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Achieving Efficiency Through Time Management

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Time Management – The online Cambridge Dictionary defines efficiency as the quality of achieving the largest amount of useful work using as little energy, fuel, effort, etc. as possible. Efficiency can be contextually synonymous with productivity. Being efficient and/or productive is dependent on some important principles that must be consciously put to work. On these grounds, the rest of this piece will discuss the concept of time management, the quadrangle of time management and the approaches to time management.

In a succinct description, Odu (2021) submits that time itself, as an infinite continuous entity, cannot be managed (manipulated); rather, we can manage what we do with the limited available time. In other words, don’t think about the time; think about how you can make the best out of it. Foire (2008) has also defined time management as creating an environment conducive to effectiveness by setting priorities in order to reduce the amount of time spent on non-priorities. At all times, prioritisation is the crux of time management. Otamiri and Odu (2023) explain time management as involving strategic steps and tools geared towards achieving as much as possible without consuming time unnecessarily.

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With that in mind, the quadrangle of time management means the four dimensions of the utilisation of time-based on importance and urgency. This is also described as the time management matrix. The first side of this quadrangle or matrix presents important and urgent activities. Some important and urgent engagements are crises, emergencies and pressing problems. When there is a crisis, creating time to resolve it is both important and urgent.

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The second side of the quadrangle presents important but not urgent activities. Certain things are important but may not come as pressing engagements. Activities such as finding time to relax, improving capacity/capability, and building relationships are important aspects of everyone’s life, but they are not usually urgent. Not being urgent is not to say they should not be addressed, as one may get carried away until these activities force you to create time for them. For instance, if a person does not rest well because it is not urgent, their health may fail them when they have urgent things to attend to, and that becomes a two-way loss.

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The third item on the quadrangle consists of activities that may be urgent but not so important. Engagements such as meetings, hangouts, and calls/emails may seem urgent but may not be important. For perspective, when you get a call on a Monday morning from a friend/relative who wants to thank you for attending a family event over the weekend, such a call might seem urgent but may not be important enough to make you suspend an ongoing task for the day. Such unplanned engagements make it difficult to complete one’s daily schedule and are better pushed to later times when they cause no obstruction to one’s plan.

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The last side of the quadrangle comprises actions that are not important and are equally not urgent. Escape activities such as a visit to a staff club or cinema, chit-chat and other trivial activities belong to this category. One stands a chance of achieving efficiency when the quadrangle or matrix guides one’s engagements.

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Moving on, there are some time management techniques that can help one achieve efficiency and productivity. I will begin with the Pomodoro technique. Pomodoro is a well-known time management technique which was developed in the early 1990s by Francesco Cirillo, a software designer who struggled to focus during his studies.

Francesco would use a tomato-shaped kitchen timer and challenge himself to concentrate on a task without any distractions for up to 25 minutes. After these minutes, he would take a break by walking or engaging in a recreational activity. The Pomodoro technique will suit restless people who cannot stay too long on anything. Timing yourself on an engagement can help you achieve concentration which will result in productivity.

Another technique is the pickle jar technique. According to the Pickle Jar Theory, time is limited like the volume of a pickle jar. To manage one’s time effectively, one needs to know the level of importance of each activity. The crux of this technique is the need to set priorities for one’s engagement and to endeavour to actualise tasks based on their importance.

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The ALPEN method is another time management technique. It was theorised by a German economist, Lothar J. Seiwert. ALPEN focuses on the daily schedule, and it uses the name of the technique, ALPEN, as an acronym for how to effectively manage one’s time. It calls for a clearly defined to-do list at the beginning of the day, thinking about how long each task will take, and then setting time slots for each item.
ALPEN stands for:

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Activities: a to-do list of all planned activities, tasks, and meetings that one will be having for the day.
Length of time: you should give estimations of how long each task will take.
Planning buffer time: this is the extra time allotted for possible interruptions and breaks during one’s activities.
Establishing priorities: this involves giving consideration to the urgency of each task, the order that one’s tasks should follow and the possibility of delegation.

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Noting the level of success: this involves the evaluation of the day and determining if one’s estimations were accurate or need adjusting for future reference.

Last but not least, I will discuss the Pareto Principle of time management. The Italian economist and sociologist Vilfredo Federico Pareto formulated the Pareto Principle named after him. The principle states that 80% of the results can be achieved in 20% of the allotted time. The Pareto Principle is an effective time management method which is useful for setting priorities, actualising one’s targets and developing a concrete plan for work.

Applying this principle demands that you are able to assess your own capabilities and level of performance, clearly articulate your goal, and separate the important from the unimportant. What is more, this technique tells you that if you live for 100 years, and you wish to do hundred things, 80 of the hundred things will be done in 20 years of your life. This will be realistic if you identify your strengths and weaknesses and concentrate on where you have a comparative advantage to be more productive.

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In conclusion, like the axiom which says, “Time waits for nobody,” we all must be managers of our time. This is one major way to achieve efficiency.

(c) 2023

Ganiu Bamgbose writes from the Department of English, Lagos State University.

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