Time Management

Article modified: August 2021, Author:



For many voluntary sector managers, the work to be done simply will not fit into the time available, and this can lead to considerable stress. Failure to manage time effectively can have a cumulative effect: it increases pressure on you, which is likely to reduce your efficiency, and it can make you feel as if you are not doing your job properly. Dr Jill Mordaunt of the Open University Business School examines some of the causes of poor time management.

Problems with time management are likely to include wasted time, interruptions and changing priorities. One way of addressing this difficulty within your work routine is to examine your actual use of time and compare this to how you would like to use your time.

  • Plan how you should use your time to be more effective at work.
  • Analyse how you currently use your time.
  • Reflect on how these differ and what you want to change.
  • Change your use of time.
  • Review progress to ensure your approach is still appropriate.

Plan your time

Crisis management or ‘fire-fighting’ can easily become a habit. Balancing the urgent with the important is a problem faced by every voluntary sector manager! Important activities are often more long-term than urgent ones, and are likely to affect key issues of staffing, investment, planning, customer relations, systems development and so on. Issues like managing the day to day necessities of ensuring that staff/volunteers are available for opening times, can easily take over from longer term issues such as cataloguing or planning new exhibits. Urgent tasks may not have the same long-term impact, but unless they are dealt with quickly there may be no long term. Taking time to plan both urgent and important tasks can also reduce your stress by making you feel more in control of your workload.

Analyse your time use

Keep a detailed log for a typical week at work. Probe long task lists to identify key work areas. For example, how much time do you spend in:

  • managing and supporting staff
  • managing organisational tasks
  • managing your own tasks.

Reflect on how you use your time

Reflecting on how you could use your time better entails making comparisons and identifying alternatives before deciding on a course of action. Experience is important in management, but it’s only valuable if you learn from it! If you develop the habit of reflection you should be able to use your experience as a vehicle for learning. The technique of keeping a time log, analysing it and then using it to reflect enables you to learn from your own experience.

Analysing your time will also enable you to compare the actual use of your time against your management objectives; the time you allocate to important work, and to urgent matters.

Change your use of time

Having acquired an understanding of how you use your time, and examined possibilities for improvement, you then have the opportunity to make changes. Here are a number of approaches which might help you improve your use of time:

  • Be clear about your role as a senior manager
  • Negotiate your commitments – this is particularly important, if you identify that you have too much to do. It may be more realistic to try to do less.
  • Adjust the balance of your working day
  • Undertake further training to develop your skills
  • Plan and schedule use of time more carefully
  • Use your diary as a planning tool
  • Delegate routine tasks
  • Prioritise tasks to be achieved in a day/week
  • Spend more time managing; not as a ‘player’
  • Identify three things you will achieve in the next week to improve time management

Reviewing progress

After two or three weeks, stop and review your time management: what has gone well, what could have been improved, and what went wrong and why. This exercise should be repeated occasionally, and especially if your workload changes. Above all remember that one of the hardest task drivers is often our own high standards. Make your slogan ‘Good enough is good’!


This article is based on the workbooks of The Open University Business School’s Managing – for Public and Non-Profit Sectors and was written by Dr Jill Mordaunt, one of the course team. This course is part of the Open University’s Professional Certificate in Management Programme. The courses are presented at regular intervals throughout the year. For next course start dates and deadlines for registration, contact the OUBS Information Line on 08700 100311 or visit the OUBS website. © OUBS


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