From the workplace · Smart Thinking

Time Management: the first 15 Minutes

An alternative title for this piece was “Time Management in 15 Minutes”. That might be true for some of you – maybe you could learn everything you need to know in the next 15 minutes – but for others it will be the starting point.

I have read dozens of books and hundreds of articles dealing (at least in part) with Time Management. I have done this so that you don’t have to. I have yet to find a book that says, right at the beginning, what I believe is the most important starting point for any Time Management advice: how to understand your approach to time. When you know this you can start to manage your time better, if you need to.

This subject matter started life as a training session, and works best that way, but it should still work for you as a written piece. It follows the structure and timings of a training session, and there are “Training Tips” included. [These are in square brackets, so you can ignore them if you don’t feel that they’re appropriate for you, and you’ll save a minute or two along the way.] You will be asked some questions as you go along; please try and answer them.

Question 1: Are you an Introvert or an Extrovert?

[Training Tip: in a training session always try to begin with a question, ideally a question that everyone in the room can answer. In this case make sure that everyone answers at least once: “Are you an Extrovert? Please put up your hand. Are you an Introvert? Please put up your hand. And finally, if you’re not sure, please put up your hand.”]

The two most likely answers here are: “Extrovert” and then “Introvert”. The third most likely answer is “Not Sure”, and some people are “Ambiverts” (balanced between the two). I begin every session that deals with Personality Types with this question. “Introvert” and “Extrovert” are words that are in common use, unlike some of the words that we will deal with later. Most of us know what the words mean. If your answer is “Not Sure”, that’s fine, and there are various ways to determine which Personality Type applies to you, but they don’t concern us right now.

Question 2: have you ever taken a Psychometric Test, like a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Test?

In most training sessions up to half of the delegates will say yes to this, leading to the next question. If the answer is “No”, that’s fine too.

Question 3: can you remember the results of the MBTI (or other) Test?

In my experience most people don’t remember what their “score” or Personality Type was. Again, that’s fine, but it’s our starting point for discussing other aspects of personality, specifically (in these 15 minutes) our approach to time.

The 4 things that an MBTI Profile or “personality inventory” looks at

Here are the 4 things that an MBTI Profile will assess:

Are you an Introvert (I) or Extrovert (E)?

Are you a Senser (S) or iNtuitor (N)?

Are you a Thinker (T) or Feeler (F)?

Are you a Judger (J) or a Perceiver (P)?

[Training tip: in a training session use a white board or flip-chart to write Introvert (I) – Extrovert (E) / Senser (S) – iNtuitor (N) and so on.]

The only question here that most people know the answer to immediately is the first one (which we have already covered). The rest would need explanation, but a profile will suggest that your “personality inventory” could be anywhere between ISTJ (Introvert-Senser-Thinker-Judger) and ENFP (Extrovert-Intuitor-Feeler-Perceiver). There are 16 combinations in total. They are all equal. There is no “best” combination.

[There is a very good summary of MBTI basics available at the end of this piece. If you read it now you might take more than the 15 minutes that I’m allowing for this session.]

The fourth of these distinctions, Judger and Perceiver, is the one that deals with your approach to time, and most of what remains of your 15 minutes will look at this.

Question 4: Are you a Judger or a Perceiver?

No, don’t worry, you don’t have to answer this one yet, but in a training session people will often try and answer without knowing quite what the question means. A perfectly good answer to the question is: I don’t know what you mean by “Judger” and “Perceiver”. The following tables summarize the differences.

[Training tip: on a training course use a flip-chart or white board to write the characteristics as in Table 1, and explain the detail, as shown in Table 2.]

Summary of Judger and Perceiver characteristics

Table 1: Summary of Judger / Perceiver Characteristics

Judger Perceiver
9-5 (Schedule-driven) 9ish-5.30ish (Project-driven)
Punctual Not always punctual
Tidy working environment Not so tidy working environment
[For parents: Gina Ford approach to childcare] [For parents: Dr Spock approach to childcare]
“Through Time” “In Time”
“Western Time” “Middle Eastern Time”

 

Table 2: More detail about Judger / Perceiver Characteristics (if needed)

Judger Perceiver
9-5: Judgers are schedule-driven, good at keeping to a schedule; if their working hours are 9am-5pm they will turn up on time and leave on time.

 

9ish-5.30ish: Project-driven. Perceivers will usually aim to keep to their working hours, though this might not always work. They are more likely to finish work when their current task is complete, even if it’s outside scheduled working hours.
Punctual Not always punctual
Tidy working environment: will have a tidy desk (or tool-box, or guitar bag; we don’t all work in offices, you know).

 

Not so tidy working environment: desk (or tool-box, or guitar bag) might be rather disorganized, but will usually have everything that’s needed for the job, somewhere.
[For parents: Gina Ford childcare. Gina Ford’s “Contented Little Baby” approach to childcare will often work for Judger parents. This is similar to Frederick Truby King’s ideas from many decades earlier, creating a routine for children from a very early age.] [For parents: Dr Spock childcare. Perceiver parents will generally prefer a less schedule-driven approach, such as Dr Spock’s “Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care”, or will feel comfortable following their instincts.]

 

“Through Time”: Judgers can often visualize time as a line in front of them, running from left to right. They know where they’re going.

 

 

“In Time”: Perceivers can often visualize time as a line that runs through them, with the future straight ahead and the past behind (hence phrases like “I’ve put it behind me” when talking about past experiences).

 

“Western Time”: Across North Europe and North America people are expected to be on time for appointments, especially business meetings.

 

“Middle Eastern Time”: in hotter countries (such as the Middle East or Southern Europe) there may be less of an expectation that people will be on time for appointments, even business meetings.

 

While these characteristics are being listed and explained most people will work out the answer to Question 4: “Are you a Judger or a Perceiver?” Most people will probably have a good idea of how their friends, family and work colleagues behave too.

If you know for sure that your behaviour is Judger or Perceiver you can skip straight to Question 5, but you might find some of the following paragraphs useful as background. (If you do skip you will save between one and two minutes.) If you need more help to work out your Personality Type, please read the next three sub-sections (Balance and Extremes, Work and Leisure Time and Other ways to tell if you’re a Judger or a Perceiver).

Balance and Extremes

If you’re still not sure which Personality Type applies to you it could be because you’re balanced across the two. As with most distinctions based on personality there is a “continuum” here, a line running between extremes of behaviour. There are people who are at extreme ends of the line running from Introvert to Extrovert (and people in the middle, “Ambiverts”), and it’s the same with the line running from Judger to Perceiver. Extreme Judger behaviour would include arriving for appointments over 30 minutes early to avoid the faintest chance of being late, and extreme Perceiver behaviour includes turning up late for everything (weddings, planes, trains, funerals).

Work time and leisure time

It’s also possible that your approach to work-time is different from your approach to leisure-time.(Personal anecdote: my MBTI assessment was balanced between Judger and Perceiver and we worked out that I use Judger behaviour at work and Perceiver behaviour at home. This works for me.)

Other ways to tell if you’re a Judger or a Perceiver

If you’re still not sure which side of the Judger-Perceiver line you’re on, here is a standard question to help you decide: if we were going to work on a project together would you (a) want to plan it and get the details sorted out in advance, or (b) be happy just to get started and see how it goes? Don’t think too long about it, just say which one came into your head first. The answer (a) suggests Judger behaviour, and (b) suggests Perceiver behaviour. Alternatively, take a look at your working environment: is it neat and ordered (Judger behaviour) or in need of some rearrangement (Perceiver behaviour)?

There are people who would prefer a more thorough approach, to arrive at a definitive answer, maybe by doing an MBTI or similar Test. If so it will take you more than 15 minutes, but you already have a good idea of what the answer is.

Question 5: Now that you know whether you are a Judger or a Perceiver, what do you do next?

Your next steps will depend on how you behave right now. This section is divided into four sections: Judger, Extreme Judger, Perceiver, Extreme Perceiver.

If you read only the section that applies to you this whole piece will have probably have taken you between 10 and 12 minutes. If you read all four sections you should still be out of here within 15 minutes. If you have time, please read to the end.

Judgers

If you’re a Judger you are probably happy, in general, with how you use your time, but would welcome a few tips to go even further. You might have already tried various productivity and Time Management tips and are still looking for more. Any changes you make will be incremental (involving a number of small adjustments) rather than remedial (a wholesale, radical alteration to how you use your time). Most Time Management courses and books deal with these incremental changes. To work out which ones will work best for you we’d need to look at what you’ve tried so far. Maybe you already know what works best and just need to apply it more. (I’ll post links to further suggestions at some point.)

Extreme Judgers

If you are at the extreme end of Judger behaviour it might be important to recognize that not everybody behaves like you. Also you probably don’t need a Time Management Course. Maybe, instead, you could aim to help other people to manage their time better. Other people do not always have your approach to time-keeping and getting things done. There are, broadly, three ways to deal with this:

  1. Accept it: don’t expect everyone to have the same standards as you;
  2. Don’t accept it, and try to modify the behaviour of those around you (this will take more than 15 minutes);
  3. Don’t accept it, and don’t try to modify anyone else’s behaviour either. Keep on saying things like “You’re late … you’re always late” whenever people are even a minute late, and whatever happens don’t recognize that there’s a pattern here. Assume that every instance of someone being late or disorganized is an isolated incident, don’t accept that it’s part of a pattern, or part of their overall personality. (One extreme Judger I met many years ago told me: “Everybody who’s late for anything is on a power trip.” But that’s another story.)

Perceivers

For many Perceivers any changes you need to make will be incremental rather than remedial: a few small changes might be all you need to go from being 3 minutes late for appointments to being 2 minutes early, or to having a tidy working environment rather than whatever you’re working with right now. Most Time Management courses and books deal with these incremental changes. To work out which ones will work best for you we’d need to look at what you’ve tried so far. Maybe you already know what works best and just need to apply it more. (I’ll post links to further suggestions at some point.)

Extreme Perceivers

If you’re at the extreme end of Perceiver behaviour you might need remedial rather than incremental change: a wholesale transformation in how you do things rather than a few minor alterations. (Or you might need people around you who make up for the things that you can’t do or won’t do. If you already have such people around you, you might not be inclined to change too much.) Remedial change will take more than 15 minutes, but start by asking yourself this question:

Do you want to change (a) the way you behave, or (b) the kind of person you are?

This question is at the heart of most “Self Help” and “Smart Thinking” advice. Can you (a) change your behaviour in the long-term without (b) changing who you are? Do you want to? Some people are afraid that if they change their behaviour too much they won’t be the person they are now. Many of us are generally happy with how we are now. We might want to change a few things, but not our whole personality.

Other people might genuinely want to change everything about their lives. For such people there are plenty of books and consultants that make extravagant claims about how much you can change your life, and how quickly (in 7 Days, in 28 Days, or even “Now!”). Some of these books and techniques work for some people. It doesn’t mean that any specific books and techniques will work for everyone. If they did there would only be one book or one technique, and it would work for everyone.

And for most of us if we change our behaviour we’re not really changing who we are. We just change from turning up 3 minutes (or 3 hours) late for appointments to turning up 2 minutes early. And we become better at finding things rather than being discouraged by the mess.

Thank you for your time.

 

Finally, for those of you who want to check out MBTI basics, the link is here.

 

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