Time management tips for social workers struggling to maintain control

Stephen Boylan, a child protection social worker at Leeds children's services, shares his tips for effective time management

Social work and time management: is it possible to combine the two? Is it possible to maintain control over our time with so many unexpected interruptions?

Many mornings I drive to work with the motivation and ambition to meet my deadlines, but inevitably something crops up. There’s a staff absence and extra cases to cover, or too many urgent duty visits required (thereby saturating an already over- stretched team), or something unforeseen has happened on one of my own cases.

To help me overcome these difficulties I use a number of strategies, which help me maintain some control in a job dominated by dealing with the unexpected.

1. Colour code the to do list. Throughout my employment I’ve always made ‘the list’, but recently a senior manager advised me to highlight the list into red, amber and green priorities. It’s surprising how easy it is to get side tracked by green activities that aren’t urgent. It’s important to remember that some tasks can wait.

2. Maintain at least one completely protected day in the week. Protected means no phone calls, no replying to unnecessary emails, no disruptions. Writing up a set of minutes can be done relatively quickly; interruptions can cause the task to last considerably longer. Don’t book in any meetings or any visits.

3. Have an agenda for every meeting/phone call/visit. I’m doing an activity for a purpose and once that purpose has been achieved it’s time to go. When meeting professionals and families it’s easy to be de-railed from our purpose. My time is precious, I stay focused.

4. As soon as a need is identified, make that referral. Our role is to assess risks and identify appropriate support services. Make the referrals as soon as possible. I’ll admit it, I find it tedious filling in the family’s details in almost identical forms for different agencies, but these agencies can give the families the support they desperately need and in the long run, these families may overcome their difficulties and no longer require our services, creating further time. Better still undertake your visits armed with the knowledge and contact details for the support services in your area and ask the families to make their own referrals.

5. Having something to look forward to after work. I find this increases my productivity hugely, whether this be an orange Wednesday or even a nice dinner.

6. Be aware of your personality and how it impacts on your attitude to time management. We all have drivers: these include be perfect, be fast, please people and be strong. It’s important that we’re aware of our personal style because each style has advantages and disadvantages. The key thing is that we are flexible; that we are able to utilise the style that is appropriate to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. This isn’t rocket science but by implementing these easy pointers I go to work motivated, recognising that unforeseen events will happen, but safe in the knowledge that there are some elements of my work which can be managed in a time effective manner.

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One Response to Time management tips for social workers struggling to maintain control

  1. Ramesh January 18, 2014 at 12:28 pm #

    A really balanced article with practical tips. It reminds us that if we don’t invest in ourselves, we won’t be good for other people. Thank you Stephen