Time Management - The Time Target

Benjamin Franklin said, "time is money". But if he meant "time = money" he was selling himself short, because surely Time > Money: if you spend your money, you can make some more, but once you spend your time, it is gone forever!

And how much time do we have? Of course, we can never know for sure, but if you are 40 now you have just 25 years until the current, normal retirement age of 65. That's 25 years, or 300 months, or 1300 weeks, 6,500 working days, or 52,000 hours if you work a 40 hour week (and take no holidays!). What are you going to do with your 52,000 hours - how many do you want to spend at work - and to what effect?

There are two broad approaches to time management.


Can you use my time more efficiently - can you get others to do so? If it takes an accounts clerk one hour to process 20 invoices, what could we do to get someone to process 40 in the same time? Systems - and especially technology-based systems - may allow you to do so, and it would be silly not to do so if it can be done. But too often this approach is something "done " to people, putting them under great pressure, and if the original task was worth just £10 per hour at best you might make it worth £20 per hour. This will rarely be the way that business owners and senior management should think - and if they do they may work themselves into an early grave!


More importantly, ask whether you are using your time effectively. In a way, we cannot manage time. If I remember my physics correctly time is a constant - unless we approach the speed of light, and I'm not sure that that is a yet a practical time management technique! But we can manage what we do with it, and a great way to do that is to consider the value of what we do with that time. Make that a financial ratio, consider - what do you want our hourly rate to be? How much do you want to earn in a year - or how much value do you want to bring your organisation? Divide that by the number of hours you wish to work, and that's your desired hourly rate.

Is the value of any of the hours you work less than your desired hourly rate? A question I often ask clients is: "What would you have to pay someone to do the 25% of your tasks that have the lowest hourly rate - or the least value?" And what I usually say after that is: "So why are you doing that?" Clearly for each hour that you work that is worth less than your hourly rate you have to (a) work another hour with correspondingly greater value, (b) you have to work more hours, or (c) you have to accept that you will not get the income or increase in value that you want.

Now ask yourself: what was the "hourly rate" of each of the hours I worked in the last week or month. What, then, was the hourly rate of the bottom 25% of those hours? If it is lower than your desired average rate, could you employ someone to do those tasks for you and so to free you up to do more higher-value activities?

How many tasks do you have which are actually quite low value but where only you, or other senior people, know how to do them? Or jealously guard them for a variety of reasons - confidentiality, perhaps, or because they are enjoyable, or because you've always done it and you haven't got round to training someone else to do it.

There are a number of exercises that you can do to focus your mind on this issue. One of them we call the time target:

Let's have a bit of interaction - apart from overcoming the graphical limitations of a blog, it will help you remember this. Draw a target with a bullseye and three concentric rings. The outer ring is for those tasks that are neither urgent nor important, the next one for those that are urgent but not important, the inner ring for urgent and important activities and the bullseye is for those tasks that are important - but not urgent.

In the outer ring we have those tasks, events, and activities that are neither urgent nor important - not important for you to do, anyway. Do you have your email on receive all of the time, and do you tend to respond to every incoming email, important or not? These are distractions. Senior people tend not to spend too much time in this area - well, except for that email one, maybe - but where are your staff?

In the urgent but not important category we have those actions that are not really important, but which are urgent. If you are ever going to do them, you have to do them now. Unmanaged interruptions often come into this category. These are the activities that mean you leave work thinking that you have been very busy, but, when you review the day, you realise that you haven't really added anything of value. We call this delusion - you delude yourself that by doing these things you are working effectively.

Busy, effective people in the middle ranks of an organisation will expect to spend much of their time in the Urgent & Important Category, dealing with demand as it arises. Some people's jobs will be all about this type of work.

But in any organisation, some people, usually the most senior, should make sure that they spend at least some of their time "in the zone", working on the most important tasks. Strategic planning, developing key relationships both within and outside the organisation, training and developing people, developing and educating yourself, listening to clients and scanning the environment for new opportunities, all come within this category. Indeed, these are activities that we should devote some time to for ourselves, irrespective of what job we hold or our seniority in an organisation.

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