Navigation: An introduction to time management

  • This section is a summary of Humphrey, Watts S. (1997), "Introduction to the The Personal Software Process"

Time management refers to a range of skills, tools, and techniques used to manage time when accomplishing specific tasks, projects and goals. This set encompass a wide scope of activities, and these include planning, allocating, setting goals, delegation, analysis of time spent, monitoring, organizing, scheduling, and prioritizing. For more information see Wikipedia.

Why it is important to manage your time

To make realistic plans, you have to track the way you spend time. While you may think you know how you spent time last week, you would probably be surprised by actual data. People remember some things and forget others. To know where your time goes, you need to keep an accurate record.

To make more accurate plans, determine where your previous plans were in error and what you could have done better. The key to accurate planning is to consistently make plans and compare them each time with subsequent actual results. You will then see how to make better plans.

To manage your time, plan your time and then follow the plan. Figuring out what you could do to produce better plans is the easy part. Actually doing it is far more difficult. The world is full of resolutions that are never fulfilled. Initially following a plan is likely to be difficult. While there are many possible reasons, the most common is that the plan was not very good. Many of the problems in software engineering are caused by ill-considered shortcuts, carelessness, and inattention to detail. In most cases, the proper methods were known and specified but just not followed. Learning to establish usable plans is thus important, but learning to follow these plans is absolutely crucial.

Understanding how you spend time

Categorize your major activities and record the time spent on each major activity. When you start tracking time, you will probably find that most of the time is spent on relatively few activities. This is normal. To accomplish anything, we must focus on the few things that are most important. If you break your time into too many categories, it will be hard to make sense of the data.

Handling interruptions

One common problem with tracking time is interruptions. It is surprising how often we are interrupted by phone calls, people wanting to chat, occasional annoyances, or the need to take a break. Since interruption time is not productive job time, you must track interruptions. If you don't measure it, you would essentially be adding a random number to all of the time data. This would make it far more difficult to use these data to plan and manage your time. Time log data can also be used to understand how often your work is interrupted. Interruptions not only waste time, but they break your train of thought, leading to inefficiency and error. Understanding how much you are interrupted could therefore help to improve the quality and efficiency of your work.

Evaluating your time distribution

Now that you can see where you spend time, ask yourself whether you are spending time the way you want to. Decide which activities are most important and consider whether you are giving them enough time. Do some tasks take so long that you never get to others that are more important? Do you start work on assignments in time to finish them, or do you often wind up in a last minute crunch? There are no general guidelines on how to spend your time. This very personal decision must balance jobs, recreation and social life.

Making a time budget

The time budget is your plan for how to spend time. Starting with the data on how you have previously spent time, you can allocate the amounts of time you would like to spend on each category in the future.

An example weekly time budget:

Activity Category

Budget Minutes

Actual Minutes



Day to day








The key to time management is to gradually re-balance the way you spend time. Even though you may hope to spend a lot more time on some tasks in the future, unless you can identify other areas to cut back, that is often wishful thinking. One important step is to make sure that the time you now spend is used most effectively. People often waste a lot of time deciding what to do next. Establishing personal plans and a time budget will enable you to know what to do next. Surprisingly, this will immediately improve your working efficiency.

You may also need more time to do all the things you want to do. Again however, you need to be realistic. You can usually find some extra time in a crises, but no one wants to live in perpetual crisis. So allocate reasonable amounts of time for health maintenance, family, friends, hobbies, sleep, and meals. You may be able to cut deeply in one or more areas in a crisis, but you cannot do it for very long.

Until you know how much time you spend on each category it is hard to make realistic adjustments.

Prioritizing your time

One essential step in time management is establishing priorities. Some times are firmly established, everything else is variable time -- activities you do when you can find the time. There are, however, two kinds of variable activities: required and discretionary. Required activities included tasks like doing homework, reading the textbook, or studying for exams. The discretionary activities are all the other things you do: eating, sleeping, socializing, participating in or watching sports and other entertainment.

Try to do the most important tasks first. It is natural to put off difficult or unappealing tasks, but they will never get easier. If you find yourself deferring important work, stop and think about what you are doing. You will find that when you defer important tasks, you subconsciously worry about them. Often, in fact, deciding to do them right away will be more efficient and will provide a worthwhile sense of accomplishment. Remember, too, that once you get started on dreaded tasks, they rarely turn out to be as difficult as you had feared.


  • Humphrey, Watts S. (1997), "Introduction to the The Personal Software Process"

Attic/ProjectMonkey/An introduction to time management/Watts S. Humphrey (last edited 2024-04-11 15:38:34 by EmmanueleBassi)