Time Management Principles

By John Dudovskiy
August 17, 2012

Time management The most popular time management principles include prioritisation, goal setting, planning, making to-do lists, concentration and focus, keeping a time log, delegating, and remaining organised.


Prioritisation can be explained as “ranking responsibilities and tasks in their order of importance” (Seaward and Seaward, 2011, p.331). Tracy (2007) and Becker and Mustric (2008) highlight prioritisation to be the most basic time management principle. Downs (2008) asserts that without prioritisation it is easy for professionals to find themselves in an inefficiency trap that involves being busy the whole day, but achieving very little at the end of the day. In other words, the author convincingly argues that if an individual is not engaged in prioritising the tasks he or she needs to accomplish during the day, the individual may be tempted to do easier and/or more enjoyable tasks first, although such task may not be important in terms of achieving personal and organisational objectives.

Yager (2008) links prioritisation practice to Pareto Principle. The Pareto Principle, also known as 80/20 rule, is a term coined by M. Juran is named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto for his observations in 1906 that 80 per cent of the wealth in Italy was controlled by 20 per cent of population (Boone and Kurtz, 2010). The idea has been developed to cover the viewpoint that 80 per cent of results came from 20 per cent of overall efforts.

Authors note that “while the ratio is not always 80:20, this broad pattern of a small proportion of activity generating non-scalar returns recurs so frequently as to be the norm in many areas” (Rivera, 2007, p.42).

Accordingly, the advocates of Pareto Principle that include Mancini (2007), Rivera (2007), Dodd and Sundheim (2011) and others who recommend managers to identify the type of their activities that yield the most results, and give priority on these activities among other activities to be completed.


Goal Setting

Goals have been defined as “what is truly needed and wanted” (Becker and Mustic, 2008, p.148). Goal setting, as one of the fundamental time management principles feature in the works of Green and Skinner (2005), Rivera (2007), Becker and Mustric (2008), Dodd and Sundheim (2011) and others.

It is stressed by authors that “goal setting techniques are used by top-level athletes, successful businesspeople and achievers in all fields. They give long-term vision and short-term motivation” (Rivera, 2007).

Moreover, according to Rivera (2007) individual goals have to cover all aspect of an individual’s life including artistic, attitude, career, education, family, finance, physical, pleasure, public service etc.

Also authors have proposed specific recommendations regarding personal and professional goal setting. These recommendations include formulating goals with positive statements (Felton and Sims, 2009), being precise and specific (Becker and Mustic, 2008), keeping goals in a written form (Green and Skinner, 2005), keeping operational goals separate from life mission (Dodd and Sundheim, 2011) and others.

Kitchen (2010) mention SMART mnemonic for goal setting where the abbreviation stands for specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.



Planning has been specified by Green and Skinner (2005) necessary in order to achieve personal and professional aims and objectives. Limoncelli (2006) stresses that planning and scheduling is not limited to recording what has to be done at work, instead, it has also to include time and commitment to pursue the activities of personal interests, such us reading, engaging in sport activities, spending time with family and friends etc.

Moreover, according to Walsh (2008), exercising and engaging in various sport activities have to be included in planning and they have to be perceived as highly important aspect of time management. Walsh (2008) specifies personal care and attention in a reasonable degree as an effective investment of time.

Christie (2009) agrees with this viewpoint and recommends scheduling time to engage in a hobby or do noting at all that would help individuals to revitalize, both mentally, as well as, physically.

Bhugra and Howes (2007) urge to be writing down long-term and short term plans at all times. Many other authors also share this viewpoint by stating that “to make sure the planning sticks, you must write it down. With a written daily plan, you are in control of your time. Without it, your day will be a frustrating rumble of minor crises, interruptions, and dead ends” (Alexander and Dobson, 2008, p.24).


Making To-Do Lists

The positive role of to-do lists in terms of using one’s time more effectively has been mentioned by Tobis and Tobis (2002), Limoncelli (2006), Forsyth (2010), Mancini (2007) and others.

Authors argue that “the to-do list should be a catchall of any items you decide to address or are even considering. Adding an item to the to-do list is not a time commitment until you move the item to your calendar” (Tobis and Tobis, 2002, p.4)

At the same time, authors warn that “time management must not be seen as only concerned with packing more activity into the available time, though this may be part of it; it must be instrumental in ensuring that objectives are met” (Forsyth, 2010, p.13)

Felton and Sims (2009) stress the importance of maintaining provision for flexibility within to-do lists. In justifying their stand, the authors point to the changing external factors caused by the highly dynamic nature of modern working environment.

According to Butler and Hope (2007), the scheduling of to-do lists has to be conducted according to the biological clock of individuals, therefore, the most challenging and high priority tasks have to be scheduled during the peak performance of individuals, be it early in the morning, afternoon or evening.

Christie (2009) warns not to confuse to-do lists with actions plans and clarifies that while the former might contain a wide range of different tasks to be completed, the activities within an action plan are associated with the achievement of a single goal.

However, Silvis (2011) warns about the dangers associated with the use of to-do lists that include becoming demoralised for achieving very little from the list and falling on the trap of transferring the tasks from the list from day to day. Moreover, authors also note that “the problem with a list is that it rarely diminishes. It just gets longer and longer as more items are added after another interrupted day “(Christie, 2009, p.24). In order to combat this specific issue Christie (2009) offers do raw a line under to-do lists, once adequate amount of tasks to be achieved during the day have been included into the list in a prioritised manner.

