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Taking a tough line on time


How do you make the most of your time at work? Set clear priorities and stop going to so many meetings are just two of the valuable pieces of advice Stefan Stern is given

Youve probably tried everything: lists, timesheets, day planners, notepads with action this day written on them. For years HR professionals have been saying that people are their greatest resource, but perhaps it is time to own up. These days the most precious resource is time.

We should not be too hard on ourselves. All those confident-sounding rules about time management were actually drawn up in another age. Before faxes, let alone email, voicemail and mobile phones, some matters could always be left to the following morning. Using the post to send letters built at least an overnights pause into the work cycle. The cost of ringing people around the world used to rule out all but the most urgent calls.

Today we live in the faster, faster era, when instant responses are required and we are always online and ready to communicate. This makes time management harder. Leaner organisations, longer working hours, 24-hour interaction these all combine to pile on the pressure.

Judi James, consultant and author of the recently published More Time, Less Stress, says that new technology has not been introduced or managed effectively, exacerbating the pressure on our time. The so-called time-saving devices such as email will only save you time if you learn how to use them properly, she points out. IT has actually turned out to be one of our biggest time-wasters. Anyone who has ever sat waiting for the IT help desk will know what James is talking about.

In desperation we may turn to one of the timeless gurus, such as Stephen Covey. His rigorous approach, set out in the best-selling Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, includes habit number three, Put first things first. Covey urges us to organise and execute around priorities. Sounds simple enough. But he also makes the important point that managing time is at least as much about managing ourselves as anything else. But that is typical of Covey he always zooms in on the fundamental elements of a situation. Managing your time well is just another of his inside out victories you have to start with yourself before dealing with the people and things around you.

In practical terms, what does managing your time better involve? James says that one major time-saving can be made pretty fast: stop going to so many meetings. Just keep asking, Why? Why do you have to attend? Is it really necessary? If you have to go, volunteer to chair the meeting and make sure the agenda is ruthlessly cut short.

James identifies another more profound problem for HR professionals trying to manage their time. You have probably been on all the courses. In fact, you have probably run some of them. You have all the tools. The question is, once you have created the gaps in your day, what are you filling them with? The answer is probably more of the same.

You need to ask yourself, What am I here for?, What am I paid to do? That will help you identify real priorities, she adds. Delegate more. And work to tough deadlines. It stops you letting the work drag on. Time management will never be easy, but doing it well will help you do what is important well.

Time management


  • Setting clear priorities and strict deadlines

  • Respecting your own and other peoples time

  • Maintaining your professional standards

  • Learning to delegate and say no to unnecessary or irrelevant requests


  • Working ever longer hours to get everything done

  • Cutting corners and letting standards slip

  • Being rude to colleagues and cutting them short

  • Shouting, stamping your feet and panicking