Time Management in the Future
A while back, I wrote about what time management looked like a hundred years ago.
The military’s need to be able to coordinate its numerous activities, for example, spurred the development of a reliable sturdy wristwatch to replace the cumbersome and delicate pocket watch, and industry’s need to reduce how long it took to make widgets and other commodities led Mr. Ford to adapt the moving assembly line, whose widespread repercussions included the development of the middle class.
Those were important time management tools. Strategies for using them more efficiently started appearing in the latter half of the 20th century. Numerous books and articles appeared touting this or that system for setting priorities and eliminating time-wasting practices. These strategies taught us to organize our tasks by priority, eliminate distractions, finish tasks, and deliver our work product on time.
Of course, time management isn’t really about managing time, it’s about managing our activities and our behaviour to make the most productive use of the time we have. In my first “real” office job, we had an older finance clerk who occasionally fell asleep at her desk. Once when she took a day off, my boss mentioned it in passing to his boss, who responded “Oh, sleeping at home for a change?”
Several time management issues still plague employers and employees alike. For example, despite the admonition of the time management strategies to limit and regulate meetings dramatically, office workers in general still report that about half the four hours they spend in meetings every week is wasted. Tardiness is another major problem, with between 15 and 20 percent of the workforce reporting that they arrive late for work at least once a week, blaming traffic, weather, and lack of sleep. Disorganization is another problem, blamed by half the workforce for their staying late at work at least two times a week.
Other drains on productive time are a wide range of distractions, including things like workers stopping to chat, or attending to personal business at work. These distractions add up and are tremendously costly – one estimate pegs the cost of all these interruptions at more than half a trillion dollars a year. That’s trillion with a “T.”
In addition, some popular time management strategies are turning out to be not quite as effective as once thought.
Multi-tasking, a term that came into vogue with the development of computers capable of performing any number of tasks simultaneously, is actually an ages-old way of managing workflow, or mismanaging it.
The fact is, though, that very few people can multi-task effectively while maintaining the quality of work on all tasks they’re performing. In addition, when switching from one task to another, time is inevitably lost re-orienting from one task to another.
I think that over the next couple of decades, the major developments in time management will come in the areas of technology and management practice, and will target these problems. Technology gives us more and more advanced tools to help us manage how we use time. Paradoxically, it may look as if we’re moving backward. For example, as cell phones become more and more super-capable, more and more people are relying on them to keep track of their schedules. Cell phones today have replaced wristwatches for many people, and are the modern version of the pocket watch. Coupled with this, networking technology allows managers and organizations to communicate simultaneously with multiple employees.
More sophisticated technology frees workers from being chained to their desks. High-speed Internet connections, combines with modern cell phone technology, allows many people to work pretty much wherever they are – including at home.
Estimates indicate that about 10 percent of the American workforce telecommutes at least one day a week.
Given the increasing severity of traffic jams and the other costs associated with commuting, it’s a safe bet that as time passes, more people will work from home more often, especially as various applications are developed that enable employers to monitor and make certain their people are actually working.
Another management practice that we’re likely to see more of is the use of independent contractors and temps for more specialized tasks. Managers and executives are aware that only a small percentage of people can multi-task effectively; in addition, they’re aware that about a fourth of the average workday is taken up by nonproductive distractions of one sort of another.
Different organizations have different cultures and financial circumstances, but in some, it will be far less costly to hire contractors for specific tasks, and pay them only for the time actually worked, or for their results, based on the job itself. Many of those contractors, for their part, are finding convenience and flexibility in independent contracting not available to the average office worker, permitting them to pursue other opportunities, including multiple good-paying gigs.