Brott (2008) identifies detailed planning to be a cornerstone of effective time management and the making of to-do lists. The author explains that “detailed planning is absolutely necessary. With proper planning you can gather the necessary materials, systems and procedures and utilise spare moments for the preparation of coming events” (Brott, 2008, p.31)

Reasoning about the advantages of time management schedule Zeller (2009) argues that “sticking to a time-scheduling system can’t guarantee the return of your long-lost vacation days, but by regularly tracking your meetings, appointments, and obligations, you reduce your odds of double booking and scheduling appointments too close” (Zeller, 2008, p.14)

Moreover, Butler and Hope (2007) discuss the positive impact of using personal planning tools on the level of time management. Butler and Hope (2007) advise including all of the personal and professional commitments into the planner and referring to it on a daily basis. Downs (2008) expands this discussion and states that the choice between the digital or paper personal planning tool depends on personal preferences of users along with their computer skills and resources. However, Downs (2008) praises a range of advantages of digital personal planners that include the possibilities of grouping tasks under separate headings, prioritising them, as well as, assigning deadlines.


Concentration and Focus

There is a consensus among secondary data authors that “enhancing concentration is fundamental to time management” (Yager, 2008, p.132). Moreover, it has been clarified that “focus is about dedicating as much of your brain as possible to a particular task” (Limoncelli, 2006, p.13).

The works of authors devoted to this specific aspect of time management can be divided into two categories:

First, there are authors like Green and Skinner (2005), Mancini (2007), Alexander and Dobson (2008), and Downs (2008) who discuss the importance of maintaining concentration and focus in time management in general terms. However, there is a common shortage associated with these texts, and it relates to the fact that these authors fail to offer specific tools and techniques that could be used in order to increase the levels of focus and concentration.

Second, authors like Walsh (2008), Dodd and Sundheim (2011), and Silvis (2011) discuss the importance of high levels of focus and concentration in successful time management at the same time when suggesting relevant specific recommendations. Namely, recommendations offered by these authors include limiting the chances of potential distractions, switching off phones and other modes of communication, and others.


Keeping a Time Log

Limoncelli (2006) recommends keeping a time log for individuals in order to reveal the nature of their time usage. The benefits of keeping time logs have also been mentioned by Tracy (2007), Downs (2008), Felton and Sims (2009), and Silvis (2011).

Downs (2008) offers detailed recommendations in terms of how to complete a time log. Specifically, the author maintains that each activity lasting more than five minutes has to be entered into the time log by recording the beginning and end times of activities. Downs (2008) further specifies that after keeping the log for the duration of one or two weeks total time spent for each type of activities need to be summarised and relevant conclusions need to be made.

Moreover, Felton and Sims (2009) argue that filling a time log of their daily activities for the duration of several days is going to help individuals in identifying how they are actually using their time, not how individuals think they are using their time.

However, the level of importance of time logs has been downplayed by some secondary data authors. For instance, it has been noted that “a time log is not necessary for improving time management, although it can open your eyes to where your time really goes” (Dodd & Sundheim, 2011, p.13).



The advantages of delegating as an effective time management principle have been stressed by Christie (2009), Felton and Sims (2009), Forsyth (2010) and others. Christie (2009) stresses that effective delegation can create additional free time for managers that can be spend in dealing with strategic organisational objectives.

Additional advantages of delegating tasks and responsibilities are specified by Felton and Sims (2009) as increased motivation of individuals, to who responsibilities are being delegated, development of skills of subordinates and more effective distribution of work throughout the organisation.

Forsyth (2010) offer specific tips and recommendations in terms of engaging in effective delegation. These recommendations include identifying the most suitable person for tasks, making sure that tasks are fully understood, providing adequate resources and granting authority to complete the task, monitoring employee performance and praising if the tasks has been completed appropriately.

Forsyth (2010) warns that if these recommendations about are not followed, delegation might prove to be counter productive in terms of engaging in effective time management.

Moreover, Mancini (2007) specifies ‘buying’ time as an alternative form of delegation. The author clarifies that time can be ‘bought’ by hiring someone to accomplish a specific task such as paying someone for cleaning the house, paying for babysitting etc. Mancini (2007) also states that time can be ‘bought’ by purchasing relevant technology as well such as various computerised systems for performing specific tasks.

At the same time, Mancini (2007) acknowledges that the option of ‘buying’ time is not available to everyone as the level of applicability of this specific recommendation greatly varies among individuals according to their financial capabilities.


Remaining Organised

The state of disorganisation has been linked to poor time management by Mancini (2007), Singh (2008), Dodd and Sundheim (2011), Fleming (2011) and others. Mancini (2007) recommend dealing with the piles of documents by classifying them into three categories: ‘keep’, ‘delegate’ and ‘get rid of’. The author clarifies that as the names imply, important documentations have to be kept in ‘keep’ box and to be dealt with in a due manner, as much papers as possible need to be filed into ‘delegate’ box, whereas ‘get rid of’ box should contain a type of files that would not contribute to the achievement of objectives in any ways.

Dodd and Sundheim (2011), on the other hand, offer an alternative approach in dealing with information by offering five alternative options: a) getting rid of information; b) delegating the task of dealing with the information; c) including acting on information in to-do list; d) delaying dealing with the information if additional information is required, and e) filing the information permanently to a place where it can be found later easily.


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Category: Management