This is a review and “thought map” for Peter Drucker’s chapter on time management from his book “The Essential Drucker – Chapter 16: Know Your Time”.
Drucker makes a distinction between time management for the knowledge worker vs. the manual worker. The performance of a manual worker can be measured in terms of results and is often straight forward – how many parts were made during a hour? Time management for knowledge workers is much more difficult to manage and measure in terms of results. Therefore, the focus of Drucker’s observations deal primarily with the knowledge worker.
His first observation is that effective business executives don’t start with tasks or plans when it comes to managing their time. They start with discovering how their time is spent. At first, this seems counter intuitive, especially for a guy who promoted management by objectives – which is almost nothing but plans and tasks. But there is a method to his madness.
Time has several important characteristics. Unlike raw materials, it is the only resource that is totally limited and slips away if not put to good use. You can never buy more time. It is also the resource that is used by all and every type of work being performed. It is always a factor no matter what type of work is being done or what type of result is achieved.
Drucker makes the interesting observation that we human beings are not equipped to manage time. Research has shown that our memories are inadequate when it comes to remembering how we spent our time. Our minds are almost self-deceiving. If we are asked to write down how we spent the minutes during the past week, even those who think they do a good job of tracking their time, more often than not fail to accurately report on how their time has been spent. If you don’t believe this then get out a sheet of paper and start writing.Drucker’s recommendation is that the only way you will be able to manage time is to Record, Manage and Consolidate time.
The second reason he states as to why humans are lousy at managing time is because we do a terrible job of keeping track of the time. We find it easy to lose track and drift away with some distraction. Then we find ourselves running to catch up. The research to back this up involves people being put into a sterile room with no windows, clocks, furniture or other distractions and they are asked how long they have been in the room. Nearly all of the test subjects dramatically over estimate or under estimate the time. Our time awareness and internal clocks don’t seem to work very well. If we are engaged in something interesting, time seems to fly by. If we are bored and would rather be doing something else, then time seems to stand still.
Recording time is relatively easy but requires discipline. Don’t record what you are doing every 5 minutes! That is not what he is talking about. Record your time whenever an whenever what you are currently doing changes. For example, if you check your email, record the time. If you meet with a customer, record the time. If you have a meeting, record the time (even if it is a casual meeting). Every time the event with which you are involved changes, record the time. At the end of the day and the end of the week you will not have to trust that deceptive mind of yours (which lies to you all of time) about what you did. You will be able to analyze how you spent your time to determine if you are on track, which is the most important benefit.
Managing your time is a little more challenging and involves a bit of analysis. First, you need to look at your recorded time and diagnose how it has been spent. Is there anything you should have eliminated or delegated? You can then make a conscious decision in the future about spending your time involved in those tasks. Keep in mind that the most valuable resource you have is time. This will help you focus.
The second part of diagnosing your time is comparing how you spent your time against your vision of what you want to accomplish. In other words – your goals. This will also determine whether or not you are focused – or if you are scattered all over the place. Obviously, if you are spending your time on tasks that are not related to your goals, then it’s going to be pretty hard to achieve the results that you want. They key idea again is – focus.
Consolidating your time facilitates better management. The concept of consolidation deals with the issues of focus and effectiveness. For example, if you schedule your meetings, reviews and brainstorming sessions one or two days a week, let’s say Monday and Friday, not only do you gain more focus but so does anyone working with you. They know what to expect and when to expect it. It clears your plate of potential distractions. If you deal with major issues every morning, you put boundaries around how your time will spent. You manage your time on purpose, rather than time managing you. Looking for ways to consolidate your time will increase your effectiveness.
Drucker said that the manager’s central task is working with people. By consolidating the time to do that, you are allowing adequate time to work with other people to discuss the issues each of your face. By having adequate time everyone can talk about what they are going to do and why they are going to do it. The results of such conversations are plans, direction and establishment of performance criteria – critical to your goals and vision.
Drucker believed that when you are working with someone that a 15 minute meeting is in adequate. He believed that it takes at least an hour, in a leisurely environment, that allows for the free exchange of ideas. If time is not consolidated – you will never have that hour to spend with someone.
The bottom line is that Drucker believes that a well managed business is quiet – even boring. One of the steps that management can take to achieve the quiet business is by managing their time.