Managing your own time

(MDP Series #4)

Returning to our series based around Maximum’s Management Development Programme, the fourth module is focused on time management – not the team’s but yours.


‘Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.’

Douglas Adams, by way of Ford Prefect


We all know time is not a constant, sometimes it drags (usually when you’re doing something you wish you weren’t), sometimes it flies (usually when you’re enjoying yourself)… but aside from our subjective experience, there’s also the objective fact: there are 24 hours in a day (of which you’re probably only contracted to be a manager for eight or nine) and that’s your lot. An effective manager understands that prioritising, planning, agreeing objectives, allocating resources, delegating, monitoring workflow and projects… all this (and more) is so much easier to do well when founded in good time management.

So, How do you make the most of your available time? is an important question for any manager.

It’s all about balance

You’ve probably heard of the Pareto principle that 80% of your results are generated in 20% of your time.

Then there’s Parkinson’s law that work expands to fill the time allocated to it.

So, on the one hand, much of your time is unproductive, and on the other, whatever time you set aside for a task, it will probably use all of the time allocated.

This is a potential recipe for disaster (for you and your team) and the remedy is strategic prioritising and planning founded on a realistic assessment of your responsibilities and sphere of influence.

If you’re wondering how your own time management is, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is in your control and what is out of your control?
  • Who, where and what can you influence? (…and who, where and what are outside of your potential influence?)
  • Where do you have the opportunity to make a positive difference?
  • Bottom line: are you spending your time where you should be?

Prioritising & planning? The answer is OATS

We’re probably all familiar with Dr Stephen Covey’s concept of urgent and important activities, and using a simple 2×2 matrix to prioritise and plan our tasks and responsibilities* but have you heard of the OATS principle?

In Mike Clayton’s book, “Brilliant Time Management” introduced a simple and effective planning aid: OATS.

‘O’ is for Outcomes

Ask yourself what your key outcomes are for tomorrow? What do you want to achieve? What needs to be done (by you personally or the team)? Restrict the list to just three or four items: it’s more likely to be achievable, and it forces you to think about what’s really important.

‘A’ is for Activities

You have the destinations, what are the steps necessary to get there? In other words, in relation to each outcome, consider everything that needs to happen to achieve it. Every activity must be directly linked or contribute to an outcome – this way you’re focused on the essentials.

‘T’ is for Time

Now, for each activity, estimate how much time it will take based on past experience. If the activity is new or unknown, break it down as much as possible and estimate the time needed for each ‘piece’.

As we’ve said, time is finite, so beware of Parkinson’s law – be realistic but also understand that once time is allocated, you’re unlikely to get it back.

‘S’ is for Schedule

Now for the order of work. Again, thinking about both Parkinson and Pareto, it’s very easy for small, so-called quick tasks to take up your whole day. To avoid this, schedule time slots for the big tasks and activities first and treat them as important as any other fixed commitment, like meetings. Then slot in the smaller tasks around them, in the gaps between the major activities.

There are many ways to prioritise and structure time and some will fit your specific role and responsibilities better than others. However, as a starting point, the OATS principle’s simplicity is hard to beat.

Managers often focus on managing others (the clue is in the job title, after all!) but… like everyone else, a manager has to manage themselves first – role modelling is important, especially when it comes to effective use of time and that’s why it’s emphasised in Maximum’s Management Development Programme.


At Maximum, we believe in the value of management development, and the value of the individual manager. The MDP is one of our core programmes and we focus closely on the impact and consequences of the manager role because it’s a powerful role and what you do matters – one way or the other!

For more information on management development, and how we can use it to address your specific organisational and business needs, check out our MDP page or give us a call on 01582 463460. We’re here to help.

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