Ah, time management… A dreadful thought to any working person. An even more dreadful one to any business owner without an effective time management strategy. Any self-respectful CEO will never leave their team without a strong time management plan. While some time management techniques might be needed as well as a time tracking app and some time planning tools, the benefits of having set an effective time management strategy will quickly pay off. Once everything is set in stone and a fluid flow of work has been accomplished any form of time management at work will be a pleasure.
The Most Important thing
Before we dive in and take a look at how to make a schedule for employees, let’s clarify what an effective time management strategy is all about. A common mistake is a focus on the activity rather than the outcome of a certain task. Many managers try to focus on optimizing time in the greatest detail as opposed to focusing on having a clear set of goals and priorities. While most certainly optimizing time and action is important it must be done in a way that propels higher productivity rather than higher stress levels for employees.
What happens without an effective time management strategy
There are some common symptoms of the bad time management plan to look out for when managing employees. These include:
Lack of clarity regarding priorities within the organization
- This results in confusion or prioritizing less important tasks which decrease overall productivity.
Employees exhibiting a reactive state rather than a proactive one
- An employee lacks knowledge of the expectations of them without defining goals clearly. This results in the need to be told what to do, more or less, and blocks further productivity which could be achieved if the opposite was the case.
- Too many tasks presented in an unorganized way will put off any employee and possibly create stress.
Lack of an ability to say NO when needed
- When there is a lack of clearly set priorities, an employee will not know when they are supposed to decline to do a certain task.
Signs of stress or burnout
An effective time management strategy should resolve these issues. When applied successfully, those symptoms should transform into:
- A feeling of satisfaction upon achieving certain goals.
- Having a strong sense of purpose in employees. When they know the reason behind their tasks and their importance, motivation should rise accordingly. Providing them with a strong sense of responsibility means higher morale which will boost productivity as well.
- Awareness and having an action plan. Defining priorities clearly, setting goals and having a detailed action plan empower employees rather than overwhelm them.
How to make a schedule for employees
While it may look simple initially, setting a schedule for employees is a hard task. One has to determine their own needs and carefully plan the resources for each role, plan for future events ahead of time, define any required qualifications for each shift and determine the allocation of shift types. Planning a schedule for employees is connected to the hiring process of a company and thus maintaining an effective time management strategy also means planning ahead of time prior to hiring a future employee.
To maintain a good schedule for employees you should be aware of any non-personnel resources as well. For example, if you are providing transportation for your employees via a third party, that information should be taken into account when creating a schedule and a plan B must be a part of the equation. Creating a schedule is not just about allocating shifts to employees but also about analyzing resources and using them in the most effective way.
There are a few types of shifts or schedule models which depend on the nature of your business. If you have remote employees, maintaining high productivity can be achieved without allocating specific shifts but rather by allowing employees to create their own shift as long as they meet certain goals. If you are following the standard model for shifts, it still might prove beneficial to allow employees to take part in the process of allocating their own shifts as that will not only increase their understanding of the difficulty of this task but also eliminate future road bumps due to lack of communication regarding availability.
Define scheduling rules
- The first things you need to do is define scheduling rules. Having a policy about prioritizing swapping shifts, working overtime and qualifications required for a shift will solve potential favoritism misunderstandings. These rules might include:
- Company policies and regulations
- Overtime Status
- Qualification and Certification
Having defined those early on will prevent confusion when a request for a shift swap arises or another similar issue.
Think about all the factors of a good schedule
- Method. Are you using a manager to allocate shifts or employees do it themselves?
- Training. Do the employees connected to the specific shift need any further training and meet all the necessary qualifications?
- All of the above-mentioned scheduling rules.
- Availability. Knowing your staff well is important and knowing when they are available is even more important. While this is rather obvious, sometimes employees feel reluctant to provide information about their personal life to the point where it is hard to predict if they would be available at a certain date or not and it is not always easy to ask absolutely everyone and receive an answer quickly.
- Expenses. Managing resources effectively is very important and sometimes when overtime is taken into account the actual costs might exceed your forecast.
- Productivity. Having a way to track performance levels for different employees on different shifts is crucial and will play a role in maintaining an effective time management strategy.
Prepare for potential pitfalls
Then you also need to make sure you prepare for potential pitfalls:
- Change in demand. Depending on your business this will vary but calculating the potential change in demand is important. Managing a decline in labour needs is more tricky to deal with and having flexible staff members who have initially agreed to slightly different conditions can resolve this issue.
- Change in availability. Often employees will need to swap a shift and this is best dealt with by a shift-swapping software which allows employees to switch shifts with each other and also makes communicating any information regarding shifts much easier.
- No-shows. Sometimes an employee will unexpectedly miss a shift. In those occasions finding a substitute might be hard. Having a small part of the team ready to take such shifts can solve this issue as well. Those are the first steps to take when creating a schedule for employees. Addressing most potential issues at the beginning of the process prevents them from happening.
Now you have to create the shifts themselves.
One can use a piece of paper or excel or word documents. However, even if you do that there is a chance to miss some of the factors from the first few steps. Probably the best way to go about it would be to use a scheduling app such as Time Clock Wizard as such software usually has integrated all these factors in itself and is the fastest way.
