According to authors and academics Brad Aeon and Herman Aguinis, there’s no “widely established definition of time management.” Their paper, It’s About Time: New Perspectives and Insights on Time Management, points out several limitations in the current time management research.
It also contains some great advice for better time management in a team setting. Getting this right is advantageous. “Overall, nonexperimental and experimental findings suggest that time management can improve people’s quality of life, lower stress, boost job satisfaction, and enhance other facets of well-being,” Aeon and Aguinis write.
Here are five of the top time management tips for teams from Aeon and Aguinis.
Aeon and Aguinis point out that many organizations rate employees based on time at the office/on-call rather than output, which ends up punishing workers for being particularly good at managing their time.
Since it’s hard to improve what you’re measuring incorrectly, the first step is to be sure you’re not measuring your team’s time management based on misleading indicators like time spent online or at the office (eventually). Part of the reason we know these are misleading indicators is that working from home (WFH) during COVID didn’t negatively impact productivity. By some measures, average productivity rose during WFH, even accounting for a global pandemic and lack of child care and elder care.
Deloitte Senior Partner and future of work thought leader Jeff Schwartz writes about how in the near future, successful companies’ leadership “continue the shift from managing through control and direct supervision to managing with increased coaching, design, influence, and inspiration.”
As much as possible, leaders should move toward encouraging and facilitating efficient time management and measuring actual output and how it impacts the bottom line rather than measuring and dictating long working hours.
Aeon and Aguinis also found that each team member will have their own individual preferences, beliefs, and attitudes about time management, which will naturally impact their time management behaviors.
For example, research shows that people vary greatly in terms of temporal self-efficacy, or the extent to which they believe they’re in control of their time. Temporal self-efficacy is associated with better time management and productivity.
Some people like to single-task while others prefer to multi-task. Surprisingly, the former are more upset by schedule changes and engage in more planning, while the latter are better able to roll with schedule changes and more easily integrate different activities. Another difference is between “segmenters” and “integrators.” The former prefer strict boundaries between work and family time while the latter don’t mind blending the two.
Other research shows that how stable someone’s family is growing up can influence their time management strategies. “Similarly, some people simply are less likely to benefit from time management training than others,” the two write.
Knowing that different people approach time differently, think about your team’s explicit and implicit “time norms” and whether they’re working for everyone’s unique needs.
Norms aren’t only the habits of your team when it comes to time management, but also the expectations and feelings people have toward the team’s actions. For example, how do people on your team feel about teammates being late to a meeting or leaving work early? How about missed deadlines? Work/life balance?
Research shows that norms like “Productive use of time is a key value” and “Making time to plan the day’s work is encouraged” help teammates use their time better. Conversely, workers on teams with less “time management–friendly” norms reported higher levels of stress and were more likely to say they intended to switch jobs.
Aeon and Aguinis point to compelling evidence in favor of workplace time management training programs which teach helpful time management strategies. For example, one study showed teammates who had completed training on things like how to manage their time and handle interruptions had less “job-related somatic tensions and increased perceived control of time” compared to their colleagues who hadn’t had the training.
Aeon and Aguinis emphasize that people who value time more highly are better at managing it than those who value it less. Not only is this somewhat intuitive, but it’s also validated by the studies. Researchers call this trait “temporal awareness.”
One tip for turning your team into more effective time managers is to increase your team’s collective temporal awareness. You want everyone to think of their available time as finite and nonrenewable. Time spent cannot be returned.
Even reading about time management can be helpful. One study looked at the impact reading a time management manual had one time management. Individuals who read the manual ended up spending more time on high-priority tasks than their peers who didn’t. These findings can be easily applied to a project manager or any other role.
While there may not be a team time management app per se, there are plenty of apps which can help with team time management. There are desktop apps as well as iOS and Android apps aimed at time management which can be used by teams. Many of them even offer a free plan.
For example, Focus Keeper offers automatic time tracking through its desktop and mobile app. Other team time management apps include tracking apps like the Smarter Time time tracker, which tells you which project and task is taking up most of your team’s time. These apps, along with a high-quality task manager will give you real-time analytics to help your whole team stay focused and use your time efficiently.
While the research might not be perfect, Aeon and Aguinis manage to offer some great advice on better time management for teams.