There was a study published in 2003 by the Journal of Psychology that attempted to measure how helpful time management training was for employees. They sent a group of employees to a 1 and 1/2 day seminar on time management and then compared their self-assessment one month later with a control group.
The study showed that individuals who had been through time management training believed that they significantly decreased their avoidance behavior and worry. They also reported that they had an increased ability to manage time. (Notice that the study wasn’t trying to measure their actual skill level, only their perception of their skill.)
This is, of course, a great study for all the consultants who would love to come into your company and teach time management techniques. The author of the study suggests two possibilities for how the training may have impacted individuals’ scores. The first is that time management training actually helps make people more efficient by reducing procrastination and worry. The second possibility is that the change happens just by making people aware of their behavior and the training itself isn’t beneficial except as a way of making people aware of their actions.
I believe that part of the explanation is known as the Hawthorne effect. The Hawthorne effect was the result of an experiment showing individuals sent to training performed better–even when the training
had no impact on their performance (correction: The Hawthorne Experiment was based on changing lighting. The Hawthorne Effect is the idea that giving people attention increases their performance–including sending them to training which was done in some other experiments). So travel agents are more efficient after being sent to a pottery class. This more or less comes down to the fact that if you show people they are important enough to invest in (through training, etc.), they will take more pride in their work and as a result do a better job.
Back on the subject of the time management training experiment: I believe that the time management training actually does have value. When someone is struggling with worry and procrastination, it is most often because they have too many choices regarding their next task. Time management training provides a framework and methodology for deciding what should be done next. This helps people make a decision and keeps them from worrying about it or procrastinating.
By taking the decision and applying a set of rules, an individual chooses their next task not based on how they feel, but based on the rules. The rules are a set of decisions that have been made for them ahead of time. Many times the path to efficiency is to remove as many decisions as possible from the process. Even if the decision making process is flipping a coin or rolling dice, as long as it produces results that the individual will follow, it will increase their efficiency because it will increase the amount of time spent doing productive work and decrease the amount of time spent making decisions about what work to do.
When it comes to managing yourself, you can increase your efficiency by making it a point to decide on your sequence of actions ahead of time or by using some simple rule system. By doing this you’ll be
able to concentrate on actual productive work instead of spending your effort trying to make decisions about what to do next.
Procrastination at Work and Time Management Training., By: Van Eerde,
Wendelien, Journal of Psychology, 00223980, Sep2003, Vol. 137, Issue 5
Originally published November 21, 2006.