster. Even if the disaster is small, if you haven’t prepared and made time for it, it can evolve, growing into a severe problem.
- So you’re not trapped in wasteful patterns, add to your system regular planning and evaluation sessions. This way, you can eliminate inefficient actions and make sure you’re heading towards your goals.
- If you do not allocate some of your time to long-term goals, you may end up trapped in a short-term plan loop, like staying in a dead end job while wanting to move on.
Time Management Software:
Software used in time tracking is prevalent in various companies, so the billable hours and working time of employees can be tracked. Most software products assist more than one person, giving the team leader or manager the ability to efficiently hand out tasks, by communicating through it.
Modern applications allow for multiple ways of ordering and filtering your task list, and may permit you to stick notes of any length to each task. Some software products are even designed to determine, on their own, the highest priority tasks for you to accomplish.
Systems for Time Management
Such systems usually use a clock or an application based on the internet to track your working hours. This way, you will see how much you’ve worked and on what, allowing you to better organize yourself. For this time management essay, we will mention 2 such systems:
Getting things done (GTG) was David Allen’s idea. He emphasized doing all your smaller tasks as soon as possible, then dividing bigger problems into smaller one, which you can begin doing now. He proposed this method so you’ll avoid brain freeze or information overload from handling too many tasks or from facing too complicated a problem. David Allen’s system encourages you to put things on paper as soon as possible, to organize them, so you can see and manage them easily, and then to begin work immediately.
Another popular time management system is the Pomodoro technique, invented in the 1980s and redefined in 1992. Its creator, Francesco Cirillo proposed you split your time into 30-minute intervals, during which you would work for 25 minutes and then rest for the remaining 5. After every 4 such intervals, the thinker recommended you take a 15-30 minute break to recharge your batteries. After various experiments while mentoring and with work groups, Francesco decided that the ideal interval should be between 20 and 35 minutes long.
Getting Rid of Low Priority Tasks
Finally, we cannot end this time management essay without mentioning the importance of eliminating actions, emotions and tasks that return too little value for the time you’d have to invest in them.
When setting goals and priorities, you’ll inevitably feel worry and stress. The purpose of this feeling is to make you think about the future. However, this future is merely a projection in your mind. It is not reality, and you rarely gain anything from it. So, most of the time, you’re just draining your energy pointlessly.
Changing your daily habits is extremely difficult. To get rid of unnecessary tasks and feelings when working or studying, it is recommended you divide them, postpone what’s unimportant, balance work with rest, and cut down on non-productive and leisure time.
Unnecessary things that damage your ability to manage your time are as follows:
- Bad habits,
- Guilt for not meeting your goals,
- Not defining your tasks properly,
- Procrastination (also caused by guilt),
- Raising your expectations too high,
- Focusing on completing tasks which do very little to support your needs,
- Focusing on sectional conflicts and interests,
- Focusing on lengthy tasks,
Building a systematic process for managing your time and turning it into a habit will greatly improve your productivity, results, and satisfaction with your life. Take out a piece of paper right now, and just as an experiment, make a list applying one or more of the ideas presented in this time management essay. See what you can remember, what stuck with you and which thoughts warrant a second read.
Create your own system. Perfect it in time, and it will continue to serve for the rest of your life.