Lesson 2 – Time Management

Understanding Yourself

Left Brain and Right Brain

It would be hard to find a person who hasn’t read a book or taken a workshop on time management, or at the very least thought about time management. Everyone is interested in learning to use their time more wisely.

However, the traditional time management wisdom seems to work well for about half the people, while others listen or read about planning, prioritising, scheduling, and doing, and then turn back to their normal way of doing things: notes tacked to every available surface, piles of paper everywhere, and several projects in the air at any given time.

These two kinds of people are sometimes labeled left brain and right brain.

Strongly left-brained people see things as black and white. For them, time flows in monochromic order: they do one thing and then they go on to another. Like Jack Webb in the old Dragnet movies says, “Just give us the facts, ma’am.”

More right-brained people have the ability to see options at every turn. For them, things are rarely black and white, and their time is polychromic, with many things happening simultaneously. They can not only talk and drive a car at the same time; they can watch TV and read.

Do you already know which type you are? Do the words describing each side of the brain help you?

The key to managing time more effectively is determining which type is more predominantly you and then trying to incorporate ideas from both types.

Another Day at the Office

It was 7:20 a.m. when Myron arrived at the office. He was early because he wanted to clear the backlog of work that had been piling up on his desk. He turned on the lights and started to go through yesterday’s mail. As he read the first piece, he realised he couldn’t deal with it until a colleague arrived. He set it aside and went to the next. This item had potential application to a project he was working on, so he walked down the hall and made a copy for his personal use.

As he continued reading his mail he came across a journal article of particular interest and become engrossed in it. As he looked up, he was startled to find that others were arriving and it was nearly 9:00.

He quickly pushed the remaining mail to a corner of his desk and reached for a project file due tomorrow with at least two days of work yet to be completed. As he opened the file, Bill and Claire stopped by and invited him to join them for coffee. Myron decided he could spare ten minutes. Bill and Claire were both anxious to share the details of a play they attended last night. Before Myron realised it, thirty minutes had passed and he hurried back to his office.

As Myron entered his office, the phone rang. It was Mr. Wilson, his manager. There was a meeting scheduled at 10:00. Could Myron sit in for him? There was something to be discussed that the department should know about. Myron looked at his watch. There wasn’t enough time to get started on the project so he pushed the file aside and vowed to start it immediately after lunch.

The afternoon wasn’t any better. A few visitors, a few phone calls, a couple of letters, and the day were over. Nothing had been accomplished on the project that was due tomorrow. As he stuffed papers into his briefcase, he wondered how Bill and Claire were able to attend plays during the evening.

Did he make good use of his best time of day?

The best time of day would be early in the morning as distractions are minimal. However, Myron got easily distracted and didn’t make use of this time.

Did he work on his high priority items?

He didn’t because he didn’t set priorities!

Did he have a problem saying no?

Absolutely. There are two situations in which Myron should have said no, or at least had some discussion before taking on more responsibility. When he went for coffee with Bill and Claire, he should have taken only ten minutes as he planned. And when his manager asked him to sit in on a meeting, Myron should have explained that as a result, he would need more time on his project.

Did he complete the tasks he started?

No, because he got distracted too easily. He could make better use of his time with a kitchen timer. Set it to go off every fifteen minutes. When it does go off, make sure you’re still on the same task and making progress.

Did he understand his problems?

No. Myron thought the solution was more time, not better time management.

What would you recommend for Myron?

Myron needs to keep a long-term to-do list, perhaps on a calendar so he can be prepared for deadlines. He also needs to make a to-do list each day and prioritise; things that don’t get done that day need to move to the next day’s list as top priority.

Myron could also schedule his day out a bit better.

  • 9:00-9:45: Address mail (He could bring the journal article home or save it for lunch rather than using this       time to read it.)
  • 9:45-10:00: Coffee with Bill and Claire
  • 10:00-12:00: Meeting
  • 12:00-1:00: Lunch
  • 1:00-2:00: Work on project
  • 2:00-2:15: Break
  • 2:15-3:00: Deal with colleagues (letters, phone calls, visitors)
  • 3:00-5:00: Work on project

With this sort of schedule, an extra two hours in the morning would have put him far ahead of planned tasks. Putting in extra time is fine now and then, but should not be seen as a solution.

Additional points to think about.

It’s hard to say if Myron was a “lark” or an “owl,” but he certainly wasn’t using his time effectively. Discuss options that take into consideration both types of people. For example, larks can come in to work and get right down to their tasks, providing they have paved the way by getting themselves organised the day before, before they head for home. Owls may need a little longer to get going. A coffee and the newspaper can be a good way of launching their day but they may need an alarm to remind them when it is time to get started.

Myron is probably right brained because of the way one thing led to another. This is common among those who are right-brain dominant. However, procrastination and an unwillingness to say “no” are problems common to everyone.