Ask a social work manager about how they manage their time and
the face skews. But remember, time management is not something that
just faces social work, but is one common to most people in
employment. Some solicitors, for example, even have to account for
every six-minute block of their working day.
Perhaps we should begin by saying the unforgivable and the
unsayable in any normal “management” columns in respect of time
management: if you really can’t fit all the work into the time
available, there is a possibility that you have simply got too much
to do. In a world striving for ever-greater efficiency, and
“streamlining” and performance management, nobody is allowed to say
that they can’t cope – even if they’re now doing three people’s
jobs. This almost inevitably leads to working longer hours but not
inevitably to better productivity.
It is important to bear in mind that you can only do so much by
yourself. There are and always will be a number of things out of
your control. Accept that and focus on those that you are able to
take some control over.
However, it’s wise to have some good general
You must value your time.
You must be prepared to spend time in order to save it.
Most importantly, you must analyse your work in order to be clear
about the priorities.
You need to be disciplined enough to take regularly a slice of what
you think you don’t have in order to make the most of what you’ve
got. This means planning. And as with good practice, time taken to
prepare is rewarded in good outcomes.
Once a week find a space where you can think without interference
from colleagues, computers and phones, and spend 30 minutes
concentrating hard on what lies ahead. Monday mornings are ideal
for some people, but you should find a time that suits you
Time to reflect uninterrupted is vital and it needs to be
respected. Also, remember, it’s all very well you doing it, but
it’s much more effective if your team culture is that everyone does
Consider time-structuring: don’t spend all day on one activity –
deliberately break up your time into blocks. But you need to know
how you work best to maximise it. If you are better at completing
written tasks in the morning then try to push meetings,
supervision, or more reflective work into the afternoons.
Negotiate your commitments – take control over the demands placed
upon you. Take the hard choices – and, yes, say “no” occasionally.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate.
A crucial time-saver is “proper filing”. Not a skill (or art) that
comes naturally to social care managers. Having to do this yourself
usually means that it either doesn’t get done or nobody can find
anything thereafter. But being able to find paperwork you need
(either electronically or manually) immediately (or soon after) can
save inordinate amounts of time rooting around. That minute you
spend putting something back will save you ten-fold easily.
Again a spot of investment – allocating time for supervision and
support – can reap rich dividends. For example, helping a new
worker to write a report can mean that instead of a report taking
three hours to write (badly) they will be able to produce good work
in much less time.
Finally, although e-mail seems to have become a burden to most, it
has a lot of benefits if used with thought. It is extremely
efficient for organising meetings, and passing on information.
However, there seems to be an expectation that you need to respond
immediately. Remember the advantage of e-mail is that you should
read and respond at a time that is convenient to you. Be master of
your email and not its slave. Do you really need to check your
e-mails more than, say, three times a day? Good management is about
aiming to manage your time, as you will rarely be its master.
1 B789 Managing
Voluntary and Non-profit Enterprises, Open University, 1992
John Belcher is chief executive, Anchor Housing Trust;
Sheena Doyle is programme manager, Children’s Society; Steve Jenkin
is chief executive, Elizabeth FitzRoy Support; Vijay Patel is
independent consultant, voluntary sector.
Do it now – single touch each item in your in-tray, if you can deal
with it right away then do so.
Find a way to deal with difficult things at the beginning of the
day. As the poet Edward Young (1683-1765) said, “procrastination is
the thief of time”.
Go to others to meet, rather than have them come to you as you can
control the time the meeting takes.
Delegate – and remember to delegate sideways and upwards.
Avoid waste and temptations – often we waste time doing the things
we like doing. Social work is full of meetings because we all like
to talk. Watch out.
Keep on top of your e-mails by checking them at least every
A two-day course on time management shows how important the subject
Everything you do is a priority.
Planning is a luxury. While you’re planning it – you could be doing
“When I was promoted to team manager for the first time, I
undertook the local authority’s mandatory training – half-a-day on
equal opportunities, a further half-day on health and safety, and
would you believe it, two days on time management.” Steve
“In my first year of social work, one of the best things I learned
was a forward planning tool. Again taking time to think over the
next quarter, pencilling in admin time, space for consultation
papers and so on enables prioritising and acknowledge-ment of what
can be done realistically.” Vijay Patel
“Investigating a complaint against a social services inspection
unit, I contacted the head of unit to arrange an interview. His
diary was “full” and he could only fit me in 17 days later.
Interestingly, one of the complaints against the unit was that they
failed to respond promptly to complaints.” Graham