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Time management strategies. Seaway NExT Workshop April 23, 2010. Setting the stage. “Why is it that as we develop more things to save us time, we end up with less time to do things?” – Geico junk mail “Time? What time do you think we have?”

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time management strategies

Time management strategies

Seaway NExT Workshop

April 23, 2010

setting the stage
Setting the stage

“Why is it that as we develop more things to save us time, we end up with less time to do things?”

– Geico junk mail

“Time? What time do you think we have?”

– Saruman, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

  • I feel like I don’t really have any time to manage!
  • I don’t seem to have much choice about what to do at any given time.
  • This predicament is not uncommon, apparently.
  • The tyranny of the urgent
the changing nature of work
The changing nature of work

Primary reference: Getting Things Done by David Allen

It’s harder to know when we’re done with a task now.

Eg. Chopping wood

When are you done ...preparing a lecture?

...doing research?

...with a service commitment?

the nature of work is constant change
The nature of work is CONSTANT CHANGE
  • “I often ask in my seminars, `Which of you are doing only what you were hired to do?’ Seldom do I get a raised hand.
  • “The organizations we’re involved with seem to be in constant morph mode,... These ... shake up structures, forms, roles, and responsibilities.”
  • “Little seems clear for very long anymore, as far as what our work is...”

—David Allen

Do these statements apply to math professors?


How can I keep email under control?

How do I process and track all the items coming to my attention?

How can I avoid distractions?

Can time-management systems really work? Or do they just make me feel better?

Are the systems designed in a way that will work for math professors?

Should I manage work and personal life separately?


Doesn’t time management take a lot of time?

Why should I care? Is time management worth the effort?

Should I make a to-do list?

(What if I do and it has hundreds of items?)

Is it important to prioritize tasks?

Should I make a daily/weekly schedule?

What if I’m a perfectionist? How can I finish anything?


What kind of goals should I make?

How can I get motivated to stay on track with time management?

What is the philosophy behind time management?

How can I overcome procrastination?

dealing with the inbox
Dealing with the inbox

“Control your time. If you’re working off your in-box, you’re working off the priorities of others.”

—Donald Rumsfeld(RUMSFELD’S RULE #57)

One huge issue is the amount of information 1) being presented to us and 2) available for us to use.

“How much available data could be relevant to doing those projects `better’? The answer is, an infinite amount, easily accessible,... through the Web.” —Allen

e mail

“Not emptying your in-basket is like having garbage cans that nobody ever dumps—you just have to keep buying new ones to hold all your trash.”

“The in-basket ... is the best that many people can do in terms of organization—at least they know that somewhere in there is a reminder of something they still have to do. Unfortunately, that safety net gets lost when ... the inventory of e-mails gets to extensive to be viewed on one screen.” —David Allen

get in to empty
Get “in” to empty

The inbox is just to hold emails until you can process them.

Process all emails in your inbox regularly.

“Process” does not mean “finish” what’s in each email, but decide what to do with it and route it accordingly.

I have a number of subfolders in my inbox.

Whatever I can’t deal with right away, I route to one of these.

partitioning the inbox
Partitioning the inbox

This has been really helpful!

It’s much easier to manage my email and find important items.

But—I usually don’t quite get “in” empty.

Problem: This approach to email does not really work as intended unless the inbox is regularly emptied all the way.


Def. Any place where a person receives work or other information is an inbox.

Inboxes are crucial in the Getting Things Done system.

  • Know where all your inboxes are.
  • Minimize the number of inboxes.
  • Don’t try to keep incoming information in your head. Write it down and put it in an inbox.
  • Empty your inboxes regularly
my collection buckets
My “collection buckets”

Shoebox on Grandpa Wehrenberg stand

Pile on ledge in dining room

Filing tray on island in kitchen

SUNY Fredonia email inbox

Yahoo email inbox

Math dept. mailbox

Office list

Home desk list

Downstairs list

Office—on radiator

Paper in wallet

Front door mail slot

Big box in dining room


Problem: To be part of an effective system, these inboxes all need to be processed and emptied regularly.

I empty some of mine, but others I don’t empty all the way, and on some I don’t even come close.

This points to an even more fundamental question about time management.


time management part ii

Time Management Part II

Beez Schell, PhD

Jennifer Costa

Assessment Time

managing interruptions
Managing Interruptions
  • What kinds of interruptions do you encounter in your daily life?
  • What kinds are the most common?
  • What kinds of interruptions are the most distracting?
  • How much time do you lose in a day with interruptions?
managing interruptions con t
Managing Interruptions (con’t)
  • How do you manage interruptions?
    • Plan for them by planning your reaction
      • Take a message and get back to the person
      • Let the phone go to voicemail
      • Ask a colleague to interrupt if they see you getting interrupted by a non-business passerby
      • Always maintain a high level of customer service and don’t make the interrupter feel like they are an inconvenience or interruption
      • Managing interruptions should not lead to procrastination
my advice
My advice

Close your email program!

Also, beware of instant messaging and the like.


can time management work
Can time management work?

Good news: There are time management systems that do seem to help quite a bit in using time efficiently.

Larger problem: Some of the systems don’t work very well unless you apply them carefully and fully, exactly as specified.

“Most people don’t have a really complete system, and they get no real payoff...” —D. Allen


time management part i

Time Management Part I

Beez Schell, PhD

Jennifer Costa

Assessment Time

why do we need to manage our time
Why do we need to manage our time?
  • Make us more effective and efficient
  • Helps us function efficiently and effectively under intense pressure
  • Helps us to control workload
  • Can eliminate stress
  • Others?
the time factor
The time factor

Problem: Time management takes time!

David Allen calls for a Next actions list, a Projects list, a Maybe/Someday list, and a Waiting for list.

When going through an inbox, if an item will take less than two minutes to complete, he advises to do it right away because keeping track of the item on an action list would take about 2 minutes.

What if you have hundreds of such items?



“This is the problem of perfectionism. We stop ourselves from engaging in those tasks that move us forward in our abilities because we spend too much time focusing on the small decisions instead of the big decisions.”

—Peg Boyle Single, Demystifying the Dissertation

Sometimes... but I can also spend too much time focusing on the big decisions!

time management part i26

Time Management Part I

Beez Schell, PhD

Jennifer Costa

Assessment Time

clarifying your goals
Clarifying Your Goals
  • What you want to achieve across your lifetime:
    • Career, family, social, community, etc.
  • Large ones first (5-10 years)
    • Then break into smaller goals
  • Positive statements
  • Prioritize
  • Write them down
  • Be specific
  • Be realistic
  • Relate to performance – not outcome
  • Celebrate achieved goals
  • Be flexible and willing to adjust your plan
be smart with your goal setting
Be SMART with your goal setting
  • S - specific
  • M - measurable
  • A - attainable
  • R - relevant
  • T – time bound
time management part ii29

Time Management Part II

Beez Schell, PhD

Jennifer Costa

Assessment Time


The process by which you look at the time you have, and plan how you will use it to achieve the goals you have identified.

By using a schedule effectively, you can:

  • Have a realistic understanding of what you can achieve with the time you have available
  • Plan to make the best use of the time available
  • Allocate ample time for things you absolutely must do
  • Reserve contingency time to handle 'the unexpected’
  • Minimize or eliminate stress by avoiding over-commitment
scheduling con t
Scheduling (con’t)

Scheduling is most effective if done on a regular basis – i.e. at the beginning of each week. The following steps from www.mindtools.com can help you in preparing your schedule:

1. Start by identifying the time you want to make available for your work. This will depend on the design of your job and on your personal goals in life.

scheduling con t32
Scheduling (con’t)

2. Next, block in the actions you absolutely must take to do a good job. These will often be the things you are assessed against. For example, if you manage people, then you must make time available for coaching, supervision, and dealing with issues that arise. Similarly, you must allow time to communicate with your boss and key people around you. (While people may let you get away with 'neglecting them' in the short-term, your best time management efforts will surely be derailed if you do not set aside time for those who are important in your life.)

scheduling con t33
Scheduling (con’t)

3. Review your To Do List, and schedule in the high-priority, urgent activities, as well as the essential maintenance tasks that cannot be delegated and cannot be avoided.

scheduling con t34
Scheduling (con’t)

