By Nirmal R. Thaker while a Manager with Trans Africa Bank
The article was given to me for publication in The Enterprise Magazine of the Faculty of Commerce, Makerere University when I was its Editor.
In the early 1960’s, C. Northcote Parkinson published a book that propelled him into instant fame. In it he disclosed his discovery of a new law in personal behaviour which has since acquired a degree of celebrity equal to that of Newton’s law of gravity or Einstein’s theory of relativity in Physics.
Parkinson’s Law states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. The law operates in this way: let’s say you have to write a report on your department and have a week to get it ready. In that case, the writing of the report will stretch out to fill the entire day, even if you have all the information you need and are able to write it in a couple of hours.
The details of how Parkinson’s Law works will differ from task to task and from person to person, but the essential law is applicable to all. Thus, it happens that the busiest man always ends up having more time at his disposal than the idle man. In terms of hours and minutes the busy man’s time is rationed, but it is this rationing that makes him value it and fill up every second with essential tasks, discarding wasteful habits. He has little time for loitering and visiting, less time for gossiping and rumour and no time at all for starting late, quitting early and absenteeism. He is acutely aware that poor workmanship, poor communication and inattention to detail prove to be expensive to anyone who values his time.
Time management comes naturally to some people and has to be learnt consciously and carefully by others. In either case, for best results, the greatest time-saving takes training.
Too fast a pace destroys efficiency as surely as too slow a pace. Human beings are prone to errors and excessive speed multiplies them, requiring repetition of tasks performed haphazardly or hastily. A degree of planning, however, can combine pace with efficiency. Priorities should first be established. That will determine the sequence in which the tasks should be completed. Thus, a deadline can be fixed for each task.
Such scheduling is not always easy. The most effective way of approaching it is to examine your work routine at the end of the day, by maintaining a time chart. Cut out the non-essential activities, the repetitions, interruptions and intrusions on your time. A daily practice with this technique will turn you into an expert time-saver, leaving numerous gaps hitherto wasted, now gainfully utilized.
A part from organizing your work, organize yourself physically and psychologically. Ill health can cause fatigue and tell on your performance. A simple change of diet, an extra hour of sleep can do wonders for a stressed out executive.
You may find some tasks tiresome, routine and boring. Boredom, too tells on efficiency. Intersperse the boring jobs with the interesting ones; try to make every job interesting by looking at it from a different angle. Try to complete the routine jobs faster every time, timing them each day, attempting to break the previous day’s record. Make sure that the quality of work does not suffer and soon you will begin to enjoy it as you would a sporting event.
Louis B. Lundborg, former Chairman, Bank of America, writes in an article on Managing for Tomorrow, “The man who know to manage his own time will usually also know the importance of time to his organization in another sense – the thing we call timing or tempo. It is literally a principle of nature … that the more a man accomplishes in a day; the more he expands the capacity to do an even greater amount. Work seems to feed on itself … completion of tough job seems somehow to make the next one easier and so on. On the other hand, if you fuss around a task, procrastinate, worry and stew about it-try everything except doing it-it somehow dissipates your ability to get anything else done.”
The best way to ‘make time’ is to beat the deadlines. Be ahead of the game at all times. Complete jobs as early as possible … regardless of deadlines. By doing so, you keep the decks cleared for unanticipated assignments. The result is that you are never too busy.
Time spent on traveling to and fro can be used for thinking, reading, making notes. Between the hours, put the minutes to work. In three minutes a phone call can be made or a brief note dictated. In thirty seconds you can make a decision.
Effective executives, says Peter F. Drucker, “do first things first and second things not at all.” (Second and third priorities are delegated to subordinates) the criterion for determining first priority is its contribution to the organization. “The executive who has succeeded in a new job asked himself, “What can I contribute now? And he came up with a new dimension, something not even mentioned in his job description.”
In delegating work which he himself need not do, the executive saves time and contributes to effectiveness if he builds on the strength and competence of the subordinates. “It is the manager’s job to enable people to do what they can do,” says Drucker.
As an aid to time-saving, you could start benchmarking: how famous men and women have hoarded their precious time. Mahatma Gandhi used his train journeys in third class compartments to write letters and articles. Abraham Lincoln wrote his speeches, notes and all other ideas on Presidential matters as they occurred to him on small bits of paper and stuffed them in his top hat for later consultation. John F. Kennedy studied speed reading, a technique which enabled him to race through news papers, books and memos at a break-neck speed of 1,500 words a minute, which is about five times the average rate of a good reader.
Executives and workmen have been filmed on the job as a part of time and motion studies designed to promote efficiency. The solutions recommended have ranged from painting the working rooms with cool rather than warm colours, to playing instrumental piped music into them. Most of these measures are controversial. What is not controversial is that time-saving is an art worth mastering and to the extent you master it, you will be rewarded.