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How to Manage Time
Dr. KS Raghavan Bookmark and Share

Lost, somewhere between sunrise and sunset, sixty golden minutes,
each set with sixty diamond seconds. No reward offered, for they are gone forever.
  • Horace Mann
“Time and tide waits for none” so does the age-old saying go. However there isn’t much common between time and tide. Time as an entity is unique in that no one can get back the time that has elapsed. Time is also a great leveler. We all get only twenty-four hours per day irrespective of caste, creed, religion, wealth, social status etc. Being so, it is important that we get the best of the limited time available to us. This is universally true and applies to project managers, office workers, students, housewives.

For execution of any task three major resources are needed. They are money, manpower and time. There is always a time limit for completion of the task at hand and thus it happens to be major constraint. According to Peter Drucker, who is generally considered to be the father of modern management, time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed. In recognition of this fact, management and engineering trainees are given training conducive to effective time management.

As time is limited, only limited things can be done by anyone. Therefor one has to choose judiciously and act. The first useful step consists of prior planning and setting priorities. This activity can be for a given day, week or even month. Prepare a list of all the tasks which you are expected to do. These tasks are classified into four categories using the so-called 4D approach. The four D’s are


Evidently, the categories are in the increasing order of priority. For a particular task ask the question whether it has got to be done. If the answer is yes (NO=DUMP), then ask the second question whether it has to be done immediately. If the answer is yes (NO=DELAY) the third question is whether you only have to do the job. If the answer is still yes (NO=DELEGATE), then take up the job for execution (DO). This way, it frequently happens that the jobs you carry out form a small fraction out of the original list. Thus you will be able to devote more time for the task and thereby do full justice.

A more formal way putting the foregoing is the Four Quadrant Method due to Dwight Eisenhower, a former US President. It is also known as Covey’s time management matrix after Stephen Covey, a management consultant. In this method it is recognized that a given task is either urgent or not urgent and at the same time it is important or unimportant. Thus there are four different combinations of the attributes. In the first quadrant are important jobs which are also urgent. Tasks such as customer calls, attending to a crying baby, preparing for examination and medical emergencies fall into this category and they take the top priority. Tasks such as courtesy calls, exercise, replying to routine emails, reading lecture notes are all important but can wait. Such jobs occupy the second quadrant. In the third quadrant are jobs which are urgent but not important. Some meetings, certain phone calls are to be immediately attended to though they are not important. These can be conveniently delegated. Some activities such surfing the net, watching the television and gossip, if overdone, tend to become time wasters. They fall into the fourth quadrant and need to be moderated if not totally dumped.

A follow-up of this is to review in retrospect. It is a good practice to make a note of the time spent for activities in each quadrant at the end of the day. This will facilitate course corrections and makes one more effective in managing time. It will help one to assess the activities which turned out to be waste of time and avoid them in future.

An important attitude needed for effective time management is learning to say NO. Robin Sharma says that every time you say YES to a less important job, you are implicitly saying NO to a job of priority and importance. Imagine a student studying for an examination which is close by. A few friends call him for movie at that time. The student will do a great harm to himself if he agrees to go out of personal obligation or for any other reason.

In summary, a realization that everything cannot be done followed by prioritization of tasks by giving due weightage to urgency and importance is the sure shot mantra for effective and productive time management.

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Comments on this Blog

Comment This is an excellent article on time management.It starts with definition and follows it up with action to accomplish. Good reading and refreshing for something known.

S B Singh
03/07/2013 00:49 AM

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