Time Management: Ideas You Can Use

Looking to tackle your new goals in the new year? Here are some time-tested practices to help you succeed.

First introduced in the early 20th century, time management skills are now essential to getting things done. In this article we’d like to present the best of Western thought - ABC analysis, Pareto analysis, Eisenhower method and Task List Organization - to help you pick the best practice for you. The Russian alternative – Gleb Arkhangelsky and his method – we will be presenting in our next article.

Definition of Time Management

Wikipedia describes time management as “the process of planning and exercising conscious control over the amount of time spent on specific activities, especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency or productivity”. What does that mean? Time management is always a juggling act of various tasks and demands. It can be your studies, social life, employment, basically any kind of work, family issues, as well as personal interests and commitments. They all have to be placed, prioritized and completed within the limited scale of time. So what’s the biggest benefit of using  one’s time effectively? It gives the person in question choice on spending time / managing activities at their own time and expediency, as Stella Cottrell puts it in her book The Study Skills Handbook.

Brief History of Time Management

The roots of time management go back to the business world. The industrial revolution of the 19th century and the rise of factories created a need to come up with a new formula for a relationship people generally have with time. Factory work, unlike agrarian labor, demanded punctuality. Thus, people had to learn to live by the clock rather than by the sun.

Schooling became as much (or more) about preparing students to become good factory workers with the right habits: punctual and productive. Soon enough “Time is money" - Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote - became the mantra of the business world.

In 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor published his book The Principles of Scientific Management and essentially started a whole new discipline. In this book he presented his own theory of management based on the analysis and synthesis of work flows. And the main objective of Taylorism, as it became known later on, was to improve worker productivity.

His work was widely influential, reaching its apex, perhaps, in Henry Ford’s Model T assembly line (1913). Although Ford didn’t invent the assembly line, he refined it by installing driven conveyor belts that could produce a Model T in 93 minutes

With the transition from a sand clock to a mechanical watch, a new habitual custom was formed: new retirees started to receive mechanical wrist watches as gifts from their former bosses. This custom symbolized that they now got their time all to themselves and were free to do whatever they desired with it.

ABC analysis

ABC analysis (or Selective Inventory Control) is an inventory categorization technique used in business management for a long time. It categorizes large data into groups marked A, B, and C - hence the name. Generally, all activities are ranked by these general criteria:

·         A – Tasks that are urgent and important;

·         B – Tasks that are important but not urgent;

·         C – Tasks that are unimportant (whether urgent or not).

Each group is then rank-ordered by priority. To further refine the prioritization, some individuals choose to then force-rank all "B" items as either "A" or "C". ABC analysis can incorporate more than three groups.

ABC analysis is frequently combined with Pareto analysis.

Pareto analysis

This is the idea that 80% of tasks can be completed in 20% of the disposable time. The remaining 20% of tasks will take up to 80% of the time. This principle is used to sort tasks into two parts. According to this form of Pareto analysis, it is recommended that tasks that fall into the first category be assigned a higher priority.

The 80-20-rule can also be applied to increase productivity: it is assumed that 80% of the productivity can be achieved by doing 20% of the tasks. Similarly, 80% of results can be attributed to 20% of activity. If productivity is the aim of time management, then these tasks should be prioritized higher.

It depends on the method adopted to complete the task. There is always a simpler and easier way to complete the task. If one uses a complex way, it will be time consuming. So, one should always try to find out alternative ways to complete each task.

The Eisenhower Method

A basic "Eisenhower box" to help evaluate urgency and importance. Items may be placed at more precise points within each quadrant.

The "Eisenhower Method" stems from a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower: "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."

Using the Eisenhower Decision Principle, tasks are evaluated using the criteria important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent - and then placed in according quadrants in an Eisenhower Matrix (also known as an "Eisenhower Box" or "Eisenhower Decision Matrix.

Tasks are then handled as follows:

Tasks in

1.    Important/Urgent quadrant are done immediately and personally (e.g. crises, deadlines, problems).

2.    Important/Not Urgent quadrant get an end date and are done personally (e.g. relationships, planning, recreation).

3.    Unimportant/Urgent quadrant are delegated (e.g. interruptions, meetings, activities).

4.    Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrant are dropped (e.g. time wasters, pleasant activities, trivia).

This method is said to have been used by U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

If all else fails, there’s always the tried-and-true to-do list.

Task list organization

Task lists are often diarized and tiered. The simplest tiered system includes a general to-do list (or task-holding file) to record all the tasks the person needs to accomplish, and a daily to-do list which is created each day by transferring tasks from the general to-do list. An alternative is to create a "not-to-do list", to avoid unnecessary tasks. Task lists are often prioritized.

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