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Francis Wade | No such thing as ‘basic’ time management

Published:Friday | March 9, 2018 | 12:00 AM

As a manager, you may have advised subordinates that they need a basic time-management programme.

While this advice is probably well-intended, it turns out to be flawed. Today, a more nuanced picture has emerged.

Your intent might be pure. Many employees who once appeared to be capable and reliable have fallen into rough times. Even though they remain motivated, they look harried, are behind in their email, and keep missing deadlines. Their reputation has taken a hit, so you want to help.

But they still have to complete the new project you assigned them in addition to their other responsibilities. None of it can be delegated it's all important.

Yet their sense of overwhelm remains real. Maybe you think they don't understand the basics of time management. While this line of thinking sounds logical, it happens to be incorrect. Here are the reasons why.

They are adults, not kids: In the world of adult learning, there's a known fact: teaching adults differs from teaching children. Why? In most cases, it's because the adult already possesses some capacity, prior practice, plus a motivation to solve everyday problems.

In this context, teaching Jamaicans Latin isn't the same as teaching us patois. We all chafe and resist when someone tries to force us to learn something we think we already know.

With respect to time management, my local research shows that you and your employees are similar to other experienced adults around the world.

To illustrate: you were taught the concept of time at age eight or nine. Shortly after, you taught yourself how to create "time demands" your own internal, individual commitments to complete actions in the future. You stored each one in memory to prevent it from being lost or forgotten.

Over time, you evolved, having learnt the superior nature of paper or digital storage over brain cells. But regardless of your efficacy, you became a functioning adult with many successful time management habits. After all, they are responsible for positive results at school, work, and in the family.

However, you suspect that your subordinates have not kept up with the volume of their work and suffer from some weak habits or tools. the question is, which ones? Only nuanced, not basic, training can help them uncover and close these gaps.

They need personal diagnostic skills. Instead of being instructed to engage in specific behaviours the stuff of basic programmes adults need to learn how to analyse and improve the habit patterns they are currently using - the same ones they have been honing since their teenage years.

I have previously condensed the actions required to guide this transformation into four steps, known as ETaPS.

The first step is to evaluate your current skills. Unlike other trivial behaviours, this takes more than completing a two-minute quiz from a magazine.

Unfortunately, empirical data from local classes reveal that the combination of habits, practices, and apps you employ today are complex. For example, everyone in your office may rely on Outlook, but there's a unique way they use the programme. Over time, you each developed routines that are idiosyncratic. Understanding them enough to make changes takes some study.

Therefore, a sound self-diagnosis starts with deeper-than-average knowledge. With it, you can compare yourself against a typical Jamaican or the very best in the world. This can be a sobering exercise, but the knowledge is priceless and produces a lifetime of steady changes. How fast should you expect to see real improvements?

Instant, magical change won't happen. Basic training, which ignores the lingering effect of old behaviours, sets learners up for failure. They go to work the next day thinking that everything will change right away.

This is impossible. It took a decade of practice to develop your current skills, which don't change overnight.

The remaining steps of the ETaPS formula are target new levels of accomplishment for each skill; plan a timeline of changes to reach these new levels in months or years, taking baby steps; and support each change so that single behaviours turn into habits. Draw on other people, reminders, and progress tracking to maintain momentum.

The idea is to break a complex, long-term transformation into small, manageable actions.

If you are a manager, help your subordinates see where a personalised plan of improvement provides a way to accomplish their goals. Then show them how better time management could improve every part of their life - relationships with significant others, children's performance at school, work-life balance, health, and engagement in their community and family.

Instead of trying to shoehorn them into one-size-fits-all basic training, give them the nuanced understanding they need to make consistent, foolproof changes.

- Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of "Perfect Time-Based Productivity". To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email: