The Importance of Time Management (Aspects of Project Management Part 1)

Linh Tran, Friday 10 April 2015 | Reading time: 6 min.

Time Management is an important aspect of project management

Photo by Flickr User JD, Licensed under CC BY 2.0

Time is a commodity that we always need more of desperately, but there is never enough of it. Don’t take the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland as your role model when it comes to keeping time, because if he had exercised better time management he wouldn’t have been late all the time. 

What Is Time Management?

Time Management is essentially the ability to organize and plan the time spent on activities in a day. The result of good time management is increased effectiveness and productivity. It is a key aspect of project management and involves skills such as planning, setting goals and prioritizing for a better performance.

Why Is It so Important?

Have you ever thought “I just lost an hour of my life and I will never get it back”? You probably did a lot of times. There are a lot of ‘time wasters’ in our daily (working) lives, which is why we need a way to manage our time better. Time Management is often associated with business, but you need this skill in every part of life. For project managers, it is particularly important to possess time management skills to be successful.

A lack of effective time management can have a negative impact on a project in the long run. Time is one of the three triple constraints and any deviation from the schedule has an effect on the cost and scope of a project. In most cases time really is money. Ineffective time management can also increase stress and frustration in the project manager and the team members. Worst case scenario: a burnout.

Effective Time Management

The key to good time management is not to work more, but to work more efficiently. This means that you should structure your time so that you get more done in less time (without stress of course). A study from Stanford University found out that people who work more hours (more than 55 hours per week) do not actually get more done than those who work less than that. Here are some methods to manage your time more efficiently:

Avoid distractions
Today’s world offers a lot of distractions. Emails, instant messages, funny animal videos and so on. It is important to eliminate these distractions while working so that you can focus on the important tasks at hand. This doesn’t mean that you are never allowed to watch Maru jumping into a box, but there is a time and place for everything. If you manage your time wisely you will get work done faster, which leaves more time to relax – and yes, watch cat videos.

Task list and priorities
Planning is key in project management. An effective planning method is to identify all the tasks that you need to do to complete a project. This can be done by making a to-do or task list. The next step is to prioritize these tasks. Not all tasks are equal. You can implement methods like the Pareto principle or the Eisenhower method to identify which tasks take less time, but create the most value (Pareto) or which are important and urgent (Eisenhower). It’s better to do the more complex ones first. Doing easier tasks at the end is more sensible, because it is less likely that they will cause delays. 

Estimate and track time accurately
After you have identified and prioritize the tasks it is time to estimate how much time it will take to complete them. Make sure that you include all constraints and other factors in your estimation. Most of the time things will not go as planned, so include buffer times for unforeseen events into your project schedule. Also leave enough time for research, testing, meetings and other necessary activities. Also keep your team members in mind. They are only human, which means that they can’t work non-stop, but need breaks to recharge. 

Thankfully, there are a lot of applications that help you track the time nowadays. One more advantage of ‘digitalizing’ your schedule is that it reduces paper, which is not only good for the environment, but it also helps reduce the stress of having an inevitable paper chaos.

Create a schedule
After all the planning and estimating, you can create a project schedule, which includes all tasks and their duration. I know I mention them a lot, but Gantt charts are really a staple of project management that help you schedule activities and assign resources. For more complex projects, add a critical path to visualize which tasks are most important to complete the project.

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