“Corporations often miss out in developing employee soft skills, such as time and stress management, because it is hard to measure something that is not as tangible as technical skills.”
This is according to Elaine Harman, founder of The Skills Clinic in South Africa. The company runs The Time Clinic, a specialty training programme that seeks to help people improve their productivity by learning to understand and manage themselves in relation to time.
Harman, a trained counsellor with a background in psychology and addiction, decided to develop her programme after noticing that other time management courses in the market were more geared towards developing organisational strategies rather than addressing root behaviour.
“In order to be effective you have to be healthy and happy… If that is not working for you, your energy levels will not be where they need to be to accomplish the tasks you have at work,” she explains.
“So to leave stress management, health and wellness out of time management [training] is a very narrow approach.”
How we made it in Africa asked Harman to share some time management tips that can help improve productivity in the workplace for both employees and employers.
1. Only check emails at certain times of the day
“The biggest time waster – which has been proven in any work place environment – is email,” emphasises Harman.
Constantly checking email, and feeling the need to read and reply instantly, is a huge work distraction, she adds.
“What happens is that we will be working on something important and then an email comes in and it distracts us and we end up replying to that email and then we get caught up in other emails and we never actually seem to be able to get something done.”
She suggests only checking emails at certain times of the day – ideally every 2.5 hours. Furthermore, she advises against beginning each day answering emails, a common practice for many. Instead, workers should tackle more important tasks such as prioritising the day’s workload or getting started on a big deadline.
“This means you start the day taking a bite out of the elephant and doing something important instead. And this changes the way you feel about your day and yourself. It takes you out of crisis management mode… and you actually start your day in a proactive place where you have made a dent in something important,” Harman explains.
“Even if it means coming into work maybe half an hour earlier, we strongly recommend you take this action and see the difference it makes in your day. It is really quite profound.”
2. Stop having meetings for the sake of having meetings
One major time waster, which managers are often at fault for instigating, is holding too many or too long meetings, continues Harman.
“We need to ask ourselves if the meeting is really necessary, are the people attending the meeting really required, and is there another way to achieve the objectives?”
Mangers should also make sure that they have a strict agenda for each meeting and consider the best time to hold them. For example, meetings might be less productive on a Friday afternoon.
“Also look at how long meetings are taking. Richard Branson, for example, is an advocate of actually using gym balls [to sit on] or taking chairs away from meetings. And I think this is not a bad idea because if you are too comfortable then a meeting can go on far longer than necessary.”
3. Tackle the root of distractions
Many corporations restrict access to popular time-wasting website sites such as Facebook and YouTube. However, while Harman agrees they are a huge distraction, she doesn’t believe barring access will solve the problem.
“The problem is we can take things away from people but they will just replace them with other distractions. And ultimately you can’t really take cellphones away – and they can still access Facebook on cellphones,” she notes.
“What we really need to look at is why people are going on to social media in the first place. And the reason for that is people are looking for a distraction.”
This can be due to employees needing a short break from work – which can be healthy – or feeling de-motivated. “In this case I think a more positive approach would actually be to educate people on how to self-motivate and take ownership of their own motivation,” adds Harman.
“Putting incentives in place and teaching people to take ownership of their own behaviour is a much more effective approach than banning time-wasting activities such as social media.”
4. Be conscious of when you are most productive
Everyone is different and what might work for one person might not work for another. However, Harman says it is important that individuals are conscious of their own biorhythms and the times of the day when they are most or least productive.
“Understand that you have peaks and lows in your day, and if you can start to identify when these are, and rearrange your high-level action items in accordance with them, then that will really make a difference to your work and life,” she emphasises.