Productivity tip: understand 3 kinds of time

Effective time managementShameless plug alert: ‘How to plan and prioritise’ is one of Zoomly’s top-selling workshops. Hmmmm… I wonder why?

I think getting on top of what we have to get done is an issue for most of us. We all need to be mindful of where our time’s going – let’s face it, when it’s gone, it’s gone. Whatever the time is as you’re reading this post, it won’t ever be that time again. Time is a seriously precious resource. Yet we can misspend it by focusing on the wrong things, waste it by getting distracted, and get overwhelmed because we’re juggling tasks and time.

There are heaps of sites and systems out there that will promise they can help with your ‘time management’ – some of them are fine; some can actually take heaps of time. My aim is always to simplify and deliver practical tips and when it comes to time, I’ve found we need to understand that it shows up at work in 3 ways:

1. Deadline time

This is pretty straightforward. What’s the deadline for the task? Most of us can get our heads around the final deadline. Most of us are aiming for it, somehow. A trick I think many of us miss is that The Big Final Deadline isn’t all there is to it; we need to have mini deadlines that plot out the key steps along the way. To borrow from project management jargon, these are ‘dependencies’, where what happens next depends on a particular stage being delivered by a certain time.

2. Duration time

This is about how long stuff takes to get done. It’s been both my experience – pleading guilty on this one – and observation that many of us aren’t so brilliant on this aspect of time. In fact, many of us hopelessly underestimate how long it really takes to get something done. Instead, we just plod along in our own sweet way, in our own sweet time, until we’re happy that it’s done. That’s fine if you’re working on your garden at home or another individual personal endeavour. But not so fine if colleagues are expecting you to deliver your part of the project by a deadline. Beware ‘gold-plating’ – project management speak for over-embellishing a job that’s already good enough and over-running the deadline.

3. Diary time

And here’s where we can really overwhelm ourselves, by setting up a parallel universe syndrome. There’s all that stuff on our to-do list – and then there’s all that stuff in our diary. And they don’t talk to each other. So your day may start early having to catch a train to a meeting in another town, then taking the meeting, maybe a coffee afterwards and a train trip back – total time, let’s be generous and say 4.5 hours. Meanwhile, your to-do list is only getting longer as a) you’re engaged elsewhere and b) what you’re doing will result in more tasks on your to-do list.

What can we do to understand and apply the 3 kinds of time at work?

Take these simple steps to gain control:

  • Get completely clear on deadline time; agree mini deadlines for delivery of each step of a project and update them as it progresses.
  • Negotiate deadlines whenever it’s necessary (great negotiation practice), using “if x then y” as in, “If you can get back to me by close of business today then I can send the document to you tomorrow; if not it will be at the end of the week”.
  • Pay close attention to how long stuff is actually taking you to get done.
  • When you’re being delegated to, discuss how long the task should take. When you deliver it, discuss whether it took less or more time than estimated and why.
  • When you’re wrapping a project, reconcile the time estimated versus the time actually taken and why some items overran. Rather than blaming anyone, have an honest discussion about what you can all learn from this so that the next project goes more smoothly.
  • Put your tasks in your diary / calendar system. Yes, I know that might sound incredibly basic to some – or overly detailed to others – but this is the key to breaking out of parallel universe syndrome. When you know your mini deadlines and how long stuff actually takes, you can block it out in your diary.
  • Check your diary before agreeing to take on a task so you can check when you’ll be able to do it and hit the deadline, negotiating either the deadline or your workload if necessary.


You may find this post useful: ‘6 essential steps to get stuff done’ 

Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’ 



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Concept of effective time management @ VectorStory – Deposit Photos


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