Management Issues: Archived Articles

bh consulting
Updated: February 17, 2005




Setting Objectives

There is possibly no area of management and organisational development about which so much has been written, but to which so little real attention is paid. Each organisation has its own style for objective setting but there are some basic principles that can make objective setting more effective. This entry looks at the need to state objectives in the positive.

It's a simple point, but our objectives are much more effective when they state what we do want rather than what we don't want. The idea that a negative statement contains a hidden injunction to do the opposite is well known in NLP practice; if I was to say 'don't think about your left foot' my guess is that you would pretty soon allow your thoughts to focus on that part of your anatomy.

Also positive statements provide a focus for effort and will create better 'buy in'. An objective stated in the negative can act as a focus for dissent. This is often because people don't see the benefits. Take cost cutting. When cash flow is tight or the budgets won't stretch far enough, it's tempting for managers to start hunting for the budget lines that can be cut; the usual candidates are training, travel, R&D etc. The stated or implied objective might be to reduce overheads. let's say specifically 'To reduce travel costs to under 5% of the total spend by the end of the next quarter.'

This is a negative objective - it says what we don't want - more than 5% spend on travel. To get to the positive objective we can ask ourselves 'what will it do for us if we reduce the travel costs to less than 5% of spend?' A positive objective might be to maintain a positive cash flow over the rest of the financial year. If we achieve this, then what? Then we can continue to develop our work, continue to provide a service, or improve services by increasing the resources available for these.

So a better objective might be 'To maintain a positive cash flow and make the best use of the resources we have in order to continue to provide the best service to the client/customer.' Now we have a broader framework for the objective and it is linked to a positive outcome - the service for the customer or client. Controlling costs might be one method for achieving this but the essential message is that this is about achieving a positive outcome, not about restricting what we do.

An objective stated positively will almost invariably lead to better 'buy-in' by staff and will often lead to more creative ways of achievement than a negative or restricting objective. Give it a try - you may well be surprised at the effects!

Picasso and gaudi: Changing the way we see things

Throughout history there are a handful of inspired people who have created amazing changes in their fields. This piece is about two such people; Picasso and Gaudi both of whom had a classical education in their craft but brought about radical changes in their areas of expertise. What can we learn from the Picassos and Gaudis in terms of strategic planning and managing change?

Having just returned from a trip to Barcelona, I have been inspired to jot down a few thoughts about two of its most celebrated citizens; Picasso and Gaudi, both of whom have helped to make Barcelona the city it is today. During my stay I was lucky to be shown around the incomplete Temple of the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) by an amazingly enthusiastic devotee of Gaudi. Laura explained how the modernist architect used the Temple as his workshop, trying out new ideas and evolving the design of the building from its earliest neo-gothic style to the outrageously modernist and naturalistic look the building has today.

Two things struck me immediately. Here was an architect, trained in the classic style, who was eminently capable of producing 'conventional' architecture (by the standards of his day) and who developed his own style that was so completely radical it almost turned architecture on its head. The important point is that the radicalism was based on a thorough knowledge and understanding of what had gone before. The second point was that however quirky Gaudi's later style might appear, it is based thoroughly and absolutely on sound principles. His leaning supports for the viaduct in the Parc Guell, the branching columns that will hold up the roof and central towers of the Sagrada Familia and the parabolic brick arches in the attics of the Pedrera all bear testament to the science behind the art. These buildings work. And, they work better than 'conventional' solutions.

Similarly with Picasso. Here was an artist whose early paintings and drawings show an accomplished style that was clearly the result of a classical training. At fifteen he was producing portraits that most adults would struggle to manage. But the style was classical and based on a knowledge of what had gone before. His use of colour, light and shade and form shows a deep understanding of the craft. And yet, even in these early works is a the seed of what would follow. By the end of his teens he was developing a free style which would later help him break out of the classical straightjacket into completely new and exciting use of form and colour. Picasso is one artist who changes the way we see art. But like Gaudi, his art is based on a complete understanding of what had gone before and adherence to the principles of art. Like Gaudi's buildings, Picasso's art works.

What has all this to do with management? Modern management is very often about change. Like Picasso and Gaudi we can be involved in devising or helping to bring about radical change in our organisations. The people who are remembered are those whose leadership changes the way we see things (or 'shifts the paradigm' to use a hackneyed phrase!) People like deBono, whose 'lateral thinking' and 'water logic' have changed the way we plan and develop our work forever.

What we can learn from great change agents like Picasso and Gaudi is that change for its own sake is not the goal. When we make such fundamental changes in the way we do what we do, these must be based on a thorough understanding of what has gone before; we must understand why the change is necessary. Secondly we must be clear about the way in which changing things will make them better; we must know how the change will do this. If these two aspects, the why and how of change are addressed, then no matter how radical the change may appear, we can be sure it will take us closer to our goals.

So, before embarking on a change programme, ask yourself, "Why are we doing this?" What are the problems the changes will provide the solution to? What are the questions the changes will help us to answer? Secondly, ask yourself "How will this change help?" Are the changes based on sound principles? Will they work in practice? Are they the best way you know of achieving the results you want?

If you get these two aspects right, your changes will be successful.


When things go wrong…

Having spent two days recovering from a hard disk crash, I found some comfort in the realisation that it could have been a lot worse.

Managing risk is a key part of management today. Carrying out a 'risk audit' need not be a difficult task and the information this can give you will make a huge difference when things go wrong.

We like to think that our systems will work more or less as designed and that if things go awry, we can put them right. The truth is that things do go wrong, and unless you are prepared, the cost in time and effort to restore normal operation can be huge. For a small business this can be incredibly disruptive, but in a larger organisation, where people's jobs depend on the office systems working smoothly, a major breakdown can be disastrous.

The first step is to identify the risk areas. This can be done by 'brainstorming' around the topic of risk, but a more systematic approach is to look at your business outputs in turn, asking the question, "What could prevent this from being achieved?" Where you are involved in a number of different projects, you may find that this approach helps you to identify different risks for each project. In this case, I would recommend a separate risk assessment for each project; the best time to do this is in the planning stage - ideally you should build this into the quality assurance or monitoring and evaluation system for the project so you can set up 'early warning systems' to run alongside regular project monitoring.

Looking at the outputs may give you 'high level' risks - for example, a contractor failing to deliver on time. To get a clearer picture of how this may happen, it is useful to 'chunk down' from this using the question 'How could this happen?" Used progressively, this will give you a hierarchy of items each level more specific than the one before. The aim to arrive at statements of potential risk that are as specific as possible - this makes them easier to assess.

Once you have your risk statements you can assess them using the matrix of probability and impact. All risks will have some impact but some will be more powerful than others. One way of assessing impact is to use a scale of 0 (no impact) to 5 (potential to halt work altogether). Any items with a score of zero can them be eliminated. You can score probability in the same way; 0 (impossible or extremely unlikely to happen) to 5 (a near certainty). Again, items with a score of zero can be eliminated.

Items that score more than 3 on both scales are the most important risks to monitor against, as these are high probability and high impact. Another way of assessing overall level is to multiply the impact score by the probability score. This can be further multiplied by 4 to give you a percentage risk factor.

Risk factor = probability x impact x 4 %

A risk that scores 5 on impact and 5 on probability will have a risk factor of 100%
A risk that scores 2 on impact and 4 on probability will have a risk factor of 32%

Once you are clear which items are the most risky, you need to set two strategies in place. Firstly, you should ask yourself, "What can I do to reduce the probability or impact of this risk?" So, if the risk is contractors running over time, the strategy might include regular progress reports or a penalty clause in the contract. The second strategy is to manage the effects of the risk, if it is not prevented. So setting deadlines ahead of the time the job is required would give you some time for remedial action if contractors overrun.

The final step is to test the strategies against 'SMART' objectives: Are the plans specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound? And, you should major on the 'realistic' - how much will it cost (in terms of money, effort and time) to manage this risk - is this worth the cost? (For more on SMART objectives, see )

And my hard disk? Yes, everything is up and running again, with no loss of data. AND I have reviewed my risk assessment as a result!

© bhconsulting 2003, 2004


Time Managagement:

So much to do, so little time…

This article looks at three basic elements of effective time management: prioritising tasks, being 'time aware' and recording your use of time. It will be followed by further articles, on each of these three elements.

There have been countless articles and books written about the subject of time management. Actually, 'time management' is a misnomer. We only have a fixed amount of time, and unlike other resources, we cannot hoard time or ration it. We cannot put time into a deposit account and watch it gain interest. We cannot borrow time when we are short, nor can we lend it to others. And, if we don't use it, we lose it.

So managing time is not at all like managing other resources. Perhaps it would be more accurate to talk of 'self-,management'. So, this article is an overview of the basics of self-management, and draws from a wide range of sources. Some of this will be very familiar, but I hope here to introduce some ideas that are not generally covered in the text books.

The three main areas are:
1. Prioritising your work
2. Being more aware of time itself
3. Keeping track of how you use your time

In many ways these can be seen as the future, present and past of self-management. Prioritising tasks is about organising your future; awareness is largely about being in the 'here and now' and monitoring is about recording what has gone before.

Prioritising work will include setting short term objectives and medium term goals; it is also about being aware of the longer term strategy and how what you do fits in with this. It is about recognising the difference between 'urgent' and 'important' and between efficiency and effectiveness. It is also about introducing systems that will become second nature in the way you go about organising your work on a daily and weekly basis.

Being 'time-aware' goes beyond task management and techniques. It is about a frame of mind. Have you noticed that when you are engaged in certain tasks, time drags, while other tasks seem to make time whizz by? Why is it that when you are engrossed in something that interests you, whole hours can slip by unnoticed? This article will deal with the way we perceive the passage of time and how we can use this to be more aware and more effective in our work.

Keeping track of what we are doing is a key part of management. Just as we submit annual accounts and use these as the basis of financial planning, we can gain an enormous benefit from accounting for our time. But detailed monitoring is costly and itself takes up valuable time. We need to strike a balance between what is desirable and what is achievable or economic to record. This article will look at time-efficient ways of tracking time and how to reduce project reporting to a minimal but effective activity.

This is time management (or self-management) in a nut shell. Stay with us to explore these three aspects of prioritising, awareness and recording, and start to manage yourself and our time more effectively!


Getting Priorities Right

Prioritising work includes setting short term objectives and medium term goals; it is also about being aware of the longer term strategy and how what you do fits in with this. It is about recognising the difference between 'urgent' and 'important' and between efficiency and effectiveness. It is also about introducing systems that will become second nature in the way you go about organising your work on a daily and weekly basis.

This is the first in a series of three short pieces on time management, or, more correctly, self management. In this article we will look at how you prioritise and organise your work, in six steps.

First of all, do you have a list of current tasks. No? You would find it really helpful. Honest. Here's what to do:

Step 1: List all the projects you are:
a) responsible for
b) directly involved in
c) indirectly involved in, or which have a direct effect on other parts of your work

Now under each of these projects, write the key objectives or deliverables, then a list of tasks you currently have direct responsibility for.

If this exercise takes more than 20 minutes, you definitely need the next step.

Step 2: Do you have a job description? No? Not even a list of responsibilities? If not, you should write one:

Write down:
a) your job title (if you have one - if you haven't you could make one up!)
b) who you report to and their job title
c) a list of the key areas of responsibility that go with your job
d) any current general objectives or deliverables you are working to

You need both the list and your job description for step 3

Step 3: Go through the list of tasks you made in step 1 and for each ask yourself:
How does this task relate to my job description?

If the task coincides with an area of your job description, give it a score of:
3 if it is central to your job or current general objectives
2 if it clearly relates to your job description but is not central
1 if it is a side issue or incidental to your main job description
0 if there is no connection or you can't see how to make a connection between the task and your job

By now it should be fairly clear how well your current tasks relate to your job purpose or role. If there is a poor fit you have a number of options. It may be that you need to negotiate a new job description. Roles can change in organisations and it may be that your responsibilities have changed since your last review. If you believe your job description is accurate, but there is a discrepancy between your role and current tasks, you should ask yourself how this happened.

Step 4: Review the zeroes and ones and ask yourself:
"How did I get this task?"

Did you seek it out yourself? If so, why? Is it appropriate for you to do this? can you delegate it?

Was it given to you by your boss or someone else? If so, why did it come to you? Are you the best person to be doing this? Can you re-negotiate the task?

Did you end up with this because no-one else would do it? If so, can you get rid of it? Or can you complete it without using up too much of your time?

Step 5: Now review the list of tasks again. Some of these will be more urgent than others. Use the following scale to rank these by urgency:

A: has to be done immediately, if not sooner
B: has to be done soon. the sooner the better
C: not particularly urgent, but still needs to be completed
D: not at all urgent - there's no pressure to get this done

Step 6: You now have all your tasks rated by importance and urgency. To see these graphically, you could arrange them on a 2x2 grid, where one axis is urgent - not urgent and the other axis is important - not important (in relation to your job role).

Ask yourself which square your tasks mainly fall within.

If most of your tasks are urgent and important, my guess is that you are feeling the pressure. This quadrant is the stuff of stress and heart attacks. It holds all the crises, pressing problems and deadline-driven projects. Now, be honest with yourself! Did all these tasks start off as urgent or did you put them off until they became urgent. It's one thing being a fire-fighter, but when you are lighting the fires yourself...

If most of your tasks are non-urgent and unimportant, you may be wasting some of your time. This quadrant holds the trivia, the 'busy' work we do when we are avoiding 'real' work. You may find some meetings in this place - if so, it's time to make your excuses and leave, or delegate attendance to someone else for whom the meeting would be more important. Don't carry on doing these things, even though you may enjoy them - they are not meeting your goals!

If most of your work falls in the urgent but unimportant area, ask yourself who is running your job? If you are scheduling these tasks, are you serious about your job? It may be that these are tasks that have been 'delegated upwards' by your staff - do you find yourself taking tasks back after you have delegated them? If so, you may find it helpful to read 'The One Minute manager meets the Monkey'. Get rid of these jobs if they are no too urgent. Otherwise finish them and make sure you don't go back for more.

If most of your work falls in the important but not urgent box, you probably don't need to be reading this! This area holds all the preventative work, the stuff that comes out of knowing and using your risk assessments. It also contains the relationship building and boundary scanning work - the stuff that leads to new leads and stronger networks. It is where your planning fits (or should fit).

Remember; you are efficient when you do things right (and on time), but to be truly effective you need to be doing the right things.

For more on this, read Stephen Covey's seminal '7 Habits of Highly Effective People'. And get into the habit of using and ranking your task lists, on a daily and weekly basis. You will be amazed at the difference.


Time Awareness

Planning the best use of your time, setting priorities and monitoring how you use your time are only a part of effective time management; how you use your time will, to a large extent determine whether you are successful or not. Awareness of time, both in the here and now as you carry out tasks, and in terms of what has passed before and what is planned is the key to achieving success. In this article we look at how we experience time and how we can change our perceptions to make better use of this precious resource.

Have you noticed how 'elastic' time can be? Some days seem to race by; whole hours disappear and you are left wondering where the time went. Other days really drag and the hands on the clock hardly seem to move.

