Strategy, Innovation & Leadership

Time Management Funnel

June 3, 2024 | 4 min read
How can I manage my time more effectively? TIAS professor of Strategic Leadership Ron Meyer presents an insightful tool to kickstart your thinking: Time Management Funnel.

Key Definitions

In most countries an official working week is 40 hours, but few managers are able to squeeze all their activities into this limited timeframe. Most managers end up laboring longer hours and even then their work isn’t finished, but they run out of time, energy and/or attention.Time management is the process of consciously allocating time as a scarce resource, investing it into activities that will give the most attractive returns, while not overspending time on work, to the detriment of one’s family, friends, health, and other endeavors.

Conceptual Model

The Time Management Funnel gives an overview of the three steps that can be taken to limit the amount of time that managers need to invest in work. The assumption is that managers have fewer hours available than demanded, so they need to filter and squeeze activities to fit within their “time budget”. Demands for time will come from the external and organizational conditions surrounding managers but will also depend on their specific ambitions (strategic and operational goals). Managers should start by limiting their long list of potential activities, by filtering out the low value drains on time. Then they should limit their short list, by prioritizing the highest value ones. Finally, they should limit task time, by working more efficiently. 

Time Management Funnel

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Key Elements

The five parts of the time management funnel are the following:
1. Empower. To first way to limit the long list of activities is to delegate as many tasks as possible to others and then limit the amount of “vertical” control needed to ensure that this work is carried out correctly. This means making sure that colleagues are hired, trained, and retained who are capable of taking on significant responsibilities independently, and then going through the Empowerment Cycle (see model 21) to quickly build their autonomy.    
2. Simplify. The second timesaver is to limit the complexity of the organization by reducing the number of interfaces and alignments. This can be done by creating small separate teams with the freedom to run end-to-end processes independently, instead of having large teams that need a lot of internal coordination, that in turn need to coordinate with other teams. All forms of “horizontal” alignment burn through management time at a high rate.  
3. Streamline. The third way to compress the long list is to limit the number of steps and stakeholders in decision-making processes. Each extra cook in the kitchen increases the amount of discussion time needed exponentially, while each extra quality check creates additional bureaucracy. By streamlining decision-making to a few people and a few steps, 80% quality can be achieved in only 20% of the regular time, which is usually good enough.  
4. Prioritize. Even if the long list of potential tasks is reduced to a much shorter one, it is still important to rank the remaining tasks and focus on the key ones. In the Fruits & Nuts Matrix (model 26) this prioritizing was done along two dimensions, first distinguishing which activities will have the highest impact, and then identifying how much effort each activity will require. The low hanging fruit (high impact, low effort) should usually be done first.  
5. Accelerate. Finally, it is also important to use time efficiently, by speeding up activity execution. Important ways to accelerate include not overengineering an outcome (avoiding perfectionism in favor of “good enough”) yet getting most things right the first time around (avoiding constant repair work). Also, not multi-tasking (focus on one task at a time) yet being quick at switching to a next task (redirecting focus). 

Key Insights

• Time is a scarce resource. Managers deliberate extensively about how to spend their money but spend their time casually, as if it is endless. Yet, time is a scarce resource that can only be spent once. In practice, managers end up stealing time from their private lives to plug the holes in their work “time budgets”, often damaging their relationships and health.
• Time management requires conscious spending. To avoid overspending time on work activities, managers need to intentionally manage their time budget. They need to be frugal, by choosing what not to do (limiting activities), and they need to be efficient, by doing the things they have chosen in less time (limiting time per activity).
• Time management requires a three-step funnel. Limiting time spending starts with reducing demand. This is called limiting the long list and is achieved by empowering others (to limit the time needed for control), simplifying the organization (to limit the time needed for alignment) and streamlining decision-making processes (to limit the time needed for agreement). The second step in the funnel is to limit the short list, by prioritizing the remaining time demands. The third step is to limit task time, by working more efficiently, speeding up the execution of the highest priority activities.
• Time management can be helped by lower ambitions. The time management funnel helps to invest time wisely, but “step 0” can be to ask whether the investment goals make sense in the first place. Lowering ambitions to a more feasible level is the easiest way to live within the available time budget. Your ambitions might create more stress than stretch.
• Time management requires a time investment. Ironically, managers often feel they don’t have the time to consciously manage their time. But you need to invest time to save time.

Inspired by this kickstart?

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Time Management Funnel is part 60 of a series of management models by prof. dr. Ron Meyer. Ron is managing director of the Center for Strategy & Leadership and publishes regularly on Center for Strategy & Leadership.

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