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Five myths of good time management

4th Mar 2010
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The need for good time management never goes away. This 2005 contribution from training professional Viv Cole challenges some commonly held assumptions about time management.

Always have a tidy desk
While a tidy desk can help you work more effectively by eliminating distractions, you need to weigh up the time spent tidying against the cost of being untidy. Consider your desk 'healthily tidy' if you can find what you need quickly and can easily direct a colleague to find relevant information, for example when you're out of the office.

Going home at 5:30pm every day shows that you don't have enough work to do
If you are confident that you are on track to meet your objectives and deadlines, why feel guilty about going home at 5:30? Partners should assess you on what you actually achieve rather than how much effort you put in. Obviously there are sometimes good business reasons why you will need to work later. If you manage your time effectively you will be clear about the reasons to work later rather than working late being a matter of course. 

Plan all of your tasks using 'To Do' lists
If you can complete a task immediately and fairly quickly, just do it! Putting things onto a 'To Do' list may take longer than they're worth. The fewer items on your 'To Do' list, the less time you’ll need to spend deciding which to do now. Allocate a time slot to respond to your emails/correspondence. This will give you a motivating sense of having got things done and keep your 'To Do' list more manageable.

There is no point becoming more efficient as clients pay by the hour

In the short term this is true as your clients have agreed a fee. However if your competitors are more efficient and can therefore quote lower fees, at some point you will have no clients left. Use the time that you save to enhance the quality of service you provide e.g. do research on forthcoming changes in tax legislation/accounting standards and advise your client how this may affect them. This research time will also generate opportunities to impress other clients.

Never let yourself get interrupted by your colleagues

While it is difficult to come back to a half-completed task when you're interrupted in the middle of it, colleagues are one of your most valuable resources. Often you will find out information or improve relationships which will allow you to achieve your objectives. Communicate and agree with colleagues the times that you don't want to be distracted (and vice versa), for example when you're working on a report or a proposal.

Appraisals are a huge waste of time
Not so. An appraisal is one of the best ways to use your time. In a good appraisal you will agree and set objectives which balance your career aspirations with the firm's business plan.  If you have clear objectives, you have ready-made criteria for deciding which tasks to fit into your limited time available. Each month allow yourself 20 minutes or so to check your progress against last month's objectives and set new objectives for what you want to achieve in the next month. Compare these with your objectives for the year.

Replies (9)

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By Fred Hoad
05th Mar 2010 12:55


 Always have a tidy desk & Plan all of your tasks using 'To Do' lists

In several environments over the years, I have never found someone with an untidy desk to be working as efficiently as someone with a tidy desk.  It is an extension of a mentality thing.  It's all about order rather than chaos.

Also, without a 'to do' list, there are people that just do not know what to do next or the priority of things.  A well maintained 'to do' list not only focuses on what to do next, it also makes sure that for minimal time spent, things do not get missed or left to the last minute, which in themselves can create inefficiency.

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By Andy3T
05th Mar 2010 13:21

Moderation is the key

A to do list that is 100 items long is a quagmire of time-loss to update, and a constant frustration - people worry about the length of the list rather than getting stuck into clearing it.  In my view you should prioritise the key items, don't sweat the small stuff, and never spend time worrying about how impossible a task is, the worry produces nothing but stress and prevents you seeking a solution to the problem.

A desk that has a few segregated piles of paper is as efficient as a desk with half a dozen carefully colour-coded and labelled files even if it is not as 'tidy', while sharpening a dozen pencils to exactly the same length and arranging them neatly in order of hardness is unlikely to generate efficiency savings that exceed the maintainence time-cost however attractive the desk then looks.

In short, all things in moderation, even order.

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By User deleted
05th Mar 2010 14:52

Right on ...

Many thanks for a common sense approach.  I especially appreciated the comments about interruptions from colleagues, since those who consider themselves too important to take time to work with others are normally just working themselves into an ineffective bubble ...

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By User deleted
05th Mar 2010 22:56

Spot on!

I clearly stand with the point mentioned with regards to working late. In my experience , it is very efficient when everyday's task is planned properly and targeted to be finished as it is required, on time. And this goes without saying that when one is orderly and get the job prioritised then you should leave the job place as required with nothing on your conscience as with regards to your job. And also a good brain which is needed to work effectively needs sufficient rest. This does not mean, I could not give in to some extra time. But as the article clearly states: when you go this extra mile then it is worth it.

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By bradburyac
08th Mar 2010 17:41

Horses for Courses

Fred Hoad makes an excellent point - for himself and people who share his perspective.  He might, however, want to consider the underlying message behind his claims.

Without saying it point blank he is implying that he has seen the desks of a representative sample of the entire office-working population of the world and that his views on keeping a clear desk are unquestionably true.  But put that bluntly I'm guessing Mr Hoad would be hesitent about repeating such an unequivocal claim.

From the perspective of a social psychologist (i.e. I've had the training and several decades of experience - but this is still a personal observation), I would want to suggest that clear desks, to do lists, etc., are subjects which need to be  approached with a certain degree of flexibility.

For some people almost anything that looks like a lack of organization can be distracting and even a cause of anxiety.  Years ago I worked in an office where one of the senior managers was so obsessed with untidy desks that she frequently went round the first and second floor offices "tidying up" EVERYONE'S desk.  The fact that that she herself worked on the ground floor and seldom went to either of the higher floors, and the fact that people might have good reasons for leaving non-sensitive papers out overnight,  mattered to her not one jot.  She "knew" what was going on, and she just had to fix it.  Right up to the time when her various intrusive activities led to her being invited to seek a job opportunity somewhere else. 

At the other end of the scale, it is of course possible to let things get so out of hand that the disorganization starts to create problems, or a security/financial risk if business-sensitive papers are being left in plain sight.  And in those cases it seems, to me, to be reasonable to take the steps needed to rectify the situation - in a diplomatic manner.  Though not, as I have sometimes seen, by treating the "offenders" as recalcitrant children.  Leastways, not if you hope to hold on to those members of staff.

At various points inbetween, however, there are a very large number of people who do their best work without constantly filing every piece of paper they handle, and at the same time without surrounding themselves with unnecessary heaps of paper.  Anyone who objects to allowing other employees to find their own preferred system is effectively infantilizing those people - and should expect to have to deal with the consequences, sooner or later.  

As the the subject of mentality I would say only this:  If a tidy desk indicates a tidy mind, what does an empty desk indicate?  An empty mind? 

It is , IMO, somewhat disrespectful to start categorising people according to inanimate measures such as the state of their desks unless one has plenty of more relevant evidence on which to base one's opinion.  Indeed, for what it might be worth I have never ever heard a genuinely skilled psychologist make an assessment on so little information.

If you know what I mean.


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By Nick E Morgan
09th Mar 2010 12:26


Must coment on article, Tue 12.35

Five myths of good time management

Nick ; - )

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By User deleted
09th Mar 2010 23:39

Cluttered Desk

If a clutterred desk is the sign of a clutterred mind, what is the sign of an empty desk?

It is the method that counts, not what it looks like!

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By theredlibrarian
10th Mar 2010 00:32

very true

not only is this true I must also say that if you have finished on time and got home had a relaxing or family evening and gone to bed and sleep you will be better rested and so will work effectivley the next day eneabling you to finish on time etc etc

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By Fred Hoad
15th Mar 2010 11:02

Hmm, conclusions and jumping


Maybe it is semantics but you seem to have got a bit hot under the collar about my original post.  Of course I am not stating that what I have seen is global.  It is clear that I am stating what 'I' have seen in my experience.  People trying to be clever in saying that an empty desk must mean an empty mind?  Ho, ho, ho, do I look silly now!

We all know that the truth is somewhere between the extremes but the point remains that if there is something on your desk that needs dealing with, then deal with it, if not, file it.  People who sit with files on their desks that other people in the office may well need access to?  Think about it.

Or maybe I am completely wrong.  Let's do away with to do lists, let's do away with index's, let's do away with tools such as search engines.  Afterall, chaos is great and we can find the answer in our own way in the end.  So long as it's in your time, not mine.

(Anyway, I have a list to attend to and a desk to de-clutter!) 

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