Drucker on Recording Our Time

In his book, The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker’s Essential Writings on Management, Peter Drucker analyzed the ways that management practices and principles affect the performance of organizations, individuals, and society. The book covers the basic principles of management and gives professionals the tools to perform the tasks that the environment of tomorrow will require of them.

These are my takeaways from reading the book.

In the chapter “Know Your Time,” Drucker discussed the three-step time management process as the foundation of executive effectiveness.

  • Recording time
  • Managing time
  • Consolidating time

When it comes to manual work, both skilled and unskilled, time management practice generally does not matter greatly. Another word, the difference between time-use and time-waste for the manual work is primarily efficiency and costs.

For knowledge work, the use of time matters increasingly significant. For the knowledge worker and especially of the executive, the difference between time-use and time-waste is effectiveness and results.

Therefore, the first step toward effectiveness is to record actual time-use. Drucker asserted that the specific method used for the recording is not as critical as to getting it done. Just as importantly, we should record our time usage in “real-time” as much as possible, rather than after-the-fact from memory.

Drucker suggested that many effective people keep a time log continually and look at it regularly every month. At a minimum, effective executives should have a log-recording exercise for three to four weeks at a stretch twice a year or so, on a regular schedule. After each sampling, we should take a quick reflection and perhaps rethink and rework our schedule. Often, Drucker observed that many of us invariably find that we have “drifted” into wasting their time on trivial matters.

Fortunately, time-use does improve with practice. However, only constant efforts at managing time can prevent drifting and increase effectiveness. Therefore, systematic time management is the next step. That is, we must find the nonproductive, time-wasting activities and get rid of them if we possibly can.

Drucker suggested we ask ourselves the following diagnostic questions.

  • Identify and eliminate the things that need not be done at all. Or the things that are purely a waste of time without contributing any results. Another word, we ask, “What would happen if this were not done at all?” If the answer is, “Nothing would happen,” the conclusion just became obvious.
  • We should ask, “Which of the activities on my time log could be done by somebody else just as well, if not better?” Many people would customarily use the term “delegation,” but that is a misnomer according to Drucker. We should strive to do the task that we consider important, wanting to do, and committed to doing. The only way we can get to the important things is by getting rid of anything that can be done by somebody else so that we do not have to delegate. From there, we can get to our own work, and that is a major improvement in effectiveness.
  • Can we eliminate time-waste on others that is largely under our control? Often, the way an executive does productive work may still be a major waste of somebody’s else’s time. Effective people must learn to ask systematically and without coyness, “What do I do that wastes your time without contributing to your effectiveness?” To ask such a question, and to ask it without being afraid of the truth, is a mark of the effective executive.

Many of us know all about these unproductive and unnecessary time demands; yet we are afraid to prune them. We are afraid to cut out something important by mistake. But such a mistake, Drucker believed, can be speedily corrected. If we prune too harshly, we usually find out quickly enough.