4. Next, block in appropriate contingency time. You will learn how much of this you need by experience. Normally, the more unpredictable your job, the more contingency time you need. The reality of many people's work is of constant interruption: Studies show some managers getting an average of as little as six minutes uninterrupted work done at a time. Obviously, you cannot tell when interruptions will occur. However, by leaving space in your schedule, you give yourself the flexibility to rearrange your schedule to react effectively to urgent issues.

scheduling con t35
Scheduling (con’t)

5. What you now have left is your "discretionary time": the time available to deliver your priorities and achieve your goals. Review your Prioritized To Do List and personal goals, evaluate the time needed to achieve these actions, and schedule them in.

scheduling con t36
Scheduling (con’t)

What happens if you get to Step 5 and have no discretionary time left over?

  • Revisit the assumptions you made in Steps 1-4
    • Can anything be delegated?
    • Outsourced?
    • Abbreviated?
    • Automated through technology?
  • Review personal goals and to do list –
    • Are they realistic?
    • Can they be achieved in the time you have allotted?
    • Are things being treated as more important than they really are?
hold on
Hold on...

David Allen argues that scheduling of this type is completely impractical in today’s workplace.


time management part i38

Time Management Part I

Beez Schell, PhD

Jennifer Costa

Assessment Time

  • Prioritizing what needs to be done is key!
  • Without prioritization?
    • Your most important goals may not get achieved because you’re spending your time working on less important, lower valued tasks.
  • Prioritization is more than just a to-do list
    • A to-do list is a collection of tasks that need to be accomplished – SO --
    • In order to be effective these tasks need to be prioritized based on strategic importance
tools to help you prioritize
Tools to Help You Prioritize
  • Activity logs
    • help you analyze how you actually spend your time
  • Prioritized To Do Lists
    • List all of the things you need to do with the most important on top and the least important on the bottom
  • Action Priority Matrix
    • a diagramming technique to help you choose which tasks to prioritize and which ones to drop
  • Urgent/Important Matrix
    • helps distinguish and prioritize between urgent and important
hold on41
Hold on....

“ ‘Setting priorities’ in the traditional sense of focusing on your long-term goals and values, ... Does not provide a practical framework of a vast majority of the decisions and tasks you must engage in day to day.”

—David Allen



Prop. Perfectionism is the #1 enemy of effective time management.

(for me anyway!)

Any other candidates for #1 enemy?

Theorem. It’s impossible for anyone to manage his or her time perfectly.

Proof. We’re human!


Lemma. You can’t finish something if you don’t start it.

If you want to finish a task, start it NOW!

Furthermore, do a sloppy job!

(You can always revise and improve it later.)

“The challenge is to lower our standards. We need to put words on the page so that we can revise and raise our writing up to our standards.”

—Peg Boyle Single, Demystifying the Dissertation


time management part i44

Time Management Part I

Beez Schell, PhD

Jennifer Costa

Assessment Time

time management mantra
Time Management Mantra
  • According to mindtools.com –

“At the heart of time management is an important shift in focus:

Concentrate on results, not on being busy

Many people spend their days in a frenzy of

activity, but achieve very little, because they’re

not concentrating their effort on the things that

matter the most.”

time management part ii46

Time Management Part II

Beez Schell, PhD

Jennifer Costa

Assessment Time

how to beat procrastination
How to beat procrastination
  • 1) Recognize you do it
    • Putting things off?
    • Do minor tasks for others first?
  • 2) Figure out “why”
    • Unpleasant?
    • Overwhelming?
  • 3) Getting over it
    • Unpleasant?
      • What motivates you?
      • Reward yourself
      • Peer pressure
    • Overwhelming?
      • Break down into smaller tasks
      • Focus on small successes
because i want to get my stuff done
Because I want to get my stuff done…
  • Video
  • 10-Minute Rule
    • Overwhelmed?
    • Break down ‘big’ jobs
    • 5-10 minutes to complete
  • 3 Magical Questions
    • Where are you?
    • What do you want to do?
    • How will you feel when done?
    • This practice can get you going on the task…
  • Ultimate Goal vs. Immediate Desire
    • I want now?
    • I want later?

Example of small tasks…


“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us."

—Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring