Orange County Branch Newsletter

May 2010

Secretary's Column

Time Management

By Tapas Dutta, PE



In the January 2010 Newsletter, I talked about the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Habit 3 describes prioritizing tasks that we need to do. In our increasingly fast-paced world, effective prioritizing is crucial.  One of the hallmarks of successful people is that they do this exceedingly well.  You may have heard of the conventional wisdom of assigning an urgent task to a busy person, they are the most likely individuals to effectively fit it in their schedule.

Most important tasks first appear on our radar in Quadrant 2 (Important and Not Urgent) of the Important/Urgent Matrix.  In order to be effective, we should complete the task before it migrates to Quadrant 1 (Important and Urgent).  By completing the important task before we are against a hard deadline:

  1. The quality of the task is likely to be high, with sufficient available time for quality control
  2. Other tasks and resources are less likely to be impacted.

Experts agree that a fundamental paradigm shift in mind-set is required for effective personal time management.  The statement that encapsulates this is:

Concentrate on results, not on being busy.

If you spend your day doing tasks in Quadrant 3 (Not Important and Urgent) or worse, tasks that fall in Quadrant 4 (Not Important and Not Urgent), you will appear to have worked a lot with minimal end results.

The Pareto Principle (named after the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto) or the 80/20 Rule states that typically 80% of unfocussed effort generates only 20% of results. This means that the remaining 80% of results are achieved with only 20% of the effort.

Some of the tools for effective time management are:

  • Do tasks with higher priority, first
  • Plan your tasks before starting on them
  • Minimize interruptions
  • Include contingency time in your task schedule to deal with the “unexpected”

Keeping a Work Log with time spent on each task is a useful to analyze and monitor your work habits.  Reviewing your work log enables you to identify wasteful activities and streamline your future workflow.

Dr. Locke pioneered research on goal setting in the late 1960s. You may have heard of the attributes of effective goal setting in the acronym SMART. 

Each of your goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time Bound

Another technique to set a work schedule is called the Backward Goal Setting.   This approach starts with your finished product and works backwards scheduling all the interim milestones.

Calculating how much your time is worth helps you to work out how whether it is worth doing particular jobs. If you have to spend much of your time doing low-yield jobs, then you can make a good case for employing an assistant.

As engineers, we are used to computing cost benefit analysis for a particular engineering solution. The same principles may be employed to determine which tasks to prioritize in order to be effective time managers. The Action-Priority Matrix shown illustrates this process. 

It is useful to categorize each task on your “to-do” list using this matrix and assign a priority level for each task.  Maximizing the number of high impact tasks completed while it is in Quadrant 2 of the Important/Urgent Matrix is the ultimate goal for our personal time management

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