Article posted on 12 December 2017

It’s 7 o’clock. Are you ready to leave the office?

One day, time management expert stood in front of a group of students and gave them a talk on how to organise their time so that they could manage to do everything on their list. To demonstrate his point, the expert took a glass jar and filled it up with pebbles. Then he asked the students: “Is the jar full?” They immediately answered it was. So he took out a box of gravel from under his desk, and the gravel found its place easily in the empty little spaces inside the jar.  After which he again asked the students: “How about now? Is it full?” The students began to realise what he was doing, so they answered cautiously, “Probably not.” The expert continued the presentation adding sand and then water, both of which had room inside the jar. At the end he prompted the students to draw a conclusion to his demo. “The conclusion is that even if your schedule is full, you can always find time to do more,” one of the more talkative students answered. “Wrong. The conclusion is that if you don’t put in the pebbles first, there will be no room left for them in the end.” And that’s what time management is about from my point of view, too.

Time management means, first and foremost, prioritising. Secondly, it also implies two important things which are not always perceived as having a vital impact on the way we organise our time. On the one hand, communicating, clarifying and relating to other people in order to ensure their collaboration, solidarity and support. On the other hand, setting very firm barriers between the personal and the professional. Put differently, one needs to regard one’s personal life as a business in itself, in order to make sure that the two are balanced, at the end of the day.

I sometimes meet people who tell me time “used to pass differently back then,” when they were always able to find spare moments to do everything they wanted to. In my opinion, time has always been the same – back then and now. But there is a difference between what was done with time then and what needs to be done now. Today very many executives are asked to make a great deal of important decisions in a very short time.  

At present, the time invested in the people one works with should come first: they need to know what is happening in the organisation, understand why the management takes certain decisions and how those resolutions should be integrated in their work. Informing and updating the team about what should be done in the company may seem time-consuming, but it is actually tremendously important as it aligns the team to the bigger picture. The staff will empathise more with one another and there will be fewer arguments even when, occasionally, deadlines are not met. The team will be more united and make joint efforts to solve the possible time crisis situations.

Another common fact in a few business cultures around Europe is that employees work really long hours. In my view, this is due not so much to a shortage of human resources allocated to carry out the business activities, as to the generalised insecurity prevalent in organisations as a result of the economic crisis. I think the wish to really prove oneself and the effort to arrange things perfectly well may sometimes be too much for the employees’ capacity and time. Working overtime stems from that, as well as from a certain fear of losing one’s job. In other cultures they go by the “do as much as you can” rule, and people leave the office at a fixed time, regardless of how much they have or haven’t managed to get done over the day.

So time management has to do with a few subtle nuances worth remembering more often: ongoing communication with co-workers, strict separation of professional and personal life, and taking time, at least occasionally, to recharge batteries – even if our passion for what we are doing sometimes makes us burn the candle at both ends in our office. Well, ready to manage your time more efficiently?