One of the fundamental skills you’ll need to be successful in the workplace is time management. The business day is structured, and you need to make sure you’re doing the right things, in the right place, at the right time! Time management is a particularly important skill for those who work unattended, or who schedule projects or manage other people.
So what exactly is it, and how can you work on making it one of your strengths?
What is time management?
Time management is the art of planning your time to make the most effective use of it. Within the workplace, it means making sure you arrive in good time at the start of the day, and that you’re set up for any meetings or work that need to happen at a specific place and time.
But that’s the bare minimum… Effective time management is about more than showing up! Thinking about your tasks and responsibilities ahead of time lets you plan them better. By considering things like the priority of tasks, how long they might take, or what information or input you need to get started, you can get more done with less stress.
And being conscious of other people’s time makes you a good team worker. It shows you can listen effectively and have emotional awareness.
Time management is a transferable skill. It’s useful in all jobs, and valued by all employers. It’s also an important life skill. Good time management helps you make the most of your personal life and down time. Making time for friends, sport and relaxation can help you relax and feel more refreshed for work.
Good time management is a key way to reduce stress.(1)
Examples of time management in action
Let’s look at a few examples of how good time management might make you a better – and happier – worker.
Jamal has a 15-minute break at 10:30, and often finds that he’s hungry. The snack machine is back near the site entrance, so he has to eat in a hurry while he walks back to his work.
Jamal could be managing his time better by picking up a snack on the way onto site in the morning. He’d then get to relax while he eats. Better still, he could save money by bringing something in that he’s prepared from home.
Maya has been given an assignment for the end of next week. She’s not sure she understands it, but she’s planning to work on it from Monday. And trying not to stress about it in the meantime.
Maya could schedule some time to read the brief thoroughly this week. This gives her longer to check with her teacher if she doesn’t understand it, and reduces the chance that she’ll be unclear and stressed as the deadline draws near.
Rosa’s landlord wants to inspect her flat on Saturday morning, but she’s heading out on Friday night. The plan is not to drink too much, then get up early to do some cleaning.
It’s a much better plan to head home first and get the cleaning out of the way. With the flat tidy, Rosa can relax and enjoy her evening – even if it starts a bit later. As a bonus, she can have a lie-in on Saturday morning!
Calum hasn’t prepared the figures he needs for his 10am meeting. He was fairly confident he could wing it, but in the event he froze. Now the meeting’s been rescheduled and he’s not flavour of the month. His lack of time management also had a negative impact on his team. Good time management would have seen Calum prepare the figures in advance – and be ready to contribute to the meeting.
Summer is anxious to crack on with a new project, but she has other, smaller chunks of work to fit in. In the 10 minutes before her next meeting she tries to pick up on the new project, but she barely gets started before she has to move on.
Better time management means matching your work to the time available. So using a free 10 minutes to complete a short task – like replying to a couple of emails – ticks it off your to-do list. And this clears the way for you to use bigger blocks of available time to work on more intensive projects.
Why is time management important in the workplace?
Bosses value people who are able to manage their time effectively. Aside from making you more productive, it makes life easier for your supervisor or manager. They can focus on their own time management if they’re not having to check up on how you’re organising work and what progress you’re making!
More fundamentally, workplaces operate to schedules and routines. This is particularly true on a nuclear site, like Hinkley Point, where there are procedures for when people can arrive and leave the site. And extra safety precautions to consider when getting ready for work.
Time management is a vital skill for career progression. As you become responsible for managing others – and for delivering more complex projects spanning longer timeframes – you’ll need the ability to juggle commitments and resources in the most effective way.
In a survey of employee skills, nearly two out of three of employers mentioned time management as one of the skills their employees lacked.(2)
How might you have demonstrated good time management at school or college?
Of course, time management isn’t just something you learn when you get into work. You’ll likely have already started to develop the skill at school or college.
Even on a basic level, turning up for a class in good time, with the right equipment, demonstrates you’re able to make the most of your time. And if you’re able to balance school and homework with other interests – like seeing friends or after-school clubs – that’s an example of good time management!
Managing your time effectively is particularly useful in the run up to exams. Being able to plan and manage your revision across multiple subjects is quite a test of your skills.
Similarly, fitting a Saturday or part-time job around your studies could pose a challenge. Perhaps you’ve planned, produced and submitted work early to free up time for work? Or recognised that you couldn’t take an extra shift because it wouldn’t leave time for studying?
