Skills for the Job: Effective time management
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Good time management in children's services is essential for busy children's professionals to maximise their effectiveness.
What is time management?
The definition of "time management" is "the analysis of how working hours are spent and the prioritisation of tasks in order to maximise personal efficiency in the workplace". But in the world of children's services, it can often feel as though time management refers to how able professionals are to cram as much work as possible into a short amount of time. It can make those workers feel less than efficient.
However, when working with children, it is important to acknowledge that children have different timescales to professionals, and we need to try to work in a way that suits their needs. Time management involves treading a fine line between ensuring that information is recorded accurately, which can keep children safe, and finding time to understand their wishes and feelings. It is not an easy task to master.
Good time management can help to relieve stress. When work becomes chaotic, it can leave you feeling stressed and anxious, and this then affects your personal life and health.
Asking for help
Asking for help is not always an easy thing to do. If you are new to a job, you may be anxious about appearing so and if you are experienced, you may not want to appear unknowledgeable. But children need professionals working with them to make the right decisions. If we do not ask for help, we are not giving children the best possible service. If you feel uncomfortable or worried, you will always feel better if you tell someone - they will either be able to give you the correct advice or they will at least know how you are feeling about it.
Supervision is a good way to do this, and make sure your manager is devoting enough time to you - request more supervision if you feel you need it.
Time management in children's services means allowing enough time to see children, to get to know them and to build a relationship with them. It also involves making best use of your office time to complete the administrative tasks so that you can attend to children when they need you most. Perhaps this involves ensuring that your office tasks are finished before the children leave school so that you can conduct visits in the early afternoon, and not when the children are hungry and waiting for dinner.
When under pressure at work, breaks are the first things we forego. If you miss lunch, it can feel like more work is being done because you have had an extra hour in the office. But this only leads to fatigue and procrastination, and work becomes less thoughtful and analytical. Breaks allow us to unwind, and also to eat and recharge. You need to eat to ensure you are productive and helpful to those around you, but you also need to keep healthy. Children and their families can often surprise you and you can find yourself in dangerous or worrying situations. In these instances, your adrenaline will rise and if you have not been looking after yourself, you will feel worse for wear once the adrenaline has worn off.
We cannot always prevent problems arising, but if we can keep up to date with our current work, we do not get too behind when a difficult situation develops. It also means that we have all the available tools and information to make good decisions in a quick timeframe, because our work is up to date. A useful way to keep your work up to date is to make lists; whether this is on your calendar, in a paper diary, or on post-it notes. It is also helpful to keep a note of when you need to complete important tasks by and pencil them into your diary a week or two before they are due. This will remind you that the deadline is approaching, and help you work in a staggered way rather than leaving everything until the last minute.
- Prioritise spending enough time with the children you are working with
- Stagger deadlines and keep a record of them
- Ask for help when needed
- Plan your work to make it more efficient and save time
- Always make sure you eat your lunch
By Amy Norris, principal social worker in a child protection team, and spokesperson for The College of Social Work