Time management : a critical issue in the digital era

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Time is the only resource no one can afford to waste. If you think seriously about that, one can lose money and get it back one day (by working or winning at the lottery), one can lose access to a resource but find another one to replace it, a company can lose a precious employee but manage to do as good without him than with him (remember that cemeteries are full of irreplaceable people). On the other hand if one lose one hour or one day, it’s lost forever. I will never come back.

I’ve already wondered about the not that positive impacts of digital and new communication and work tools. These tools distort and bend space-time to such an extent that we believe it has become infinite, that we believe that because we can endlessly extend the workday and the workplace we can do without thinking of the time we waste because of organization dysfunctions, poor management and our inability to manage our and other’s time.

Days will always be 24h long. Our attention and productivity are optimal only 5 or 6 hours a day at best. That’s the truth. But everyone seems not to care about it. People are trained to many things, we focus on the need to continuously acquire new knowledge and skills but no one talk about time management.

Technology makes us forget time while it’s more important than ever

This interview of Tom Peters on the 21th century organization makes me say that we should put the matter back on the agenda.

He tells us that, according to Peter Drucker, the principal characteristics of effective leaders was that they were doing one thing at a time. But he highlights that today’s technology makes it possible for us to do 73 things at a time.

I see managers who look like 12-year-olds with attention deficit disorder, running around from one thing to the next, constantly barraged with information, constantly chasing the next shiny thing.

Ironically, he sees how people seem surprised when he mentions his passion for time management. Many think that someone like him should focus on more important things while, in his opinion, time management is the most important thing ever.

Nothing is more important than time management

Time management in the age of digital transformation is, in my opinion, a key issue but a discipline and skills that are overlooked. It’s a broad area because :

1°) It has to do with information management

What makes us interrupt and turns our schedule upside down, adds (or suggest us to add, rightly or not) tasks that are not priority or useful is the reception of a signal. At a given moment, it requires us to decide what we’re going to handle or not, read right now or no, prioritize or not. It also requires the same effort with the information we share with others. In the end it raises the question of managing the signal vs the noise : even if serendipity does miracles, when people are overwhelmed with information they lose their sense of priorities, of what matters and a part of their lucidity regarding to how they organize their work.

We manage others’ time, they manage ours

2°) It’s a collective discipline

Since no one works alone, knowing how to manage one’s time is necessary but no sufficient. It’s also about the way we manage and monopolize others’ time and the way others step into our own time. A framework of shared good practices, understood by everyone is necessary to avoid well known situations like “why didn’t you read my email when you received it ?” or “I’m the boos so everyone must interrupt for me, I impose my schedule without paying attention to others’ work”.

3°) It’s about behaviors

Of course there are formal things like the way meetings are organized and manage, project management, reporting etc… but it’s also about a very sensitive matter : everyone’s personality and behaviors. I often say that time and information management in a networked world is nearly a matter of politeness. Look at how people shout at others in the workplace, the way emails are written, how the monkey is passed, how we stun others with information without thinking of the impact how all these things is scary.

The consequences of poorly managed time and unproductivity are seen as signs of engagement

4°) It’s not fashionable

Being accessible 24/24, sacrificing one’s evenings and week ends has become so fashionable that you won’t hear someone saying “that’s enough”, at least not in public at the risk to be called a skiver. However, we must distinguish between the ability to face exceptional situations and making it a new normal with a dangerous impact on people’s health. But the “always on” discourse is easy and comfortable discourse and, if we have a closer look, most of those praising being always on are those who force things, not those suffering them. Once again I’m criticizing such approaches for one reason : it prevents from tackling the actual issues. Why weren’t we able to handle this during work hours ? Can it wait until tomorrow ? Where did we lose time ?

So the consequences of poorly managed time and unproductivity are seen as employee engagement.

A foreign friend, high level manager in a large company, recently told me “when I see people leaving the office at 9.00 pm, working every night and week ends, I just see people unable to organize and prioritize. Or people that have a balance problem in their lives. In either case that’s not good for the company“.

Digital businesses that overlook time management issues will explode in mid-flight

The culture of presenteism that prevails in some countries, bad and good manners, the time wasted in endless unproductive meetings, email management, the lack of skills….the matter is complicated.

But I fear that the digital and networked businesses that produce an endlessly growing amount of information and solicitations will explode in mid-flight if nothing is done about time management issues. A productivity and human collapse.

Image Credit : Time Management via Shutterstock

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Bertrand DUPERRINhttps://www.duperrin.com/english
Head of Employee and Client Experience @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
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