Execution – the best way to ensure an effective time management strategy
You know what an effective time management strategy should achieve, you have a good schedule, now what? Well, sometimes having good time management techniques can be tricky. A good example of this is communication. Clear communication will solve many issues for your company and back-and-forth feedback will increase productivity in general. To ensure employees are as productive as they can be, a company could have a time management training policy which would also gather information from employees by asking questions such as:
How well do you manage your time regarding most important tasks?
Is there anything that gets in your way while working?
What were the most time-consuming activities?
Which were the least time-consuming ones?
Do you prefer working in small chunks of time with more breaks or for longer periods of time with longer breaks?
Collecting this information from employees will ensure that any potential pitfalls will be prevented in the beginning and will allow for a better understanding of the employee’s preferences. These questions should be presented as a way to allow for the improvement of the workplace and it must be made clear that the employee‘s position is not in danger in any shape or form whatsoever. Conversations such as these will unveil potential problems and help to see the perception of new employees regarding priorities and other task-related factors.
This, in turn, will help to improve the time management plan. Also, undertaking training to clarify priorities, goals, deadlines and set clear expectations from an employee will solve many of the above-mentioned symptoms of a bad time management plan. However, overly focusing on communication might start to have a more detrimental effect, especially in big meetings. While company culture is important, a healthy balance should be maintained and many managers make the mistake of having too frequent unnecessary meetings.
Some other time management techniques
Use different units of time
- The common way to approach time is by measuring it in hours. However, for most creative workers, one hour is enough to barely start. Simply shifting the perception of time in regards to the actual amount of time that they need to get a good amount of work done would be more beneficial. Just thinking in this way will help you see through some of the pitfalls of your time management plan. Maybe you are allocating 6 hours in the morning for work in the IT department followed by a meeting and leaving out just 2 hours at the end of the day which might not bring out the most out of a creative person. Placing the meeting in the middle after 4 hours of work though might not result in a drop in productivity.
Be wary of the planning fallacy
- It is a proven human bias to set less than the necessary amount of time needed for the completion of a task. You might end up doing this for your employees or they might do that to themselves and feel disappointment in the end. To avoid this simply measure initially, without any expectations, the realistic amount of time a certain task takes and then set any deadlines. More accurate knowledge equals more productivity.
Make sure you are not getting in the way of your employees
- Sometimes simply letting them work, even if they aren’t doing as well as expected might be better than trying to help them. New employees need time to adopt a new setting and get the hang out of things. Instead, ensure that you are very open to communication and more than willing to help them whenever they ask you to. It’s easier to tell someone that they should be more self-reliable than to make them ask for help more frequently.
Using Time Planning Tools and a Time Tracking App
A good way to ensure that everyone is as productive as they can be is to use a time tracking app. Especially for remote workers, this is a must as a sense of responsibility needs to be present to retain good morale. Knowing how your employees spend their time with high accuracy will increase trust and also allow them to make the necessary adjustments themselves.
Time tracking isn’t just a way to simply make sure your employees are doing the actual work but also as a channel for feedback allowing them to see their week points. A good time tracking app should cover multiple platforms (Windows, Android, etc.) and allow adjustments after the fact in case one forgets to turn off the clock.
Having an effective time management strategy also means using quality time planning tools. Some of these might include:
- Using a tool that takes one glance to get back on track ensures all employees understand the key priorities of their task. (Focus Booster, for example, is an app the applies the Pomodoro principle to keep your focused on what matters.)
Due Date Tools
- Being able to see deadlines will prevent failing to meet some goals and keep employees mindful of their tasks.
- In the same fashion as with deadline tools, progress tools provide an interesting perspective for those working in close flexible teams and can increase productivity as swapping tasks between different employees to have them work on fresh assignments can sometimes increase performance levels.
- Obviously, many businesses still run without having everything of importance located in one place and available to everyone at the same time. Simply using something like OneDrive can do the job.
- Some time tracking tools provide you with the ability to take notes as well. Nevertheless, sometimes it is beneficial to use a separate note-taking platform to enable more fluid back-and-forth feedback. Evernote is a great note-taking application.
- If you are already using a shift making software you probably won’t need a separate calendar. But if you are not, having one to ensure you are on top of everyone’s plans would be beneficial.
There are also other tools that can set reminders for you. Tools that can post social media content for you and compare productivity among employees. However, their usefulness will vary depending on your niche. In the foreseeable future, Artificial intelligence will also play a big role as it analytical perspective might further illuminate weak points in employees and provide insight that the human eye could have missed. Businesses that implement it in the early stages might benefit a slight boost compared to the competition in terms of overall productivity.
An effective time management strategy will make the difference between a business meeting with roaring success and one meeting with a bankruptcy lawyer. Without being extreme, this is the importance of an effective time management strategy. In the short term, there might not be a great difference between you and the competition. But in the long term, lacking efficiency almost always proves detrimental.
There are plenty of time planning tools and you can easily pick the right time tracking app for yourself. Defining a strong time management plan is easier than before as well as maintaining a good schedule for employees. Communication and feedback from employees remain key to productivity as always. Preventing some of the pitfalls that hide behind a lack of focus on priorities and deadlines, any company can elevate performance levels easily.