Think about the difference between these two types of time. When you experience the first type of time - 'racing time' - you are likely to be engrossed in an interesting or demanding task. In this state you are likely to be focussed and you may very well be highly efficient, producing a large amount of output in the time you have. When you experience the other type - 'dragging time' - you are likely to be involved in a less interesting, routine or repetitive task. In this state you are less likely to be engaged in the task and you may allow your mind to wander, you may day-dream or in extreme cases, find more interesting activities with which to procrastinate. Even though the time may drag, you will find that on days like this you will be likely to produce less work; you will certainly be engaged in less effective activity,

Both types of activity can create in you a 'trance-like' state in which you seem to be working on 'autopilot'. An interesting project can become absorbing, sucking in your attention and your time, to the extent that you are no longer conscious of the passage of time and the list of other tasks that demand your attention. Repetitive tasks can also induce trance, where your actions become automatic and almost mindless. In these conditions, it is easy to make mistakes as your mind wanders. Working for long periods on the same or similar tasks can induce physical and mental fatigue. Repetitive strain injury is an extreme form of the physical strain caused by repetitive working.

One approach that can break both these patterns is to take regular breaks. This is especially important if your work involved sitting at a computer screen for long hours. Use your PC to set regular alarms that attract your attention every hour. Use this attention to review how far you have progressed with the current task and to set limits on the amount of time you give favoured tasks. I have a very effective alarm on my Macintosh that speaks the time on the hour. This is less likely to be ignored than a simple 'beep' and has the added benefit that I cannot ignore or misread the time. Being aware of the passage of time and your current state is an important tool in self-management.

Another approach is to schedule your day in such a way that you vary tasks and make the best use of your energy levels. No one maintains the same level of energy throughout the day; there are peaks and troughs. While these vary between individuals, generally people experience peak levels in the morning; energy levels fall sharply after lunch and climb again towards the end of the afternoon. Taking regular breaks can maintain a higher level of energy, but this will still be subject to peaks and troughs. Measure your own energy levels over a couple of days by pausing each hour and 'scoring' your energy on a simple scale (for example very high, high, medium, low, very low). Plot the levels on a time series.

Knowing your own energy profile will help you to plan your tasks more effectively. use the peak times for tasks that require a higher level of attention or detailed work. use troughs for administrative or repetitive work or for dealing with routine correspondence. trawling the in-box of your e-mails is best left for a low energy slot. You might use your hourly break to scan for important e-mails but your peak times are too precious for the daily clean out!

Vary your tasks. If you have a list of uninteresting or routine but urgent tasks, space these through the day, ensuring that you have allocated enough time to complete them. Use interesting work as 'rewards' for reaching milestones in completing less favoured work.

When scheduling your day, be sure to allocate realistic amounts of time for each task. If you continually find yourself carrying tasks over to the next day you may find you are being over-optimistic. This can be demotivating as you are denying yourself the satisfaction of seeing a list of completed tasks at the end of each day.

The second aspect of time awareness concerns the way we represent the passage of time. Research has shown that the way we orientate ourselves in time directly affects the way we experience time. To discover this for yourself do the following:

Firstly ask yourself where you imaging the future to be in relation to your self; point towards the future. You may find your self pointing straight ahead, or to the right or left or at an angle. Be aware of where you have put your future.

You may find it helpful to mark this on a sheet of paper; put yourself at the centre as a circle with an arrow to show the direction in which you are facing. Now mark the future with a capital 'F'.

Now ask yourself where the past is in relation to yourself. Mark the past on your diagram with a capital 'P'.

Now imagine a continuous line joining past and future. This might be a straight line or it may curve. The line might pass straight through your body, or it may run in front of you or perhaps to the side. Represent the line as you see it on your diagram.

Somewhere on that line will be your present. Your present might be inside or outside your body. Some people see 'Now' as being inside the head, others inside the chest. Others see 'Now' as being directly in front of them. Wherever you see your 'Now', mark it on your diagram with a capital 'N'.

Now you have a map showing the way in which you orientate time. While this varies between different people, there are two main types that may roughly resemble your diagram. If you see the future as being somewhere to the front and your past as being somewhere behind you, you are said to be predominantly 'in-time'. It is likely that your 'time-line' will run through your body and that your 'Now' will be located inside your body. If you see the future as being to your right (or occasionally to your left) and your past to the left (or right), you are said to be 'predominantly 'through-time'. In this case it is likely that the time line will pass in front of you rather than through you and that your 'Now' will be located outside your body.

You may find that your time line is exactly one type or another, or you may have a different orientation altogether. Generally, though, you will recognise your diagram as being more or less like one of the two types. Neither of these is inherently better than the other, but recognising that you may have a choice of how you can orientate time is very helpful. People with a bias towards 'through-time' seem to be better at maintaining an awareness of the passage of time; they are likely to be able to remember appointments without the need for a diary and have better recall of the sequence of events in the past than those with who favour 'in-time' orientation. They are less likely to miss deadlines or double-book appointments and are better at spacing tasks over time. Those who favour 'In-time' find it easier to associate into the 'here and now' and experience the present more vividly than people who use a 'through-time' orientation.

Learning how to switch your time orientation can be very helpful. If you find yourself unable to remember your appointments for the coming week or cannot recall what you were doing a week last Wednesday, you may find it useful to adopt a more 'through-time' orientation. Do this by physically pointing to your future with your right hand and your past with your left. Now slowly and deliberately 'swing' your time orientation around so that the future is to your right and your past to the left. You may find that in doing so your time line falls in front of you. You may need to take a step backwards to ensure that your 'Now' ends up in front of you. Be aware of how this new orientation feels - in what ways is it different and in what ways similar to your 'preferred' orientation? Now try to picture events that are in the future. As these are now arranged in order along a fully visible time-line, they should be clearer and easier to see in order. Do the same with your past events starting from now and working backwards. If these were previously orientated behind you, these should appear much clearer in their new positions.

Generally, you will find this orientation useful when planning projects, estimating time resources, setting diary dates for regular tasks and when reviewing past events.

If you find it difficult to immerse yourself in tasks or find yourself analysing rather than experiencing your feelings, you may find it useful to adopt an 'in-time' orientation. Physically point to your future with your right hand and your past with your left and 'swing' their orientation slowly and deliberately until they lie to your front and behind you. You will find that in doing so, your 'time-line' now passes through your body. Check where your 'Now' is. If this is still in front of you you may find it helpful to take a step forwards into your 'Now'. When you have re-orientated time, take a moment to experience this new arrangement; be aware of what is the same and what has changed. As you experience being fully in the 'here and now' be aware of how this feels. You may find that in this position, your level of attention increases and your awareness is heightened.

Generally you will find this orientation useful when you want to engage fully in a task, for example an important meeting, a supervision session or a job interview.

For more information on time orientation, see 'Time Line Therapy and the Basis of Personality ' by Tad James and Wyatt Woodsmall, 1988, ISBN 0916990214.

Where did my time go?

If we want to work more efficiently, a good starting point is knowing how we make use of the time we have. Being aware of how we use (and waste) our time is essential if we are to make appropriate changes to the way we work. But recording is such a chore! Time sheets take an age to fill in and analyse. There is computer software available but it's too complicated and needs a lot of discipline to use…

It doesn't have to be that hard. A simple set of recording forms can make a big difference. And you don't have to record everything. Read on…

Being aware of how we work is one of the most important self-management skills. But most people do not keep logs of their work, unless this is required of them. The reason I hear most is, rather ironically, lack of time. But unless we know how we are using our time, how can we plan to use it better?

One of the key reasons for recording our time is to identify patterns. People are creatures of routine. Even in the most disorganised workplace, you will find rituals and repeated patterns of behaviour that punctuate the working day. We all have our own way of working; a pattern of work that we have made our own. We may have learned this from other people, or maybe the pattern was formed earlier in our lives, perhaps at school. Sometimes we will have developed helpful patterns, sometimes not. By identifying our own pattern of work we can start to evaluate how successful this is in meeting our goals.

