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Time management

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Time management is the process of planning and exercising conscious control of time spent on specific activities—especially to increase effectiveness, efficiency, and productivity.

Time management involves demands relating to work, social life, family, hobbies, personal interests, and commitments. Using time effectively gives people more choices in managing activities.[1] Time management may be aided by a range of skills, tools, and techniques, especially when accomplishing specific tasks, projects, and goals complying with a due date.

Initially, the term time management encompassed only business and work activities, but eventually, the term broadened to include personal activities as well. A time management system is a designed combination of processes, tools, techniques, and methods. Time management is usually a necessity in any project management, as it determines the project completion time and scope.

Cultural views of time management


Differences in the way a culture views time can affect the way their time is managed. For example, a linear time view is a way of conceiving time as flowing from one moment to the next in a linear fashion. This linear perception of time is predominant in America along with most Northern European countries, such as Germany, Switzerland, and England.[2] People in these cultures tend to place a large value on productive time management and tend to avoid decisions or actions that would result in wasted time.[2] This linear view of time correlates to these cultures being more "monochronic", or preferring to do only one thing at a time.

Another cultural time view is the multi-active time view. In multi-active cultures, most people feel that the more activities or tasks being done at once the better. This creates a sense of happiness.[2] Multi-active cultures are "polychronic" or prefer to do multiple tasks at once. This multi-active time view is prominent in most Southern European countries such as Spain, Portugal, and Italy.[2] In these cultures, people often tend to spend time on things they deem to be more important such as placing a high importance on finishing social conversations.[2] In business environments, they often pay little attention to how long meetings last, rather the focus is on having high-quality meetings. In general, the cultural focus tends to be on synergy and creativity over efficiency.[3]

A final cultural time view is a cyclical time view. In cyclical cultures, time is considered neither linear nor event related. Because days, months, years, seasons, and events happen in regular repetitive occurrences, time is viewed as cyclical. In this view, time is not seen as wasted because it will always come back later, hence there is an unlimited amount of it.[2] This cyclical time view is prevalent throughout most countries in Asia, including Japan and China. It is more important in cultures with cyclical concepts of time to focus on completing tasks correctly, thus most people will spend more time thinking about decisions and the impact they will have, before acting on their plans.[3] Most people in cyclical cultures tend to understand that other cultures have different perspectives of time and are cognizant of this when acting on a global stage.[4]



Excessive and chronic inability to manage time effectively may result from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).[5] Diagnostic criteria include a sense of underachievement, difficulty getting organized, trouble getting started, trouble managing many simultaneous projects, and trouble with follow-through.[6]

Setting priorities and goals


These goals are recorded and may be broken down into a project, an action plan, or a simple task list. For individual tasks or for goals, an importance rating may be established, deadlines may be set, and priorities assigned. This process results in a plan with a task list, schedule, or calendar of activities. Authors may recommend daily, weekly, monthly, or other planning periods, associated with different scope of planning or review. This is done in various ways, as follows:

ABC analysis


The ABC method for time management developed by Alan Lakein involves categorizing tasks into three labels: A, B, and C.

A Tasks
These are the highest priority and most urgent tasks. They include work that must be completed promptly, such as projects with a deadline.
B Tasks
These tasks are important but not necessarily associated with a specific deadline. They should be completed as soon as possible.
C Tasks
These are the least important tasks. They can be done when time permits and don’t require immediate attention.

Pareto analysis


The Pareto principle is the idea that 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. Applied to productivity, it means that 80% of results can be achieved by doing 20% of tasks.[7] If productivity is the aim of time management, then these tasks should be prioritized higher.[8]

The Eisenhower Method

A basic "Eisenhower box" to help evaluate urgency and importance. Items may be placed at more precise points within each quadrant.

The "Eisenhower Method" or "Eisenhower Principle" is a method that utilizes the principles of importance and urgency to organize priorities and workload. This method stems from a quote attributed to Dwight D. Eisenhower: "I have two kinds of problems, the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent."[9] Eisenhower did not claim this insight for his own, but attributed it to an (unnamed) "former college president."[10]

Using the Eisenhower Decision Principle, tasks are evaluated using the criteria important/unimportant and urgent/not urgent,[11][12] and then placed in according quadrants in an Eisenhower Matrix (also known as an "Eisenhower Box" or "Eisenhower Decision Matrix"[13]). Tasks in the quadrants are then handled as follows.

  1. Important/Urgent quadrant tasks are done immediately and personally,[14] e.g. crises, deadlines, problems.[13]
  2. Important/Not Urgent quadrant tasks get an end date and are done personally,[14] e.g. relationships, planning, recreation.[13]
  3. Unimportant/Urgent quadrant tasks are delegated,[14] e.g. interruptions, meetings, activities.[13]
  4. Unimportant/Not Urgent quadrant tasks are dropped,[14] e.g. time wasters, pleasant activities, trivia.[13]

Implementation of goals


A task list (also called a to-do list or "things-to-do") is a list of tasks to be completed, such as chores or steps toward completing a project. It is an inventory tool which serves as an alternative or supplement to memory.

