In an ideal world, every employee would finish every item on his to-do list without any problems or stress. Back in the real world, the sheer number of things to do is dizzying and there’s only a finite amount of time to get them done. This means that time management—the art of using your time productively, based on the day’s priorities—is one of the most important skills your employees can have.
Now, there are so many time-management tips online that you could send your people away with some links and instructions to figure out time-management techniques for themselves. But if you bring everyone together to learn these skills, you have a much greater chance of embedding the learning which is the holy grail of employee development. Arranging some fun group activities will force people to recognize how others approach the same problem. This opens eyes as to why people might act differently from one another, especially when it comes to hitting deadlines which can be a major source of conflict between the Judgers and Perceivers on your team.
Here are 10 activities to get your team thinking about time management and how best to retain focus on important goals.
1: What Did You Achieve?
Start by making a list of around 20 to 30 really simple activities for your employees to do, for example, finding out people’s middle names, running on the spot for 10 seconds, learning a fun fact about others in the room. Every completed activity earns one point. Then, break the group up into small teams of three-to-five people. Give them five minutes to collectively earn as many points as possible. How many points did each team win?
Follow up with a discussion about how the teams prioritized activities and made decisions. Did they allocate clear responsibilities for certain tasks? Did they carry out some tasks simultaneously, such as running on the spot while gathering middle names? The idea here is to get people thinking about how they spend their time and how they could do things more efficiently. Did some tasks take far too long for too little reward?
#2: What Did You Do Yesterday?
Give everyone a pen and paper and ask them to write a list of 10 things they did yesterday. This list can be anything—finishing a report, going for a walk at lunch, speaking to a difficult client. Then ask them to write down a list of five things they want to tell their boss at their next performance review, to show what a valuable employee they are. Can they make links between the first list and the second list?
The aim of this exercise is to show that most of us spend a lot of time on low-value activities—things that do not contribute to the employee’s (or the company’s) major goals. Hopefully it will get them thinking about the role of prioritization in their own development.
#3: How Long is a Minute?
Tell everyone in the room to close their eyes. After 60 seconds, they should open their eyes and raise a hand in the air. You will not be counting the time—everyone must do this in their heads. Count how many people raise their hands at the 60 second mark, and how many over- or underestimate the time.
When everyone has raised their hands, tell them what time range they achieved—you’ll probably find that hands went up anywhere between 20 and 120 seconds. This can trigger a conversation about how we all have different perceptions of time and even one person can perceive time differently depending on whether she is bored or busy. Since we’re all perceiving time differently, it’s important to set clear deadlines by the clock so everyone can work to the same expectations.
#4: How Do You Fill a Jar?
Give everyone a large jar like a mayonnaise jar or a coffee jar and bowls filled with sand and rocks of various sizes. Have everyone put rocks and sand into the jar in whatever order they want, to fill it up as much as they can.
This activity is a simple way to illustrate how the order in which we do things can have a big impact on the end result. Putting the bigger rocks in the jar first and fitting the smaller rocks and sand around them results in a much fuller jar, just as prioritizing the bigger, more important things first and fitting the smaller tasks around them usually results in a more successful project.
#5: How Do You Deal with Distractions?
This activity is a good way of getting people to think about the things that distract them and more importantly, what they can do to minimize those distractions in the future. Hand out some index cards and have everyone write down some of the things that have distracted them over the past few days. Collect those cards, shuffle them, and then hand them out to small teams of three or four people. Ask each team to brainstorm some ways to deal with those common time wasters.
At the end of the brainstorming period, have each team read out the list of distractions and the ideas they have for overcoming them. This should open people’s eyes to the types of problems their teammates are experiencing, as well as getting everyone into a solutions-based mindset; sharing ideas for making the workplace less distracting for the team as a whole.
#6: What's the Impact of Parkinson's Law?
Divide your group into three or six teams and give each team the same five simple tasks to complete. One or two teams must finish the tasks in four minutes; one or two teams must finish the tasks in six minutes; and the other teams must finish the tasks as quickly as possible.
When the time is up, collate the results. How long did each team take to finish the task? Most times, you’ll observe that the four-minute team finish first, followed by the six-minute team and then the open-ended team. Explain that this is due to Parkinson's Law, which states that work expands to fill the time allotted to it. The four-minute team finished first because that’s all the time they had.
Use this observation to start a discussion about how Parkinson’s law plays out in the office. If you are given just one day to complete a project, you will be forced to focus on the bare essentials to get it done on time. You’ll cut out the extra steps that aren’t necessary. But if you are given five days to complete the same project, you are likely to overthink things and add lots of bells, whistles and nice-to-haves that are not essential to the task. In the end, are both products fundamentally the same?
Many people like to have a buffer for achieving tasks because they’ve been taught that to add value, they must “underpromise and overdeliver.” As a result, they don’t realize how fast something can be accomplished until they put it to the test. Use these activities to help your employees understand the importance of time and how easy it is to waste it. They’ll be surprised at just how much work they can fit into a small amount of time, when they set limits and become more attuned to prioritizing the critical tasks.