"Time management" refers to making the most productive use of a set period of time—be it days, hours, weeks, or months. In business the principle of time management is to use the time available to complete a project wisely and to work "smarter, not harder" in order to get more accomplished within that fixed period.

For centuries people used the general measurement of sunrise to sunset to gauge time, but with the development of the clock attention began to focus on the hours within a day as well. By the 17th century the clock had been perfected and become so well-established in society that the French mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes (1596 1650) used the clock as a model for humanity in his writings.

But it was during the Industrial Revolution that the clock really came of age. Frederick W. Taylor (1856-1915), an American engineer, undertook the first time and motion studies. Taylor subjected each aspect of the work process to a stopwatch measurement, then studied the results to look for ways to reduce the number of steps needed to accomplish a particular task or job. This concept of time management as something that managers did for line workers held sway until the 1930s, when managers began to find their own tasks so overwhelming that they too sought ways to manage time more efficiently.

In the 1930s Ivy Lee, a management consultant, initiated a simple "6-Step" process that became the standard for measuring the productivity of managers. The Ivy Lee plan was simple. Managers needed only to list the six most important things to be done that day, in order of importance, the most important being first. Then, the manager was to work on those tasks in order, not proceeding from one task to the next until the preceding task had been accomplished.

In the last half of the 20th century time came to be described as a "commodity, a resource to be used, hoarded, traded, and exploited." Despite changes in the way that businesses view time, time management for managers remains, in large measure, a matter of simplifying and compartmentalizing tasks to avoid diffuseness of effort. Making schedules and lists of the type recommended by Lee is still the most common method employed by managers wishing to improve their time management. Other simple and commonsense techniques, such as keeping meetings to a minimum and keeping them as short as possible, are all that is required in many cases to free a manager's time for more productive activities.

After World War II, studies of management began to broaden to look at time management in all aspects of business and life. Use of time became a focal area of management seminars in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1967 Peter Drucker proposed a chronological record-keeping method for managers, which was refined by Alec Mackenzie into an executive time directory in 1972. The following year saw the release of Alan Lakein's book, How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life, which reflected recognition by business educators of public concern with time management. Some of the best-known resources on time management include The One Minute Manager by Dr. Kenneth H. Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, and its sequel by Blanchard and Robert Lorber, Putting the One Minute Manager to Work. In the late 1990s, businesses began looking at the development of new partnerships and alliances, streamlining of corporate procedures and processes, and increased use of consultants, as means to more effective time management.

Critical path accountability, a new time management technique for managers, emerged in the mid-to-late 1990s. Managers making use of critical path accountability involve all members of a business transaction, including manufacturers, distributors, customers, and their employees in the production and delivery process. Keeping all parties to a transaction informed as to its progress leads to mutual accountability and the establishment of a system of checks and balances within the production process.

The essentials of time management involve recognition of goals and organization of one's efforts so that all steps taken follow a path toward achieving that goal and are not wasted or diverted from that purpose. Many of the barriers to efficient time management are flaws of human nature—the desire to procrastinate, to pursue pleasure rather than purpose, perfectionism that will not accept a job as complete, and insecurity that does not allow a person to delegate tasks to others. As such, a time management strategy often begins with an assessment of one's personal habits, including the ability to "just say no" to certain requests for demands upon your time that will not contribute to achievement of your basic goals. Mackenzie, in The Time Trap, said that time management is not just about the use of an abstract commodity—time. Mackenzie posited that time management is about what we can accomplish with time.

Good time management also reaches into other areas of management, including planning and goal setting, communication with others in order to effectively delegate, and assessment skills to determine if the goals were reached and how work can be done better in the future.

Many experts feel that current attitudes toward time management will evolve significantly in the near future. According to Diana Scharf-Hunt and Pam Hart, just as the clock—a mechanical tool in a mechanical age—led industry to respond to needs for time management in a mechanistic way with time and motion and lists and plans for steps to reach goals, the computer information age has broadened our understanding of time and created different needs to which management must respond.

Scharf-Hunt, a respected management consultant and specialist in time management, put forth the idea that as the 20th century draws to a close, the seconds and minutes of a clock are no longer the final arbiters of time. The computer calculates in nanoseconds—the blink of an eye. Scharf-Hunt and Hart found "Just as the clock tolled hours, minutes and seconds for the Industrial age, now the computer measures intervals in fleeting blips of time so infinitesimal that we cannot experience, let alone absorb them. As the clock once revolutionized work and society, the computer is revolutionizing how we work and live with time."

Scharf-Hunt and Hart formulated a time management style for the 21st century that involves a more thorough understanding of who we are, a more holistic approach to time that blends an outlook on work and life and the need to balance personal choices of all types—not just career choices—and philosophy with work. While appointments and meetings need to be viewed as relevant to the work goal, one needs also to consider their relevancy to total purpose. The broader basis for control is the belief that the mind is the ultimate control or site of management activity and the whole mind must be considered. On the other hand Charles Fine, in his 1997 book, The Quick and the Dead, makes the more traditional point that industries (in this case, the U.S. automobile industry) must respond to the faster pace of business in the computer age by increasing their flexibility and ability to respond to new markets, industrial procedures, and products.

Modern electronics are also revolutionizing personal time management. Many companies have begun allowing employees to make use of "just in-time" electronic communications to discharge their personal duties while on the job, a move that in the long run allows employees to spend more time at work and less time attending to personal matters. Other organizations have turned to their employees' internal state-of-mind as a time management device, setting up meditation and other consciousness raising programs to help employees deal with the limitations of time. Despite such novel methods, common sense prevails in employee as well as managerial time management. Designing offices to minimize lines of sight to personal workspaces, for instance, can reduce talking among employees and increase productivity.

But while the foundation of time management may shift and go beyond the business setting to life as a whole, the premise remains that time management in business seeks to use time and structure it to enable managers to reach the goals of efficiency and effectiveness.

SEE ALSO : Critical Path Method

[ Joan Leotta ,

updated by Grant Eldridge ]


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