Time management and personal development
Do you ever feel like your job has an unmanageable demand and an unsustainable pace? Do you ever wonder when you’re going to have any time to focus on the things you really care about with all the burning issues you have to deal with on a daily basis? In an environment like this, how are you ever going to look after your personal development? How are you ever going to grow as a professional and as an individual?
Topics like time management and personal development have always been amongst my passions. In this article, I am going to share some tools and techniques that hopefully can help you manage yourself, your time and your ambitions better.
I am a Software Engineering Manager at Gousto and part of my mission is to help people grow in their careers. Personal development plans (PDPs) are among the tools we use to support our people. As an engineering manager, I often have people in my team challenging the point of a PDP. “With all the work I already have to do for the team, when am I going to make time for all these other objectives?” they say.
The essence of a PDP should be around figuring out and writing down your longer-term ambitions, the things you’re passionate about and that get you up in the morning, your values and principles you want to live by. Once identified those, you can then look at which of your current strengths you want to leverage to make progress in your career and which of your current weaknesses are holding you back and you want to improve on. Only after having defined these, you can decide where you want to focus in the period in question, e.g. 3, 6 or 12 months, what outcomes you want to achieve and what actions you’ll take to get there.
A lot of people fail at defining their PDP and focussing on their own personal development because they struggle with time management. Funnily enough, PDPs, and more in general, clarity around your career ambitions and personal development is exactly what is going to help them to manage their time better.
There are a lot of frameworks out there for time management; one, for example, is the Eisenhower matrix, that is based on two dimensions: urgency and importance. Stephen Covey, in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”¹, also refers to a similar matrix. According to him, urgency is about something that requires immediate attention, whereas importance has to do with results, and is about something that contributes to your mission, your values, your high priority goals. Urgency is linked to reactivity, whereas importance is linked to proactivity.
The tasks in quadrant I are usually for solving problems or crises. As long as we only spend time in quadrant I, this is only going to get bigger and our behaviours will be purely reactive. When we are overwhelmed by problems and crises, we end up spending (arguably wasting) the rest of our time in quadrant IV to escape quadrant I. Other people confuse urgent but not important activities in quadrant III for quadrant I activities just because the urgency is defined by other people and not necessarily aligned with their own mission.
In order to become effective people, we should be spending our time mostly in quadrants I and II. As quadrant I can’t be avoided anyways, this means the key is really to increment our focus on quadrant II. Quadrant II is at the heart of our personal development. It’s about all those activities that we care about, and are aligned with our longer-term ambitions and aspirations. That might include things like building relationships, exercising, learning a new skill or others.
Initially, you will have to get time for quadrant II from quadrants III and IV, but over time, the more you invest your time in quadrant II the less time you will have to spend extinguishing fires in quadrant I.
As you can imagine, if you haven’t made the time to think about your personal development and you don’t even know what your values, ambitions and goals are, it will be very difficult to even know what is important to you in this matrix. This is why in order to break the vicious cycle of “I don’t have time to think about my personal development”, you need to start exactly by focussing on your personal development.
Only when you know what’s important to you, what sits in quadrant II, you will know what you proactively need to prioritise. In order to prioritise something, you will have to learn how to say “no” to something else. Although this may look like a very hard skill to learn, remember that one way or another you’re always saying “no” to something. The difference is that when your priorities are crystal clear, you can be deliberate about what to say “no” to. Otherwise, someone else will define your priorities for you and you will be passively accepting them and reacting to someone else’s priorities.
When thinking about your values, ambitions and goals and defining your priorities, it’s always very important to understand the context you’re in and figure out how to align your personal development plans with the general ambitions of the team or company you’re working in. This is where I and my other colleagues engineering managers can really help.
Once you’re clear on your priorities, it will be much easier to leverage the different time management tools and techniques that are available. Stephen Covey talks about 3 generations of time management tools:
- The 1st generation involves notes and checklists that allow to put some structure around the demands on you. However, this doesn’t take into account any notion of priority based on value. It gives you a sense of temporary satisfaction by crossing items off the list, but it has no link with your goals and purpose.
- The 2nd generation includes calendars and appointments which add an idea of time; scheduling and looking ahead helps to make sure you attend what you need to attend. Again, no notion of priorities based on value.
- The 3rd generation introduces the concept of prioritisation looking at value and goals. It also introduces daily planning to achieve those goals by prioritising activities that contributes the most towards them.
What even the 3rd generation is missing is the alignment with the bigger picture, e.g. your personal mission and purpose and your longer-term ambitions and goals.
According to Covey, there is an emerging 4th generation that addresses these gaps and is moving from simple time management to effective self-management.
When talking about effective time management, we can’t avoid talking about delegation. Delegation is such a big topic but I am deliberately leaving for another post.
In conclusion, in this article I’ve written about the relationship between effective time management and personal development. I hope that by giving you a different point of view on these topics, I have also encouraged you to go ahead and book some time in your calendar to think about personal development!
 Covey, Stephen R.. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People