In an increasingly competitive business environment, organisations have sought to increase productivity and reduce costs. The consequences of this for many employees include increased workloads, longer working hours and greater time pressures which, the evidence suggests, are linked to stress, high rates of absence and turnover. In addition, the increased pace of life shown in doing things faster has grown.
So, it is not surprising that companies attach much importance to time management. But the problem of how better to control time is not new. In the 1950s and 1960s, several authors proposed methods on how to handle time issues on the job. Of course, training vendors were quick to see an opportunity by dramatising the importance of time management training programmes.
Much anecdotal evidence (mainly from training vendors) exists to prove that time management works. Yet, in a recent review of the literature, Claessons, Van Erde and Rutte (2007) could find only 32 empirical studies of work-based time management published in the scientific literature between 1954 and 2005. So, what can we say about time management after 50 years?
Time management training seems to enhance time management skills, but this does not automatically transfer to better performance. The question of who benefits from time management training is still vague. Not surprisingly, those with a time personality (punctual, organised, multitasking, conscientious) respond better than procrastinators, neurotics, spontaneous and casual types.
While some studies show an increase in participants self-reported time management skills following training, evidence of an enduring change is lacking, as is the use of control groups. This review does nothing to dispel the view that time management training is limited in scope, open to criticism in terms of research approach and inconclusive in assessing its effectiveness.
The argument that one size fits all is a spurious one. Those who are likely to benefit the most from training are those who probably need it the least, and those who will benefit the least are those who probably need it the most. The type of training should fit the personality. The procrastinators and casual types need something different to the structured and conscientious types. Alternatively, match the person to the job. Place the structured types in jobs where time is of the essence and the casual types in jobs where time is less important.
Claessens, B.J.C., van Eerde, W., & Rutte, C.G. (2007). A review of the time management literature. Personnel Review, 36, 255-276.