“Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it’s getting!” (Lewis Carroll the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland)
I firmly believe women are better at time management than men. After many years of observing employees’ habits, friends’ behavior and my own family’s interactions I have come to believe that even if women are more successful at utilizing time management than men, they get more stressed by it. Why is this? The demands that come from balancing social, family and work obligations are extremely high and tend to be stressful. Women tend to put more demands on themselves especially when it comes to balancing all three of these.
The supermom or career woman along with other images of women in the work force lead women to believe that if they do not live up to these “super woman” perceptions they are not successful. This type of pressure makes it very difficult for women to achieve in the work place. Priority setting may be confusing which in turn leads to feelings of guilt especially if someone or something is given higher priority. In addition, priority setting usually results in women setting aside less time for themselves and their own development.
Although the pressures women face vary from culture to culture, women are expected to be the central figure in the family as well as social matters, leaving her career as an add-on. Regardless of the culture, when a woman is career oriented then the perception is that something else has to suffer.
The pressures of time management and priority setting begin when a women starts a career. When she is younger, she struggles with demands from boyfriends, friends or families. If a woman needs to work late or works at home during the start of her career, she immediately feels the pressure from her loved ones when she cannot go out at night or attend the family gathering on the weekend. This is where the pattern begins, a perception that is much harder to break later on.
Upon hiring young women, I often observe or hear the line “My boyfriend will be mad if I am coming home late every night,” “My mother expects me to help with my grandmother because my brothers are busy,” as well as other similar time demands placed on women. My advice to women just starting out is to understand that if your career is important to you then you need to control the demands of your time now. Later on demands will turn into obligations and time will get more stringent.
When women have their own families, their job may become more demanding. Demands change to obligations which then put larger strains on time management. It is critical for women to have good time management skills by the time they reach this stage. Below are my time management tips:
This is the most critical skill one needs to learn from the beginning of one’s career. Priority setting helps you achieve more in less time. If you have a lot of work to accomplish, do not start with the easiest task, but with the most important. You tackle the essential issues with fresh energy allowing you to accomplish more. By the time you get to the less strenuous tasks, you may be a little tired, but it won’t matter. So start with the hard and move to the easy.
Learn to prioritize outside of your job. If you boyfriend is more important than your career fine, organize it so. If your career is more important than your social life, then fine, organize it that way. If your private life and career are of equal importance then arrange it so. The important fact here is to prioritize and stick to it. Priorities can change with the birth of a child, or a change in family status but this does not allow for them to change daily. There is a difference between changing a priority and having a priority change. The latter is part of life’s journey; the first situation is a lack of focus.
Wasting time with difficult people who waste your time
Life is too short to waste your time with people who always complain, make situations more complicated or make you feel miserable. These people may be a coworker, employee, family member or friend. You may not always be able to avoid them completely, but limit your time with them. People like this will occupy your time with their problems and leave you with little to no time for your own priorities.
You do not need to do everything yourself. Good leaders and good time managers are good delegators. In the workplace, delegate if possible, even the smallest things. If you are working on a team project, take charge and assign who has to contribute what.
Delegate at home. Make a list with chores for the children, your partner or whomever else. Try to get a routine down. This may include that one person is responsible for dinner on Mondays and another on Tuesday. It may be one person is responsible for house repairs and the other for vacation planning. No matter how you delegate, it is an important skill and it ensures that not all the burdens fall on you.
Managing expectations, demands and obligations always involve other people; therefore managing their expectations of what you will do for them will put less stress on you. It often helps to repeat the demand or obligation that has been put on you to the person delivering it. This helps clarify the expectations and see if they are realistic. If they are not realistic, the situation needs to be adjusted. If it is reasonable then always under commit and over deliver. If you do not believe you can manage something then do not be afraid to say it. Clarifying expectations will relieve some of the stress and allow you to focus on the task at hand.
Multitasking or Distracting
Women are great at multitasking, but it is not always a good time to multitask because it can also be a distraction. For example, watching the news and writing e-mails may lead to errors that in the end will cost you more time than it saved. On the other had watching the news while you are on the cross trainer saves you time and makes you feel good. A general rule of thumb when it comes to multitasking is to include only one task where you need to think.
Understand cause and effect models
A lot of people do not relate cause and effect models to good time management but they are directly related. For everything you do (cause) there will be a consequence (effect), and you need to understand what that is. An outcome is directly related to an action. Let me use the same example of the young woman who starting a career and has a boyfriend. If she chooses not to put the extra time into her career but into the demanding boyfriend, she may not advance as quickly as she wishes. If she chooses to put extra time into her career, she may need to find a new boyfriend. The result is simple cause and effect.
Understand the difference between Effectiveness and Efficiency
I once had an employee who was always on time and over delivered everything. She was perfectly organized, got every task done on time but the problem was the results of her labors were empty shells. She never took the time to understand why something was being done; therefore her delivery did not match the need. This caused a loss of time because everything had to be redone or corrected by someone else. Being efficient only helps save time, if you are effective you will be efficient at the same time.
Motivation – Simple, fast and forward
If you are not motivated, you will never be able to effectively manage your time. Be simple in your thinking, be goal oriented and motivate yourself to move forward. Do not overcomplicate situations. Be clear, simple and move forward.
In the end time management always involves choices. If you are not good at decision making then you will never be good at time management unless you learn be stronger in your decision making. Use these tips on time management and life will be a little bit easier. On occasion you may find yourself running late, but the tea party will not be ever ending as it was in Alice in Wonderland.