Task lists are used in self-management, business management, project management, and software development. It may involve more than one list.

When one of the items on a task list is accomplished, the task is checked or crossed off. The traditional method is to write these on a piece of paper with a pen or pencil, usually on a note pad or clip-board. Task lists can also have the form of paper or software checklists.

Writer Julie Morgenstern suggests "do's and don'ts" of time management that include:

  • Map out everything that is important, by making a task list.
  • Create "an oasis of time" for one to manage.
  • Say "No".
  • Set priorities.
  • Do not drop everything.
  • Do not think a critical task will get done in one's spare time.[15]

Numerous digital equivalents are now available, including personal information management (PIM) applications and most PDAs. There are also several web-based task list applications, many of which are free.

Task list organization


Task lists are often diarized and tiered. The simplest tiered system includes a general to-do list (or task-holding file) to record all the tasks the person needs to accomplish and a daily to-do list which is created each day by transferring tasks from the general to-do list. An alternative is to create a "not-to-do list", to avoid unnecessary tasks.[15]

Task lists are often prioritized in the following ways.

  • A daily list of things to do, numbered in the order of their importance and done in that order one at a time as daily time allows, is attributed to consultant Ivy Lee (1877–1934) as the most profitable advice received by Charles M. Schwab (1862–1939), president of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation.[16][17][18]
  • An early advocate of "ABC" prioritization was Alan Lakein, in 1973. In his system "A" items were the most important ("A-1" the most important within that group), "B" next most important, "C" least important.[19]
  • A particular method of applying the ABC method[20] assigns "A" to tasks to be done within a day, "B" a week, and "C" a month.
  • To prioritize a daily task list, one either records the tasks in the order of highest priority, or assigns them a number after they are listed ("1" for highest priority, "2" for second highest priority, etc.) which indicates in which order to execute the tasks. The latter method is generally faster, allowing the tasks to be recorded more quickly.[15]
  • Another way of prioritizing compulsory tasks (group A) is to put the most unpleasant one first. When it is done, the rest of the list feels easier. Groups B and C can benefit from the same idea, but instead of doing the first task (which is the most unpleasant) right away, it gives motivation to do other tasks from the list to avoid the first one.

Various writers have stressed potential difficulties with to-do lists such as the following.

  • Management of the list can take over from implementing it. This could be caused by procrastination by prolonging the planning activity. This is akin to analysis paralysis. As with any activity, there's a point of diminishing returns.
  • To remain flexible, a task system must allow for disaster. A company must be ready for a disaster. Even if it is a small disaster, if no one made time for this situation, it can metastasize, potentially causing damage to the company.[21]
  • To avoid getting stuck in a wasteful pattern, the task system should also include regular (monthly, semi-annual, and annual) planning and system-evaluation sessions, to weed out inefficiencies and ensure the user is headed in the direction he or she truly desires.[22]
  • If some time is not regularly spent on achieving long-range goals, the individual may get stuck in a perpetual holding pattern on short-term plans, like staying at a particular job much longer than originally planned.[23]

Software applications


Many companies use time tracking software to track an employee's working time, billable hours, etc., e.g. law practice management software.

Many software products for time management support multiple users. They allow the person to give tasks to other users and use the software for communication and to prioritize tasks.

Task-list applications may be thought of as lightweight personal information manager or project management software.

Modern task list applications may have built-in task hierarchy (tasks are composed of subtasks which again may contain subtasks), may support multiple methods of filtering and ordering the list of tasks, and may allow one to associate arbitrarily long notes for each task.[citation needed]

Time management systems


Time management systems often include a time clock or web-based application used to track an employee's work hours. Time management systems give employers insights into their workforce, allowing them to see, plan and manage employees' time. Doing so allows employers to manage labor costs and increase productivity. A time management system automates processes, which eliminates paperwork and tedious tasks.

GTD (Getting Things Done)


The Getting Things Done method, created by David Allen, is to finish small tasks immediately and for large tasks to be divided into smaller tasks to start completing now.[24] The thrust of GTD is to encourage the user to get their tasks and ideas out and on paper and organized as quickly as possible so they are easy to see and manage. "The truth is, it takes more energy to keep something inside your head than outside," says Allen.[24]



Francesco Cirillo's "Pomodoro Technique" was originally conceived in the late 1980s and gradually refined until it was later defined in 1992. The technique is the namesake of a Pomodoro (Italian for tomato) shaped kitchen timer initially used by Cirillo during his time at university. The "Pomodoro" is described as the fundamental metric of time within the technique and is traditionally defined as being 30 minutes long, consisting of 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break time. Cirillo also recommends a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes after every four Pomodoros. Through experimentation involving various workgroups and mentoring activities, Cirillo determined the "ideal Pomodoro" to be 20–35 minutes long.[25][self-published source?]


