Understanding Time Management

For most people, time is a resource that, when lost or misplaced, is gone forever. For a project manager, however, time is more of a constraint, and effective time management principles must be employed to make it a resource.

1 Sections 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3 are adapted from David Cleland and Harold Kerzner, Engineering Team Management (Melbourne, Florida: Krieger, 1986), Chapter 8.

Figure 6-1. Time management.
Figure 6-2. Effective time management?
Figure 6-3. Effective time management?

Most executives prefer to understaff projects, in the mistaken belief (or, should we say, hope) that the project manager will assume the additional workload. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done. The project manager may already be heavily burdened with meetings, report preparation, internal and external communications, conflict resolution, and planning/replanning for crises. And yet, each project manager somehow manages to manipulate his time so that the work will get done.

Inexperienced project managers often work large amounts of overtime, with the faulty notion that this is the only way to get the job done. While this may be true, experienced personnel soon learn to delegate tasks and to employ effective time management principles.

The major problem with time management is getting people to realize that there exists a time management problem and that solutions are possible. The following questions should make the reader realize that each of us has room for improvement.

• Do you have trouble completing work within the allocated deadlines?

• How long can you work at your desk before being interrupted? How many interruptions are there each day?

• Do you have a procedure for handling interruptions?

• If you need a large block of uninterrupted time, is it available? With or without overtime?

• How do you handle drop-in visitors and phone calls?

• How is incoming mail handled?

• Are you accomplishing more or less than you were three months ago? Six months ago?

• How do you approach detail work?

• Do you perform work that should be handled by your subordinates?

• Do you have sufficient time each day for personal interests?

• Do you still think about your job when away from the office?

• Do you make a list of things to do? If yes, is the list prioritized?

• Does your schedule have some degree of flexibility?

• Do you have established procedures for routine work?

While it may not be possible to cope with all of these questions, the more one can deal with, the greater the opportunity for the project manager to convert time from being a constraint to becoming a resource.

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