Literature Review and Synthesis of Research on Time Management
Psychologists have conducted research into the effectiveness of various time management techniques for organizing work and personal life. Time management is also a popular topic for self-help books, PowerPoint presentations, and instructional web videos (for example, Allen, 2001; Mann, 2007; McGhee, 2005; Spidal, 2009). The untested assertions found in some of the practical manuals provide testable hypotheses that psychologists can investigate empirically using controlled samples and statistical models. These researchers have found some of the popularly promoted time-management advice to be supported by the research, and other recommendations to be of questionable value.
In this essay, I will compare, contrast and synthesize information presented in the three publications on time management: Bruce K. Britton and Abraham Tesser (1991), Therese Hoff Macan (1994), and Debra Spidal (2009). Each of these authors approaches the problem from different angles. Together their work covers different populations and applies different models of time management. In the end, all of the authors considered here are advocates of using time management techniques to improve work efficiency, perform better in school, or enhance a subjective sense of confidence and self-efficacy.
Two of the articles -- the Britton and Tesser study and the Macan study -- present empirical evidence for the value of time management, testing the outcomes on populations which had either attended time-management seminars or scored high on time-management inventories. The third article by Spidal is not a statistical study that compares control groups, but instead offers practical advice for individual self-assessment and application of one's findings to improve personal time-management.
Britton and Tesser focused their investigation on college students. They proposed that differences in time-management habits among students account for significant differences in their performance in college, as measured by grade point average (GPA).
Macan also ran statistical tests on comparable populations to look for practical outcomes resulting from different styles of time management. Rather than testing college students, Macan's research focused on adults employed at two government agencies -- a correctional facility and a public social service agency. She was able to compare a sample group of workers at these agencies who had received time-management training to a control group of coworkers those who had not benefited from the training. She found that time-management training did have beneficial effects for reducing tension in the workplace, but not for increasing efficiency.
Spidal's article can be seen as the practical application of the kinds of time-management techniques the other two studies found effective. Spidal elaborates on methods for self-evaluation relevant to improving personal time management. She proposes that these techniques will benefit anyone who has goals, helping people get down to the business of identifying time-wasters and organizing their schedules to accomplish their objectives more efficiently.
As the papers were written for different purposes and looked at different populations, the questions that motivated the papers were also different, though complementary. Britton and Tesser's motivating question was whether personal differences in how college students manage their time results in greater academic success, as measured by higher grades. They were able to demonstrate that some aspects of time management did contribute to success in school. Specifically, the researchers were able to show that for their sample self-reports of time management were related to academic achievement. Their measures of Time Attitudes and Short-Term Planning together accounted for 21% of predictable variance in grades. As a control, they also compared college GPA to SAT scores and found that the SAT score accounted for only 4% of the variance, which was nonsignificant.
Macan's central question was whether the application of the "process model" of time management reduced work-related stress and improved job performance. The process model Macan discusses begins with time management training that gives workers specific strategies for setting goals and priorities, making lists and schedules, and inculcating a preference for being organized. After completing this training, workers should benefit from the perception that they have greater control over their time. This perception should in turn have the psychological benefits of reducing tension and enhancing job satisfaction, along with the practical effect of improving job performance.
Like Britton and Tesser, Macan found some empirical support for the efficacy of the benefits of time management. She found that time management training gave the workers a sense of self-efficacy at work and reduced symptoms of psychological and somatic tensions on the job. However, with regard to the practical benefits of time management, Macan's findings were mixed. She found, contrary to popular time management claims, that while prioritizing, goal-setting, and having a preference for organization did enhance respondents' perception of control over time, other time-management strategies such as making lists and scheduling activities did not lead to perceptions of greater time control (290).
Like Macan, Spidal is also concerned with self-assessment and subjective perceptions of budgeting and effectively managing time. Spidal's recommendations entail keeping a daily log for several days and taking note of one's activities throughout the day. Individuals keeping these logs are to write down when they are working efficiently, when their work is interrupted, what sorts of distractions regularly waste their time, and how often they look for misplaced items. Using this information, they can then organize their personal work space and their priorities, deciding which activities to delete, defer, delegate or delay to a later date.
Spidal's questions for each person's individual research include asking them to reflect on how many of their goals were accomplished on a given day, and if they were not, then why. Rather than statistically comparing research populations that do or do not employ time-management techniques, Spidal provides instructions on how to do individual self-research into one's current use of time. Spidal's presentation could be used in the type of training program that Macan evaluated in her questionnaires.
Spidal expects that keeping a time log will help people identify how when they are most productive, raising their awareness of common interruptions to their work, helping them to better manage their personal time.
Britton and Tesser constructed their time-management questionnaire in order to measure the degree to which students implemented components of a particular time management theory. The theory emphasizes "choosing goals and subgoals, prioritizing the goals, generating tasks and subtasks from the goals, prioritizing the tasks, listing the tasks on a "to-do" list, scheduling the tasks, and then carrying out the tasks" (407).
In collecting data for their statistical analysis, Britton and Tesser used standard measures of three different aspects of time management -- short-range planning, long-range planning and time attitudes. They then ranked the 90 students who took the time-management inventories according to their scores on these measures. This became the independent variable of the study. They then used the students' college GPA for the dependent variable, as a measure of academic accomplishment. They predicted there would be a correlation between time management skills and academic accomplishment.
Macan took a similar approach to Britton and Tesser. She also constructed surveys for this specific study, which she then asked the public employees to complete. The surveys asked if the workers had participated in time management training. For those who had, they were asked if they used any of the techniques they had picked up from the training. They were also asked to estimate the degree to which they perceived they had control over their time.
While Britton and Tesser looked only at objective measures of behavior as indicated by self-report, Macan asked her respondents to assess subjective feelings, such as their perception of personal control over their time at work, and their feelings of satisfaction with the job. Perceived control and subjective feelings of tension were relevant to Macan's process model of time management.
Spidal was also interested in introspection, encouraging her audience to reflect in their journals…