One way of doing this is to create a daily log. On a piece of A4, turned sideways, create a set of columns with the following headings. 'Time ended' - 'Activity' - 'Importance 0-3' (see 'Getting Priorities Right') - 'Time taken' - 'Notes' - 'Completed? (Y/N)'. Under notes, you record any observations you have about how well you performed the task. In particular you should record any distractions or interruptions. Including the 'completed?' column makes it easy to see at a glance how many tasks are being carried over from the day.

A typical log might look like this:
Log Monday 8th November, 9:00 to 5:30
-> 9:30 Read e-mail (1) 30 mins Got side tracked with a funny email from Dave (Y)
-> 9:45 reply to urgent email (2) 15 mins Peter (sales) wanted new product data sheet (Y)
-> 10:00 Coffee machine (0) 15 mins Got talking to new member of staff (-)
-> 10:30 Voice mail (1) 30 mins Noted non-urgent calls for later. Rang back most urgent (N)
-> 11:30 Report (3) 1 hr Interrupted by telephone calls (3) and visit from Graham (boss) (N)
-> 1:30 Section meeting (1) 1 hr 30 Mostly irrelevant to me (Y)
-> 1:45 Lunch (on the run) (-) 15 mins Sandwich at desk
-> 2:15 Telephone calls (1) 30 mins Cleared messages from yesterday and some from today (N)
-> 3:00 Report (3) 45 mins Not finished due to impromptu meeting (N)
-> 4:00 Meeting (2) 1 hr Graham called me in for meeting with new client (Y)
-> 4:30 Voice mail/email (1) 30 mins Dealt with most urgent - noted rest for tomorrow (N)
-> 5:00 Telephone call (2) 30 mins Peter in sales - talk though data sheet (Y)
-> 5:30 Plan for tomorrow, cleared desk (1) 30 mins Took report home to finish (Y)

Aim to use this log once a week for a month. To make it more representative of your working week, use it on Friday of Week 1, Thursday of Week 2 and so on. In four weeks and a day, you will have completed all five sheets, one for each day of the working week. Book some time for yourself to review the log sheets. It is generally better to review all five in one sitting, as this will give you a better indication of your working patterns.

When reviewing your logs, ask yourself:
How much time do I spend on important tasks?
How much of the time do I actually have control over?
How well do I deal with interruptions?
How much of the planned work gets finished?

Now look at how you structure your day. Ask yourself:
Am I scheduling the most complex tasks for my 'high energy' times?
Are there routine tasks I can move to lower energy times of the day?
How am I 'pacing' myself?

Finally, set yourself some goals:
How can I take more control of my time?
How can I spend more of my time on important tasks?
Are there tasks I can delegate?
How can I deal with interruptions better?

Look at the example log above. There are number of interesting aspects to this:
The working day was 8 hrs 15mins (not counting the 15 minutes buying a sandwich)
Of this, only 1 hour 45 mins was spent on the priority task - the report
The report didn't get started until 11:30 (For most people this is after the 'peak energy' period)
1 hour 45 mins was spent on other people's tasks (Peter and Graham)
1 hour 30 was spent in a meeting that was 'largely irrelevant'
Most of the remaining 3 hours 15 minutes was spent dealing with email and telephone messages. Even so, a number of these were carried over for action the following day.
A large number of tasks did not get completed.

Already, we can see ways in which this person can improve their work management. If this is a typical pattern for the working day, there would be an urgent need for action. If only a third of the productive time is being spent on priority tasks, then either this worker will fall behind in their work or they will be taking stuff home to complete on a regular basis. This is the road to burnout. If days are characterised by incomplete tasks, this person will soon become demotivated and jaded. And a member of staff who lacks motivation is less likely to take control of their work.

You may be able to see ways in which this person can improve their working day. Make a list of the questions you would ask this person if you were their coach. Now ask them of yourself? How does your working day measure up?

Recording our work need not be a chore. By measuring on day a week for a month, two or three times a year we can maintain an overview of our work patterns and take timely action, before bad habits set in or before we get swamped with non-important tasks, interruptions and other people's issues. Being aware is the first step to taking control. And taking control is the first step towards making changes.

© bh consultiing 2003, 2004, 2005