Time management is related to the following concepts.

  • Project management: Time management can be considered to be a project management subset and is more commonly known as project planning and project scheduling. Time management has also been identified as one of the core functions identified in project management.[26]
  • Attention management relates to the management of cognitive resources, and in particular, the time that humans allocate their mind (and organize the minds of their employees) to conduct some activities.
  • Timeblocking is a time management strategy that specifically advocates for allocating chunks of time to dedicated tasks in order to promote deeper focus and productivity.

See also



  1. ^ Stella Cottrell (2013). The Study Skills Handbook by Stella Cottrell (University of Leeds). Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 123+. ISBN 978-1-137-28926-1.[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d e f Communications, Richard Lewis (internationally renowned linguist). "How Different Cultures Understand Time". Business Insider. Retrieved 2018-12-04.
  3. ^ a b Pant, Bhaskar (2016-05-23). "How various cultures perceive deadlines varies". Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 2018-12-04.
  4. ^ Duranti, Giancarlo; Di Prata, Olvers (2009). "Everything is about time: does it have the same meaning all over the world?".
  5. ^ "NIMH – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder". www.nimh.nih.gov. Archived from the original on 2016-12-29. Retrieved 2018-01-05.
  6. ^ Hallowell, Edward M.; Ratey, John J. (1994). Driven To Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood. Touchstone. pp. 73–76. ISBN 9780684801285. Retrieved 2013-07-30.
  7. ^ "The 80/20 Rule And How It Can Change Your Life". Forbes. Archived from the original on 2017-11-17. Retrieved 2017-09-16.
  8. ^ Ferriss, Timothy. (2007). The 4-hour workweek: escape 9-5, live anywhere, and join the new rich (1st ed.). New York: Crown Publishers. ISBN 978-0-307-35313-9. OCLC 76262350.
  9. ^ Dwight D. Eisenhower (August 19, 1954). Address at the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Evanston, Illinois. (retrieved 31 March 2015.)
  10. ^ Background on the Eisenhower quote and citations to how it was picked up in media references afterwards are detailed in: O'Toole, Garson (9 May 2014). "What Is Important Is Seldom Urgent and What Is Urgent Is Seldom Important". Quote Investigator. Archived from the original on 11 April 2015.
  11. ^ Fowler, Nina (September 5, 2012). "App of the week: Eisenhower, the to-do list to keep you on task". Venture Village.
  12. ^ Drake Baer (April 10, 2014), "Dwight Eisenhower Nailed A Major Insight About Productivity" Archived 2015-04-02 at the Wayback Machine, Business Insider, (accessed 31 March 2015)
  13. ^ a b c d e McKay; Brett; Kate (October 23, 2013). "The Eisenhower Decision Matrix: How to Distinguish Between Urgent and Important Tasks and Make Real Progress in Your Life". A Man's Life, Personal Development. Archived from the original on 2014-03-22. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
  14. ^ a b c d "The Eisenhower Method". fluent-time-management.com. Archived from the original on 2014-03-03.
  15. ^ a b c Morgenstern, Julie (2004). Time Management from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Taking Control of Your Schedule—and Your Life (2nd ed.). New York: Henry Holt/Owl Books. p. 285. ISBN 0-8050-7590-9.
  16. ^ Mackenzie, Alec (1972). The Time Trap (3rd ed.). AMACOM - A Division of American Management Association. pp. 41–42. ISBN 081447926X.
  17. ^ LeBoeuf, Michael (1979). Working Smart. Warner Books. pp. 52–54. ISBN 0446952737.
  18. ^ Nightingale, Earl (1960). "Session 11. Today's Greatest Adventure". Lead the Field (unabridged audio program). Nightingale-Conant. Archived from the original on 2013-01-08.
  19. ^ Lakein, Alan (1973). How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. New York: P.H. Wyden. ISBN 0-451-13430-3.
  20. ^ "Time Scheduling and Time Management for dyslexic students". Dyslexia at College. Archived from the original on 2005-10-26. Retrieved October 31, 2005. — ABC lists and tips for dyslexic students on how to manage to-do lists
  21. ^ Horton, Thomas. New York The CEO Paradox (1992)
  22. ^ "Tyranny of the Urgent" essay by Charles Hummel 1967
  23. ^ "86 Experts Reveal Their Best Time Management Tips". Archived from the original on March 3, 2017. Retrieved March 3, 2017.
  24. ^ a b Hammersley, Ben (September 28, 2005). "Meet the man who can bring order to your universe". The Guardian. London: Guardian News and Media Limited. Retrieved March 5, 2010.
  25. ^ Cirillo, Francesco (November 14, 2009). The Pomodoro Technique. Lulu.com. ISBN 978-1445219943.[self-published source]
  26. ^ Project Management Institute (2004). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). Project Management Institute. ISBN 1-930699-45-X.

Further reading