Time Management – Control and Efficiency
By Gideon T. Rasmussen, CISSP, CRISC, CISA, CISM, CIPP

If your calendar is booked solid and e-mail fills your inbox, a time management system is necessary to maintain order, improve productivity and maintain a healthy work-life balance. This approach includes traditional time management techniques blended with pursuit of longer-term goals and management routines.


ToDo List: A ToDo List is a well-known method for keeping track of tasks and goals in order of priority. Keep it simple. As you have a new task, add it to the list. As priorities change, update the order of the list. Refer to the list often to stay on track with limited effort. I have created a ToDo Dashboard, which is a ToDo List and more. You can download it here (MS Excel and MS OneNote).

Multi-Task: In order to manage multiple tasks at a time, it is necessary to keep them moving forward in parallel. When you receive a new task or mini-project, break it down into steps and be mindful of external dependencies and response times. Avoid the need to wait for a response. Take immediate action to start making progress (e.g. schedule a meeting or send a brief e-mail). Let recipients know when you need a response by.

Daily Routine: Check your calendar at the start of the day and select three or four "must have" items from your ToDo list. Take a morning break to stretch your legs, stay hydrated and break for lunch. Your body needs care and feeding in order to maintain peak productivity and mental acuity. Follow your list of priorities throughout the day and avoid distractions. At the end of the day, check your calendar for tomorrow and update your ToDo list appropriately.

Make Use of Epiphanies: Your subconscious mind is always thinking and will occasionally 'whisper' to you. This phenomenon is sometimes referred to as your 'little voice'. When you have an epiphany, make note of it (literally). Keep a notepad by the side of your bed. Use your smartphone. You can increase the occurrence of epiphanies over time by letting your mind wander over time. This is like placing a topic up in your subconscious.

Frame the Work: When you need to create work product, create an outline, then fill it in over time. This is one way to make use of epiphanies. Authors do not 'finish' writing a book, they abandon it (due to the allotted time being finite).


Here is a list of techniques and tools to help keep you organized and efficient.

E-mail: Keep e-mail messages concise to save time and get your point across. Most people have limited attention spans due to busy schedules. Summarize your message upfront. If you are asking a question or need someone to take action, mention that in the first paragraph. Then, follow with background details only if necessary. Be conservative in who you include on the To or Cc line. If you send unnecessary messages, people will be less apt to read them quickly. Choose subject lines carefully. People are more likely to respond if the topic is significant to them. Establish agreements with management and business partners to read e-mail immediately when the subject line begins with "URGENT:" or "ACTION REQUIRED:".

Instant Messaging (IM): Manage IM to suit your communications style. Some people believe IM increases their productivity and have a few windows open at a time, multi-tasking between people and keeping their projects moving forward. If you find IM to be a distraction that reduces your productivity, display a banner similar to "Please consider using e-mail before IM".

Phone: A quick phone conversation can save a great deal of time when someone needs guidance or an e-mail thread is spiraling out of control. Keep in mind that IM and e-mail do not adequately convey tone or emotion.

Message Filtering: By default all inbound e-mail arrives in your inbox. As message volume increases, it makes sense to create Outlook message rules to move messages to related folders. For example, have mailing list subscriptions moved to their own folder. BlackBerry has a similar feature to prevent messages from arriving to your handheld.

Outlook Tasks: Outlook tasks should be used for one-time events or reoccurring tasks such as preparing for monthly reporting. Be conservative when using tasks. They use the same scheduling reminder mechanism as meetings.


The transition from individual contributor to management can be challenging. Managers typically have a heavy workload, far in excess of what should be expected of any one person. It is necessary to increase your capacity to meet the increased volume. Successful managers are proactive and prioritize initiatives to keep them moving forward.

Enhanced ToDo List: Migrate your ToDo list to a spreadsheet for ease of use. Add tabs to track and coordinate activities throughout the day (e.g. recognition, team meeting, business partner meeting and named tabs by team member).

Process and Procedures: Keep processes and procedures lean and representative of business-as-usual operations. Bloated documentation lacks utility in practice. When new requirements are identified, consider how they may align to existing processes. Conduct Failure Modes and Effects Analysis to thoroughly evaluate process effectiveness and alignment to daily operations.

Goals: Define strategic goals at the beginning of the year with metrics to measure success. Divide goals into tactical initiatives, assigned to named team members for accountability.

Metrics: Establish metrics that measure the effectiveness of your team's initiatives. Make thoughtful, informed decisions based upon data.

Reporting: Request weekly reporting from each person that reports to you. Each topic should be in bold with three or four sentences to provide a status.

◾ What happened this week?
◾ What are the plans for next week?
◾ Any burning issues or something you need help with?
◾ When will the task/project be complete?
◾ Related e-mail date/time stamp

Weekly reports can also be used to frame conversations in weekly touch base meetings. They are a light-weight method for ensuring open communication and alignment.

Provide senior management with monthly team updates. Include details of progress towards goals and trending metrics.

Presentations: Create and maintain the following presentations: Team overview (mission/vision), annual goals and awareness and training. They can be reused on multiple occasions, saving time in the process.

Anticipate: Anticipate new requirements by considering what senior management or business partners are likely to do. There is an expression that applies here: "Good things take time. Great things happen all at once." Anticipate and be prepared. Here are sample responses to a spontaneous request, with corresponding ratings:

◾ "I'll get on that right away." – Acceptable

◾ "I have already started working on it." – Good

◾ "I've got it. Here it is..." – Great!

Base estimates on known data and business cycles (e.g. the fiscal year). Take note of unanticipated requirements for next year and prepare accordingly. When a new senior manager is assigned, ask what their management routines are.

Monthly Management Routines: There is a natural rhythm to management requirements, aligned with established business processes throughout the year. Develop a listing of management requirements by month (e.g. establishing goals at the beginning of the year, performance plans, budget, periodic reviews, budget submission, performance evaluation and year-end review).

The overhead of management routines may seem a bit excessive. However, they save time in practice. Process and procedures help ensure consistency. Reporting and metrics demonstrate the effectiveness and value of your team. It is better to spend time on proactively managing your program then to fall into a reactive, fire-fighting mode. Your team will appreciate your defense of the program and the results. Senior management will acknowledge when your function is under control.

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