Val Moore advises on how to structure your working day in order to increase the amount of time available.

Introduction

“There are not enough hours in the day.” How often do you hear that refrain? There are just 24 hours in a day, so time management is about making best use of the time available; that is unless you wish to move to Mars where the day has an additional 39.5 minutes!

While it is not possible to make more time within the working day, it is possible to use it more effectively.

People tend to have different times of day when they are at their most productive: everyone needs to know their best times of the day and save difficult or complicated tasks for those periods. Also, it is good to know those times when everything is just too much trouble, usually around 30 minutes during the day. Try to organise your tea/coffee/lunch break during this time in order to recharge your batteries.

Identify those “time thieves”, those activities which, while perhaps fun, do not add to productive working time: Internet surfing, social networking sites, overlong, non-productive chats with colleagues. Other times will include those when we tell ourselves we are being productive: surfing the Ofsted website too frequently, or checking for new e-mails every 15 minutes. Then there is procrastination: avoiding a task often takes as long as it would to accomplish the task (or at least start it).

How is the day spent?

Find out how your day is actually spent. This will take just a few minutes each day for a week or two, but it is a worthwhile exercise. Simply use a paper and pencil, or perhaps an Excel spreadsheet. Below is an example of such a spreadsheet from a deputy manager. Each unit is 15 minutes.

Time

Report writing

E-mails

Telephone

Research

Chatting with colleagues

Chatting with parents

Work (children)

Personal

Breaks

8–9

1

1

2

9–10

1

2

1

10–11

3

1

11–12

2

1

1

12–1

1

1

2

1–2

4

2–3

2

2

3–4

1

1

1

1

4–5

1

1

2

From the above example, this deputy manager appears to be very industrious, doing no personal tasks and covering lunch time break with the children. But is that actually the case?

There is a lot of time spent on the phone (1.5 hours) as well as 1.25 hours answering e-mails. But how much of that time was necessary and truly productive? Chatting with colleagues and parents is, of course, part of the job; but how much was nice to do and how much was genuinely useful?

Where is time being wasted?

Be honest with yourself about where time is being wasted; then plan and prioritise. Look at the broader picture, away from the day-to-day minutiae. As an individual know your own personal and career goals for the short, medium and long term. Wherever possible, time should be directed towards activities that support those greater goals.

The deputy manager in the above example wishes to be the manager of a new provision that her employer is opening. This requires her to complete her degree and better understand employment legislation and financial controls required by the new provision.

She already has a good understanding of the childcare activities, but needs to work on the other aspects. How can this be achieved, while still undertaking her own duties and developing herself to the benefit of her employer and those around her?

How to changE

Change starts by managing oneself. First, a longer-term plan of what needs to be achieved can be set out as in SMART objectives.

Second, weekly planning has always been a useful time management technique, so plan the week ahead, with times arranged so that, should something unexpected turn up, they can be put back until later in the week. “Time Boxing” is a useful technique, particularly for complex tasks, or those that will take some time. (Time boxing was covered in detail in the article Tips for Getting Things Done.)

During the week, alongside the weekly plan, take 10 minutes every morning (possibly on the journey to work) to plan the day and prioritise your “to do” list. Include planning and preparation for the longer-term projects as well as the immediate short-term necessities. Tackle the most important tasks first.

Looking back at our deputy manager’s time sheet, here are some suggestions for time management.

  • Instead of logging onto e-mails five times a day, do it three times: first thing in the morning, after lunch, and before going home. While this may not free up 30 minutes (two units) it should free up at least 20 minutes. This is because when we break concentration time is lost (hence, turn off the e-mail alert). Have a standard return message that says the e-mail has been received and will be read within the next four hours (this works for banks); if urgent ask them to telephone. Very rarely is an e-mail truly urgent.

  • Set aside time to make phone calls en bloc (mid morning is often good as many people, eg parents, suppliers, will be where you expect them to be). For incoming calls, ask the office staff to take them in the first instance and only put people through if it is urgent; otherwise to take a message and say that they will be phoned back at a given time. Again, this will help to avoid breaking concentration and will free up a further two units (30 minutes). Alternatively, use an answer machine.

  • Continue to chat with staff members, but make those conversations meaningful: avoid talking too much about last night’s TV, but more about the working environment. Multi-task: spend two of the four units of break time engaging with other staff members.

  • For two units a day, delegate speaking to parents to another member of staff. This will again free up time, give others much-needed experience and confidence, and introduce parents to more members of staff.

All this should have freed up 1.75 hours in a day (in an ideal world), or, more realistically, 1.5 hours a day. Over a week, this represents a whole extra day and will provide time for research to further one’s own career, to be able to make proactive suggestions for the development of the provision and to spend a little more time with the children as they arrive.

With these adjustments, the deputy manager’s time sheet may then look like this.

Time

Report writing

E-mails

Telephone

Research

Chatting with colleagues

Chatting with parents

Work (children)

Personal

Breaks

8–9

1

2

1

9–10

2

1

1

10–11

3

1

11–12

4

12–1

1

1

2

1–2

4

2–3

2

2

3–4

1

2

1

4–5

1

1

2

There have not been any drastic changes in the day, but time is now being used more effectively.

As the American author H Jackson Brown said: “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Louis Pasteur, Michelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.”

Last reviewed 25 July 2012