With the diverse and sometimes unpredictable array of situations confronting HR professionals every day, time management is more important than ever.

There are lots of theories about time management, but this Entrepreneur.com article by Joe Matthews, Don DeBolt and Deb Percival opens with the kind of hook that could make even the best-organized HR pro stop in his or her tracks:

Everything you ever learned about managing time is a complete waste of time because it doesn't work.

With a tease like that, the authors had better have something earth-shaking to follow up with, and indeed, for many this article may be a revolutionary way of looking at organization.

Ironically, for this forward-thinking approach they go all the way back to Einstein, applying a shorthand version of the Theory of Relativity to the problem of time management.

There are really two kinds of time, they argue, “clock time” and “real time.” Clock time is that absolute system that seems to run evenly, irreversibly and without a hitch. But real time, they write, is completely different: it clusters and stretches, sometimes seeming to slip by too fast, other times stretching on interminably.

The difference between the two is the missing link in understanding time management, they say:

The reason time-management gadgets and systems don't work is that these systems are designed to manage clock time. Clock time is irrelevant. You don't live in or even have access to clock time. You live in real time, a world in which all time flies when you are having fun or drags when you are doing your taxes. The good news is that real time is mental. It exists between your ears. You create it. Anything you create, you can manage. It's time to remove any self-sabotage or self-limitation you have around "not having enough time," or today not being "the right time" to … manage your current business properly.

The 10 suggestions they lay out are aimed first and foremost at business owners, but they have the potential to be of great help to HR managers, as well. Some of them seem counter-intuitive; for instance, the idea that one should “practice not answering the phone just because it's ringing and e-mails just because they show up.” It may be a scary way to think about running HR since the fear of “getting behind” always seems to loom large.

But while making allowances for issues that must be dealt with immediately, the authors argue it’s actually much more efficient to schedule a time for the answering of phone calls and emails. Scheduling time that is often used up on scattered pursuits is a recurring theme, but even more interesting is the notion of taking time out to really think about how you should use your time each day, and why:

Take the first 30 minutes of every day to plan your day. Don't start your day until you complete your time plan. The most important time of your day is the time you schedule to schedule time.

Adding that kind of depth to time management flies in the face of conventional wisdom, since the theory has always run that the less time spent on scheduling, the less it cuts into time for doing all the things that have been scheduled. That analysis is exactly what’s been lacking in poor time management systems, the authors argue. In their view, even an important phone call deserves five minutes beforehand to consider what can and should be achieved from it.

The end result, they say, is not just better use of time, but better time used. That’s the bottom line on this fascinating approach: our obsession with quantity of time needs to shift to more concern for its quality.

08 May 2011

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