Time management is a vital skill in casual jobs. If you’ve worked in a restaurant, you’ll have learnt how to juggle taking orders, fielding requests, serving, clearing plates and cleaning up! Behind a bar you might have learned to manage your time by prioritising immediate tasks like serving, alongside less vital jobs like restocking fridges or changing a barrel.
How can you develop this skill?
By now you’ll have realised that you’ve probably already got this skill. More likely, it’s a case of learning how to develop it further.
One place to start is to think of times when you could have done a better job of managing your schedule. Perhaps you were late with an assignment because of work, socialising, or feeling stressed out? Can you think back to when the problem started, and how you might have avoided it by prioritising or organising your time differently?
Exercises to develop your time management skills
You may not be conscious of managing your time, but actively thinking about it is a key way to improve your skill. Try these activities to get into the habit of managing your time more effectively.
Start every day by spending five minutes on your schedule
Use a calendar or diary app if you don’t already. You might also find it useful to try list management software, like Trello.
Prioritise the important tasks
Begin by planning out the things that can’t be moved. These might include the working day itself, along with the time you need to get ready or the commute to work or college. Other immovable objects might be classes, lectures, training sessions or meetings. Plan these in, making sure you leave time to get to them. Think about when you’ll do any preparation for these hard commitments. For example, an assignment you need to hand in, or equipment that needs to be cleaned or charged. Next, think about your ongoing tasks and where you might fit them into the day. Can you adjust break or lunch times to free up suitable blocks of time?
Try the Pomodoro Technique
Spend one day trying out this tried and tested time management technique. Put your phone in airplane mode and turn off distractions like TV. Then set a timer for 25 minutes and use this time to only focus on one task. Have a short five-minute break, then start the timer again for another 25 minutes. Do this four times, then take a longer 20-minute break. You might find it tricky at first, but keep on practising. Did you find you were more productive as a result?
How do you spend your time?
On a piece of paper – or your calendar app – break down your working or study day down into an eight-hour schedule (9am – 5pm, with an hour off for lunch). Then log what you do every hour in that timeframe. You might be surprised how much time you spend responding to WhatsApp messages! Or you could discover that you’re more productive at certain times of the day. You can then make sure you use these times to focus on the tasks that require your most concentration – like the subjects you find hardest. Or the report you’ve been putting off compiling for your boss!
Look beyond the day ahead
Make sure you add future commitments to your calendar as soon as you know about them. And, if necessary, set reminders to make sure you haven’t forgotten about upcoming tasks.
Managing your time during Covid-19
With school and college life disrupted by the Covid-19 lockdown, you’ve probably had plenty of opportunities to develop and apply your time management skills. For example, if you’ve been able to maintain the structure of your day and created your own routine for managing any school or college work. You may have also scheduled in time to relax, exercise and catch up with friends.
As the lockdown eased, your routine probably changed again. Considering how to manage your time best as life evolves is a lifelong skill – so you’ll never stop continuing to use it in work and your personal life.
How can you demonstrate time management?
Anybody can write ‘time management’ in the skills section of their CV, but employers will want to see examples of how you’re able to plan and prioritise your time. Your first opportunity to make a good impression is to arrive in good time for any interview, appointment, tour or call. Don’t forget to allow for travel disruption or other unknowns. If you’re having a video call, make sure you’ve installed and tested any relevant software well ahead of time.
In an interview, or even in a chat at a careers fair, employers might ask you to give quick examples of your skills. Prepare by thinking back to times where you’ve demonstrated good time management. For example, balancing revision with work, sports or other extra-curricular activities.
Make sure you can explain how you applied your skill to optimise your time. If you started each day with five minutes of planning, explain how that let you match tasks to appropriate blocks of time. Don’t forget that employers aren’t looking for machines. They want to know that you understand the importance of planning time to relax and refocus too.
Think of other ways you can demonstrate your time management. How are you keeping track of appointments at a careers fair, for example? If you make your schedule look presentable you might be able to use it as a prop to show how you’re making the most of limited time.
There are plenty of resources to help you learn more about time management, or find other ways to develop your skill:
Time management crosses many other skills and behaviours in the workplace.
Being able to turn up on time every morning, every day of the week, demonstrates commitment. And employers value this behaviour because it shows you’re reliable and trustworthy. Read more about commitment.
Taking charge of your own time management shows responsibility. It proves you’re a safe pair of hands that your boss can leave to work on your own. You can manage your own schedule instead of needing someone to organise your day for you. Read more about responsibility.
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