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Is Time Management Training A Waste of Time ?

publication date: May 29, 2012
author/source: Daniel Markovitz


What's the Problem?  

Spending too much time and effort on the wrong areas



Time Management Training: A Waste of Time - Chief Learning Officer, Solutions for Enterprise Productivity


Time Management Training: A Waste of Time

Addressing these three root causes will reduce the toll e-mail takes on workers and enable them to spend more time focused on value-creating activities.

Where’s the Batphone?

In the old Batman TV series, Commissioner Gordon had a special red Batphone that he could use to summon the caped crusader in an emergency. Doctors carry pagers — the real-life equivalent of Batphones — when they’re on the job or on call. The purpose, of course, is to provide a special, high-priority communication channel for truly urgent issues.

At most companies today, however, all communication is crammed through the same communication channel. Whether it’s a crisis with a key customer or leftover birthday cake in the breakroom, the messages all go through e-mail.

There should be an agreement about which channel to use, and for what purpose. For example, a policy could be made that urgent issues should only be communicated face-to-face, by phone or perhaps through text message or IM. If people know that urgent issues aren’t coming through e-mail, they don’t feel the need to check their inbox every time a new message arrives.

E-mail: the New Face Time

Many organizational cultures place a premium on face time over actual productivity. When an organization is spread over multiple locations, face time is most easily expressed by writing and sending e-mails at all hours and often to people who often have no need to receive the mail. The desire to show that one is working is what lies behind e-mails sent to large groups of people only tangentially involved with the issue at hand. It’s also behind the infuriating “reply-to-all” emails that plague workers like electronic locusts.

What’s needed is an environment that evaluates people based on their creation of value, not their creation of e-mail. Performance evaluations, despite their flaws, can be effective in helping people focus on what’s important. With clear measures of what’s supposed to be done, workers will be liberated from the mindless generation of pointless e-mails.

Unrealistic Expectations

Just because people can send e-mail instantly doesn’t mean they ought to respond instantly. Unfortunately, many organizations haven’t set clear expectations for response time to e-mail, leaving workers feeling as though they should respond to each e-mail upon arrival. The constant switching between a task and e-mail leads to a decline in effectiveness.

The vast majority of the time, the sender of an e-mail needs a predictable response, not an instantaneous one. (That’s what the Batphone is for!) Organizations need to set e-mail response time agreements that are sustainable and support effective work habits.

It’s Not About Time Management. It’s About Culture Change

Time management training does, of course, have value. People often don’t know how to manage themselves effectively, or how to use their tools (e-mail, smart phones, office software, etc.) effectively. Training them in basic time management principles and advanced software functions can be helpful. However, that training will have only limited impact unless organizations change their own cultural norms and expectations. Without that change, time management training really is just a waste of time.

Daniel Markovitz is a consultant who teaches at Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program and the Fisher School of Business at Ohio State University. He can be reached at editor@clomedia.com.

Excellent message on setting priorities and corporate culture, associate engagement and real results.

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