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Is time management training a waste of time?


Time management courses are everywhere. But how many of them really achieve the objectives - greater productivity, better control of work and reduced stress? New research reported in The Observer on 26 September suggests that much TM training fails because it does not address one crucial factor: "time awareness".

Naturally good time managers seem to have this ability. They assess more accurately how long a task will take, and they sense time as passing more quickly than it actually does, so they work faster to ensure that they complete the work as planned.

Poor time managers, by contrast, often seriously underestimate the time needed - the ‘planning fallacy’.

Without good time awareness, standard TM techniques of listing, scheduling, planning and delegation are inadequate. For some people, making a list creates more stress because it emphasises the idea that they have a lot to do.

The changing nature of work in downsized and delayered organisations - often seen as a reason for sending people on TM courses - actually makes it harder to put basic TM principles into practice. There may be few or no people to delegate to. So reallocating a task can involve lengthy negotiation with a member of the same team rather than a quick instruction.

A recent study into work patterns suggests that with jobs less well defined than they used to be, people have to work more flexibly and respond instantly to changing demands.

Even having to leave the office for a day’s training can in itself be perceived as a waste of time: better to stay there and be seen getting on with the work. And assertiveness - being able to say "no" to the boss - may be impossible when people fear for their jobs.

It seems that to be successful, TM training needs to be tailored to individuals, to develop the skills of accurate prediction and strategies for keeping the work on track despite the obstacles.


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