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Five ways to improve time management at work

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Feeling burnt out at the office? Do your work days seem to seep into work nights...and are your work weeks reaching so far past the 40-hour mark that such a figure almost seems silly?

You're not alone. The McKinsey Quarterly recently published a set of recommendations on how to improve time management among senior executives (note: registration is required to read the full article). Management consultants like those who work at firms like McKinsey, of course, are known for thinking and working endlessly. Depending on your point of view, it either makes great sense to heed McKinsey's recommendations on how to better manage time -- or not.

Either way, the article offers some insightful points, informed by data gathered and interviews conducted by McKinsey. The firm surveyed 1,500 international business people and only 9 percent said they were "very satisfied" with how they allocated their time at work.

"The satisfied executives identified four key activities that take up (in roughly equal proportions) two-thirds of their time: making key business or operational decisions, managing and motivating people, setting direction and strategy, and managing external stakeholders," the article's authors write. "None of these, interestingly, is the sort of transactional and administrative activity their dissatisfied counterparts cited as a major time sink."

The biggest problem in workplace time management: many businesses don't see executives' time as finite. And many feel obligated to keep piling on work. Unlike money, time seems considered to be a limitless resource.

To make the best use of your time, dear reader, here are my summaries of the five recommendations that the article's authors, Frankki Bevins (a consultant in McKinsey's Washington, D.C. office) and Aaron De Smet (a principle in McKinsey's Houston office), offer to improve time management among executives:

1. Budget for "time leadership." This means routinely figuring out exactly how much time it will take to lead projects. This way managers can plan accordingly, and workers and the issues they face will receive appropriate attention.

2. Strategically consider when organizational change will take place. When roles are set to shift or departments may downsize, it's crucial to plan how managers will reorganize their time in managing their reports. One big problem in organizational shifts is that executives get suddenly overwhelmed with more managerial responsibilities and can't find the time to accommodate them.

3. Have a system for managing--and measuring--time. Introducing time-analysis tools and reminding employees that they must prioritize their hours to achieve your company's stated goals above all else can keep them focused and less distracted.

4. Keep a well-edited and well-curated master calendar. Although McKinsey didn't use the words "well-edited" and "well-curated" in their article, these aspects describe the need to carefully organize your company's central calendar of key meetings and events. Editing and curating it meticulously means making sure that time is allotted wisely toward gatherings that further a company's stated goals. It's surprising how many unnecessary meetings and discussions can clog up a calendar, pulling employees away from key priorities.

5. Ensure that your company's administrative staff is organized, curious, and pro-active. Again, these adjectives are mine, but describe McKinsey's recommendation that assistants should be capable of "owning" the company's master calendar, and should be encouraged to ask whether some meetings are really necessary without being told to do so. The ideal support staff will schedule events and travel in ways that don't overwhelm executives. One of my favorite bits of advice: have an administrative assistant who can wisely add "quiet zones" to a calendar before board meetings -- to avoid a sense of burnout or exhaustion leading up to a key event.

After reading these tips, I realized that they can also work on a personal level. For instance, why not apply the last tip by asking Siri (for iPhone fans out there) -- or forcing yourself -- to schedule quiet time before periods of projected intense job stress or deadlines hit. And make sure that every time commitment you make aligns with your own goals at work. Yes, this all sounds slightly obvious...but only if you make the time to pay attention.

Image: blue2likeyou/Flickr

— By on January 23, 2013, 12:21 PM PST

Reena Jana

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Reena Jana has written for the New York Times, Wired, Harvard Business Review online, Fast Company, Architectural Record, Artforum, Time Out New York, Harper's Bazaar, and GQ. Previously, she was the innovation department editor at BusinessWeek. She holds degrees from Columbia University and Barnard College. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure