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Time management exercises: 7 of the best

It can often feel as though there aren’t enough hours in a day. In the office you work late and extend deadlines, while out of the office you apologise for slow replies to messages and desperately crave a blank space in your diary.

Sound familiar?

Many people think that they are good at multitasking, when it is actually ‘task switching’, jumping from one thing to the next, increasing the time spent on each task, often without actually completing anything.

The reality is that we think that we don’t have enough time, but if we managed our time more efficiently, we should actually have time to do more and still have time to relax.

By investing in employee time management exercises you can help staff to develop better techniques and improve concentration and focus, which will lead to better productivity.

Whatever you choose to do, time management exercises work better if they are interactive as this will engage staff and they will be able to memorise the new things they have learnt more easily.

A unique, app-based experiential programme like the Smart Working Programme will combine a number of proven techniques to increase productivity and improve performance. It’s all about manipulating time so that you can get the most out of every minute of the day.

Take a look at these time management exercises – they’re sure to change your teams’ perspective and get you thinking about what changes they can make. The key is to work with time, not against it:

1. Updating an old time management exercise –  the new colour coding

We have all used highlighters to make our to-do list look more attractive at one stage, perhaps even simply to procrastinate! An organised approach is overdue. Apparently 91% effective, this new take on a basic time management exercise is based on the fact that people naturally crave function and meaning in their work.

Author Scott Mautz developed this updated colour coding exercise as he recognised that as much as two thirds of the work being down each day did not tie to any company goal or objective and wasn’t meaningful.

For this exercise, you colour code your to-do list so that you can see where you are losing time needlessly and therefore can redress the balance.

Mautz breaks down the groups into three colours: red (non-value work you get sucked into), green (essential work) and gold (the work you are most proud of and will contribute to and potentially grow the company).

Once you have colour coded your work tasks, the non-value work that distracts from the core jobs will be apparent, standing out in the red. You can then delegate the red tasks or aim to spend much less time on them.

2. It’s time to let go…

‘Too busy’ has become the new normal – but this is a race where we feel we can never get ahead. This feeling of constant failure can lead to anxiety, stress-induced illness and a decrease in productivity. In 2017/18 depression or anxiety accounted for 44% of all work-related ill health cases and 57% of all working days lost due to ill health. Our own Wildgoose research, looking at 250 companies across the UK, found that 62% of the employees surveyed had taken a day off in the last year due to anxiety, depression or stress.

If you are a conscientious worker and an expert in your field, delegation might be difficult for you and feel like more hassle than it’s worth. However, if it is done correctly, you can substantially increase the amount of work that you can deliver and lower your stress levels. Even if you have to have your fingers pried off your t-do list, it will be worth it!

For this exercise, you have an imaginary new assistant to delegate tasks to. Each group has 3 members – a delegator, an observer (ready to give feedback) and an employee. Practise by each taking a turn at each role and seeing where you differ.

This exercise shows that there are a number of key factors to delegation success. You need to choose the right tasks to delegate and the right people to delegate to. When you are working on tasks that are the highest priority for you and others are working on your delegated tasks – but they are challenging and meaningful to them – you have a recipe for success.

3.The jar exercise

This is a useful time management exercise to present to a work group as it is very visual and makes an instant impact so it will stick in their minds. It highlights the necessity to do the important tasks first and don’t just do the jobs you prefer.

You need to have a large empty jar, some sand, water, small stones and large stones.

You can demonstrate that if you put the sand into the jar first, for example, there is no space for the large rocks. By putting the large rocks in first (your most important tasks) the sand will fit around them.

4. The time squared exercise

With the recent success of four-day working week, where a trial in New Zealand has seen a 20% increase in productivity, is this lack of time in the office actually an illusion? Time is certainly a very important resource. We can have all the time in the world, but it’s how we use it that is key. If our attention is elsewhere, time will fall through our fingers.

For this exercise, each person is handed 3 sheets of paper with 24 squares for the 24 hours in a day. The participants fill out the routine activities of their day on the first sheet and the non-productive time at work on the second sheet.

They then transfer everything from the first two pages onto the third page. Any empty space is productive time, enabling them to see if they need to decrease or increase it.

5. The minute challenge

The participants take it in turn to stand up for a minute (or two) and sit down when they think the time is up, you can ask them a few simple questions so that they aren’t tempted to count!

This time management exercise will highlight how people see the same amount of time very differently.

6. Using time wisely

There is no doubt that the overall pace of life has increased substantially, with one British psychologist Dr Richard Wiseman saying it has increased 10% worldwide since the mid-90s, with some countries seeing a 20% increase. It seems as though technology can be both time saving and time-consuming and although the number of hours in a day haven’t changed, the hours seem to be shorter with a faster pace of life.

By taking a length of ribbon to resemble their life, ask participants to cut off sections for the holiday we take from work, the time they eat and sleep, distractions such as phones, internet browsing, sick days etc. The results show that there is less ribbon than assumed for productive work.

There has to be a strategic effort to use time wisely or it can be easily wasted – it doesn’t come naturally.

7. £86,400 to spend!

Who wants £86,400 to spend? This very precise amount represents time – there are 86,400 seconds in every day.  

For this exercise, you ask individuals or teams to come up with how they would spend the money. They have to spend it all in one day, or they lose it.

This time management exercise shows how you can’t save time for later – so invest it wisely!

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