“Basic” Time Management Training? No such thing!
As a manager, you may advise a subordinate: “You need a basic time management program.” While this advice is probably well-intended, it turns out to be flawed. Today, a more nuanced picture has emerged.
Your intent might be pure. Many employees who once appeared to be capable and reliable have fallen into rough times. Even though they remain motivated, they look harried, are behind in their email and keep missing deadlines. Their reputation has taken a hit so you want to help.
But they still have to complete the new project you assigned them, in addition to their other responsibilities. None of it can be delegated—it’s all important.
Yet, their sense of overwhelm remains real. Maybe, you think, “They don’t understand the basics of time management.”
While this line of thinking sounds logical, it happens to be incorrect. Here are the reasons why.
- They are adults, not kids
In the world of adult learning, there’s a known fact: teaching adults differs from teaching children. Why? In most cases, it’s because the adult already possesses some capacity, prior practice, plus a motivation to solve everyday problems.
In this context, teaching people Latin isn’t the same as teaching us our local slang or dialect. We all chafe and resist when someone tries to force us to learn something we think we already know.
With respect to time management, my local research shows that you and your employees are similar to other experienced adults around the world.
To illustrate: you were taught the concept of time at age eight or nine. Shortly after, you taught yourself how to create “time demands” – your own internal, individual commitments to complete actions in the future. You stored each one in memory to prevent it from being lost or forgotten.
Over time, you evolved, having learned the superior nature of paper or digital storage over brain cells. But regardless of your efficacy, you became a functioning adult with many successful time management habits. After all, they are responsible for positive results at school, work, and family.
However, you suspect that your subordinates have not kept up with the volume of their work and suffer from some weak habits or tools… the question is, “Which ones?” Only nuanced (not basic) training can help them uncover and close these gaps.
- They need personal diagnostic skills
Instead of being instructed to engage in specific behaviours (the stuff of basic programmes) adults need to learn how to analyze and improve the habit patterns they are currently using: the same ones they have been honing since their teenage years.
In the second edition of my book, Perfect Time Based Productivity, I condensed the actions required to guide this transformation into four steps, known as ETaPS.
The first step is to E*valuate your current skills. Unlike other trivial behaviours, this takes more than completing a two-minute quiz from a magazine.
Unfortunately, empirical data from local classes reveals that the combination of habits, practices, and apps you employ today are complex. For example, everyone in your office may rely on Outlook, but there’s a unique way they use the program. Over time, you each developed routines which are idiosyncratic. Understanding them enough to make changes takes some study.
Therefore, a sound self-diagnosis starts with a deeper than average knowledge. With it, you can compare yourself against a typical employee, or the very best in the world. This can be a sobering exercise, but the knowledge is priceless and produces a lifetime of steady changes. How fast should you expect to see real improvements?
- Instant, magical change won’t happen
A “basic” training which ignores the lingering effect of old behaviours sets learners up for failure. They go to work the next day thinking that everything will change right away.
This is impossible. It took a decade of practice to develop your current skills which don’t change overnight. To help, I recommend the remaining steps of the ETaPS formula.
– Ta*rget new levels of accomplishment for each skill.
– P*lan a timeline of changes to reach these new levels in months or years, taking baby steps.
– S*upport each change so that single behaviours turn into habits. Draw on other people, reminders, and progress tracking to maintain momentum.
The idea is to break a complex, long-term transformation into small, manageable actions.
If you are a manager, help your subordinates see where a personalized plan of improvement provides a way to accomplish their goals. Then, show them how better time management could improve every part of their life: relationships with significant others, children’s performance at school, work-life balance, health and engagement in their community and family.
Instead of trying to shoehorn them into one-size-fits-all “basic” training, give them the nuanced understanding they need to make consistent, fool-proof changes.