Most time management programmes miss a critical element. The element is our own degree of assertiveness.

Time management programmes usually encompass the following elements:

  • Goal setting
  • “To do” list
  • Prioritisation of the activities on the “to do” list

Many people use time management programmes to great effect. Many people successfully self teach managing their time using the same tools and principles taught in time management programmes.

A good, if not the best, example of a time management programme is Stephen Covey’s programme described in his very successful book, “First Things First”.

Covey describes four generations of time management:

  1. First generation: – Reminders and to-do lists. We regularly create lists to remind us of what is in front of us. We regularly fail to complete the list, generating a new one. We may fall into the trap of getting more joy out of creating the list than completing the tasks on the list.
  2. Second generation: – Scheduling future events. We identify deadlines to get things done; scheduling our time to complete the tasks we have on our to-do list. We fall into the trap of overestimating our productivity and allow external forces to interrupt our schedule.
  3. Third generation: – Setting long term, medium term and short term objectives to reach an ultimate goal. We manage our time to deliver the objectives we have set to reach our ultimate goal. We can set aside tasks which do not contribute to the objectives we have set.
  4. Fourth generation: – Committing to the important. We set objectives to reach our goal and divide the tasks we have in front of us into a matrix of urgency and importance. We evaluate our tasks against our goal and objectives using the matrix, with the obvious conclusion that the non-urgent and unimportant are not done at all.

It is a great tool that has helped a large number of people manage their time better. And yet, many people, possibly the majority of people, fail to get full benefit from tools like it.

My observation is that people who fail to manage their time given appropriate tools lack an appropriate level of assertiveness.

If a low level of assertiveness is combined with low emotional energy and low levels of detail, then they are bound to have difficulty managing time in any work environment.

They find it too difficult to pay attention to the details required to evaluate their tasks and prioritise them. They find the requirement to proactively prioritise tasks and assertively stick to a resultant schedule emotionally draining, giving in to other’s requests, when they know it will disrupt their schedule.

If the low level of assertiveness is combined with a high level of tolerance and a high level of consideration of others, their ability to manage their time will almost certainly be impacted upon by the actions of their subordinates, peers, customers, suppliers and bosses with higher degrees of assertiveness.

They will be unable to effectively say no to requests. They will be unable, when confronted with requests to use techniques such as:

  • Time shifting – “I can’t help you right now, but I would be happy to at 4:00 pm tomorrow. Does that suit you?”
  • Responsibility allocating – “I can help you with thinking through the problem, but completing the research, analysing the options and making the decision is your responsibility”. Or “I will not do what you have asked, it is your responsibility”.
  • Goal clarification – “What you have requested is a good idea in itself, but I cannot see how it fits with the organisation’s goal or my goal. I’m happy to be convinced, but at the moment I do not see the connection”.
  • Lack of planning on your part does not create an emergency on my part – “I would love to help and I will, but only after I have completed the requests made by people who were on time. I will not penalise them for your being late.”

Most time management techniques add less to their productivity than can be possible If people are not assertive.

However, people can be taught to be assertive.

Making people aware of their level of assertiveness though an evaluation tool such as an EQ profile is a first step. Getting people to seek feedback on their assertiveness and its impact on their relationships and productivity provides further insight.

Self awareness is a powerful tool on its own.

Teaching people how to catch themselves in the act of being non-assertive is another great self awareness tool. Being aware whilst in the act allows one to draw breath and change before the interaction is completed.

A little self evaluation of times when they are not assertive reveals words, emotions or physical attributes which are common across many different interactions. Training people to recognise the triggers and training them to stop when they recognise the triggers is not difficult.

Role plays can be easily built to practice some techniques.

For example, training people to recognise a trigger and then stopping, by saying something like, “Would you mind if we had a time-out? I just need to think for a moment”, will be seen by most as not difficult to do.

Resuming the conversation, being calm and assertive about what they can and cannot do is also easy to add into some realistic scenarios in a role play.

Teaching people to emphasise what they can rather than they will not do and being clear about both is also relatively easy. It only takes a couple of weeks of using an approach such as this to develop new assertive habits.

Using role plays in a face-to-face training programme backed up by working through them with a mentor on a weekly basis builds confidence.

Providing additional reading such as Adele Lynn’s book, “The EQ Difference” will help expand people’s skill sets as they become comfortable with the ones they have practised in the role plays.

There are many tools available to help people manage time. However, without assertiveness, most people will fail to use the tools appropriately. So when you are next thinking of running a time management course, do not forget assertiveness training.